by Mike Telin
When pianist Jonathan Biss pitched the concept for his Beethoven/5 project to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, he was certain the idea of commissioning five composers to write new concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven’s, would be seen as too daunting. Much to his surprise, the SPCO ran with the idea. Even more of a surprise was the number of orchestras who signed on to the project as co-commissioners.
In November of 2017 Biss gave The Cleveland Orchestra premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Piano Concerto: Il sogno di Stradella, (Beethoven No. 4). He’ll follow that up on Saturday, August 28 at 7:00 pm at Blossom Music Center with Caroline Shaw’s Watermark (Beethoven No. 3).
“Being with The Cleveland Orchestra is always special for me,” Biss said during a recent telephone conversation. “And given that I played the Sciarrino in Cleveland, I need to talk about how different the two pieces are and how unbelievably different the composers’ approaches to the project were.”
Biss noted that the connection between the Sciarrino and the fourth concerto is so oblique that he had to “go hunting for it.” But with Watermark, Caroline Shaw clearly uses the third concerto as its starting point.
“Caroline said something that I found very interesting. She said that she was trying to ‘write the writing process of Beethoven,’ which I think was her way of saying that she’s imagining how Beethoven might have found his way toward many of the ideas that ended up being central to the third concerto. I think it’s interesting because although I’ve spent my whole life immersed in great music, I don’t think I understand all that much about how the creative process works — how a composer gets from a blank page to a fully realized piece of music. So I find it incredibly fascinating to hear someone like Caroline, whose life’s work is being a composer, engage with the question of how someone else conceives of a piece of music.”