BEETHOVEN CONCERT 29 OF 40: An inspired act of programming

Nelson was lucky enough to not only have a wonderfully FULL HOUSE on the 23rd October, for Michael Houstoun’s last Beethoven reCYCLE concert as part of the Nelson Arts Festival. But it was also beautifully lit by candlelight and we got some of it on camera! Audience member and Beethoven fan, Jenny Snadden tells us all about it…


I went to the first of the Nelson concerts, realising from the moment Michael Houstoun walked onto the stage that this was not “just” a concert but almost a spiritual experience for me. I am sure there are many in the audiences that the Houstoun concerts are affecting this way and here at the School of Music there was a slight hush of expectation surrounding our second helping from series, even as we queued to enter the auditorium, beautifully lit this evening by 130 candles.The candlelit Steinway at Nelson School of Music

As he walked on stage he radiated a quiet presence, so very far from being beguiled by his global reputation. I always love the sight of the glowing Steinway sitting in the spotlight, full of promise, surrounded tonight by the background glow of the candles in their menorahs and a line of flickering lamps at floor level.

As he sat down at the piano there was a stillness about his person, almost like an aura, communicating to the audience that he was on a grave and beautiful journey to bring us to the heart of the matter. Through his calm and poised body came the most stupendous control of both the big Steinway and his material, but never a moment of ego … just the peeling away of all extraneous “interpretation” and the sinking into communion with the music.

A Beethoven fan from youthful piano lessons, and sighing these days as I flick through my sonatas looking for anything I could do justice to myself, it is humbling but wonderful to hear how lightly Michael Houstoun wears his profound scholarship, and how it just flows inevitably forth in an often-bravura technique that is yet always at the service of Beethoven’s ideas.

Listening to op.110, I am in awe as the great fugue unfolds, subject and counter-subject lovingly laid bare, weaving a torrent of sound that makes totally satisfying sense. You just know that every hard-won direction Beethoven wrote in his music was exactly how he wanted the music to sound in spite of his failing hearing, and Michael Houstoun transforms the scaffolding of the score into a majestic finished sound with a naturalness that is breathtaking when you look back at a particular sonata on paper.Blogger Jenny Snadden

How deeply satisfying it is to be taken on the journey he planned for his audiences, knowing we are in the presence of one of the world’s true masters of the Beethoven piano sonatas, and that we are glimpsing the spiritual heart of these master-works.

Chamber Music NZ, this has been an inspired act of programming.

– Jenny, 24.10.2013

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