Aired on KSDS-FM on 3/5/19
RUN DATES: 2/21/19 – 3/24/19
VENUE: San Diego Repertory Theatre
Even the most abused, socially awkward and possibly misanthropic person can produce sheer, unadulterated beauty that is timeless and everlasting.
Beaten by his father as a young boy and later afflicted in the very seat of his creative power, as he became deaf, Ludwig von Beethoven heard the most magnificent music in his head and heart, and left a legacy that is undeniable and incomparable.
Eleven years ago, writer, master storyteller, actor and consummate pianist Hershey Felder told an early version of Beethoven’s life. Now, his “Beethoven” returns to the San Diego Rep, sharper and more focused, with the story and the music more heartbreaking.
The setting is Vienna, 1863. Our narrator, as before, is Gerhard von Breuning an early student of the maestro, whose father was the Great Man’s close friend. Grown-up Gerhard is a physician, and the only living soul who knew Beethoven personally.
He is in the Wahringer Friedhof cemetery, arguing against the disinterment of the body, 36 years after Beethoven’s death. This setup bookends the piece, and serves as springboard to a reminiscence that includes highlights from Beethoven’s tortured life, and an opportunity to hear some of his most glorious music: “Für Elise,” “Moonlight Sonata,” the 9th symphony’s “Ode to Joy,” and more.
Felder’s playing is wonderfully subtle and supple. He trips lightly and lovingly on the keys, caressing them and putting every bit of emotion – and story, as he explains – into the music. The decision by Felder and his long-time collaborator, director Joel Zwick, to play not just excerpts, but heartfelt pieces in their entirety, strengthens the play considerably.
The production values are also excellent. The gravestones are towering, the dim lighting punctuated by evocative projections establishing other locales. The Steinway grand is lit from within, and Felder’s hands are spotlighted as they dance across the keyboard.
This isn’t a detailed biography. Many additional tidbits about Beethoven’s life emerged in the highly interactive post-performance Q&A. He may have been an angry and irascible man, but he had every reason to be. His genius was his ability to tap into his inner emotions with a magnificence that is stunningly conveyed in this musical-theatrical production.
©2019 PAT LAUNER