Piccolo Festival Review: “Beethoven: His Women and His Music,” Saturday night at the Congregational Church on Charleston’s Meeting St.
It was Leonard Bernstein who said that Beethoven was an ugly, nasty little man who had the voice of an angle inside him.
More than a musical presentation and much more than theatre, ‘Beethoven: His Women and His Music” is a joint effort between Chamber Music Charleston and Actors’ Theatre of South Carolina. It gives insight into that mythical angelic inner voice of one of ancient music’s greatest figures.
Co-Founder of Actors’ Theatre Clarence Felder, who has been a theatre, film and television actor in the U.S. and Canada for more than 35 years, is also a playwright, with credits to his name like “Pirates! The Revenge of Colonel Rhett,” which was presented during the 2005 Piccolo Spoleto Festival for a soldout run. The independent film “All for Liberty” debuted in China earlier this year.
To create “Beethoven: His Women and His Music”, Felder performed exhaustive research to produce a succinct but emotional collection of monologues that are inserted between some of the maestro’s greatest compositions.
Just as much an integral part of the show are the musicians, including Ukraine-born pianist Irina Pevzner, who delivers a perfect performance of some of Beethoven’s most mesmerrizing pieces. Concluding the show Saturday, the popular movement from the “Moonlight Sonata,” which Pevzner played more beautifully, with more emotion, than I’ve ever heard in any performance or from any recording.
Not the least of Beethoven’s female friends was Antonia Brentano. His story of his romance with her was told in the film “Immortal Beloved.” An important element of the show is the “Reflections on Paper” program, which includes picture portraits of the composer’s love interests.
What is revealed is an intimate peek, as told by the maestro himself, that takes the audience into the feelings of an emotional man who Antonia Brentano said “walks godlike among the mortals”, but at the same time she characterized him as “a great person who is as a man greater than an artist.”
Piccolo Spoleto Festival, very likely South Carolina’s largest local festival, continues through June 7 in Charleston. With 703 events over 17 days, it’s a more affordable answer to the Port City’s internationally-known arts festival, Spoleto USA, and is testimony to what can be done in hard times. Piccolo Founding Director Ellen Dressler Moryl says South Carolina is fortunate to have two premiere arts events. “What Spoleto offers is unique, world-class and internationally famous. What Piccolo offers is the opportunity of local and regional artists to play in the reflective glory of that, and offers everyone an affordable experience. It adds a lot of excitement.”
Moryl says in this year of serious recession the Piccolo organization had to become more efficient and they’re now doing without things they previously considered essential. “It’s amazing how well everything is working. We’re on a shoestring producing this festival but it’s working out great! Everyone is having a good time and everyone’s spirit is optimistic.”
Until this year, festival personnel and some volunteers have had the use of cars and cell phones donated temporarily by local companies.
Piccolo’s Spotlight Classical Music series will include a Religious Mass Concert at the Mepkin Abbey Monastery in Moncks Corner on June 5, featuring performers from colleges across the state. Moryl says the final half of the concert will be a mass by modern American composer Stephen Paulus. She says Paulus may be present for the event. “His mass is stunning. The first half of the concert focuses on the Old Testament, music from Ernest Bloch, and the second half is music for the New Testament, by Paulus, all in Mepkin Abbey Church, which has a special acoustic, and people will not forget that, probably ever.”
The festival will include Gershwin favorites played by the Summerville Community Orchestra, June 1.