NEW YORK – In celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, the Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation (HACF) presented a concert titled Beethoven and His Legacy on October 29. The concert featured chamber works by Beethoven, Schubert, Kuhlau, and Greek-American composer George Tsontakis. The evening’s beautiful music was performed by the gifted artists Maria Asteriadou on piano, Kurt Nikkanen on violin, and Carol Wincenc on flute.
HACF Chairman Nicholas Kourides gave the welcoming remarks, noting that the event was the third online event presented by the Foundation this year. He also thanked Kutztown University for the use of their concert hall and introduced the artists:
“Heralded by The New York Times as ‘an artist with intense personality, virtuosic flair, unusual poise and intimate contact with style,’ Greek pianist Maria Asteriadou is an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician. Kurt Nikkanen made his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of twelve, and is Concertmaster of the New York City Ballet Orchestra and an international soloist of the highest order. Hailed ‘Queen of the flute’ by New York Magazine, Carol Wincenc has performed in countless venues worldwide and won numerous awards.”
The concert began with Trio in G Major, op.119 by Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832) with all three musicians demonstrating their impressive skills in the lovely piece. Wincenc offered remarks on the piece and noted that the online event was the first time she had performed in a concert hall since the start of the pandemic.
According to the introduction to the piece, “The German/Danish composer and pianist Friedrich Kuhlau was a friend of Beethoven, who introduced many of his piano compositions to Danish audiences. A composer of numerous works for flute, he was known in Denmark as the ‘Beethoven of the Flute.’ Few of Beethoven’s contemporaries demonstrated as much understanding of the structure and substance of Beethoven’s work as Kuhlau.
“The Grand Trio in G Major, a late work, represents Kuhlau at his most operatic, melodic ideas flowing effortlessly from his pen. Although originally for two flutes and piano, it was transcribed for other combinations of instruments by Kuhlau himself and his publisher.”
The second piece on the program was Introduction and Variations, Op.160, D. 802, On Trockne Blumen from Die schöne Müllerin, by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Wincenc on flute and Asteriadou on piano performed the moody, challenging, yet uplifting piece dynamically.
“The Austrian composer Franz Schubert, who as a teenager wrote that Austrian music should rid itself of Germanic influence, became later in life a passionate devotee of Beethoven’s music. There is no evidence that the two men ever met, but Beethoven, on his deathbed, examined the scores of Schubert’s songs and declared himself deeply impressed. Schubert, who was to pass less than a year later, asked to be buried next to his idol, and their remains lie together in Vienna to this day.
“Schubert composed Introduction and Variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’ in 1824 for the Viennese flute teacher Ferdinand Bogner. In this challenging work, Schubert develops further the musical and poetic ideas presented in the Theme, originally a Lied from Schubert’s song cycle ‘Die schöne Müllerin.’”
The third piece was Three Sighs, Three Variations by George Tsontakis performed by the wonderful husband and wife musicians Nikkanen on violin and Asteriadou on piano.
According to the introduction, “Tsontakis composed Three Sighs, Three Variations as a young man during a seven month stay in Rome. Tsontakis describes the pieces as ‘musical postcards, never mailed, but imagined to be sent to friends back home. The tiny pieces…are light in weight but dark in color. They are truly sighs…felt by a young visitor far from the familiar surroundings of home.’
“Musical America has described Tsontakis’ String Quartet No. 4 as ‘containing a reflective emotional power reminiscent of Beethoven’s late quartets,’ and the great British pianist Steven Hough has commented, ‘there is a real sense in which Beethoven’s last masterpieces are some kind of emotional springboard for Tsontakis… both composers seem to drink from the same source.’”
The final piece was Sonata No. 9, Op. 47 in A major (Kreutzer) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), performed impressively by Nikkanen and Asteriadou.
Beethoven’s unmatched influence on generations of composers, musicians and listeners was highlighted in the introduction to the piece as he “not only pulled classical music into the Romantic Era, but also into the Modern Age, with works that sound as fresh and contemporary as they did at the time of their composition.”
Nikkanen noted that the sonata was dedicated to Kreutzer, the top violinist of his time who never played it and called it “incomprehensible.” The beautiful piece was a perfect conclusion to the concert, showcasing the talents of the musicians and the timelessness of Beethoven’s genius.
Asteriadou, also a member of HACF’s Board of Directors, thanked all those who participated and made the event possible, Kutztown University, and noted that the concert and the other online HACF events are available on the Foundation’s website: https://www.hacfoundation.org/.