All 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in 14 hours, that is the plan for Thursday, Feb. 7. Thirty-three piano students from eight different schools will play the 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven plus the Andante Favori in the Music Box at Orchestra Hall, with free admission to the public. The schools represented are Bowling Green State University, Central Michigan University, Interlochen, Michigan State University, Oakland University, Pioneer High School, the University of Michigan, and of course, just a few blocks north of Orchestra Hall, Wayne State University (WSU).
Daniel Meinecke from WSU will start things off promptly at 8:00 a.m. with the Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Opus 2, No. 1. His classmates Christopher Lopez and Emily Verde could hypothetically snooze the morning away, since they are not expected until about 4:00 p.m. with the two sonatas of Opus 49. And Rachel Ferrero will play the Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Opus 90, at about 6:30 p.m., just before an hourlong dinner break. Meinecke has played at the Music Box and Cliff Bell's before, but this will be his first time as a soloist.
These four pianists from WSU got together at Old Main yesterday to play their assigned sonatas in a semi-public concert for faculty, students, alumni and the press. Their instructor, Prof. Robert Conway, also a pianist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and an expert on Beethoven's piano music, scheduled the Schaver Music Recital Hall to get his students more comfortable with playing for more people in the room. They practiced on a Kawai concert grand, but for the marathon they will be playing on one of two Steinway grands owned by the Detroit Symphony.
Prof. Conway had lots of advice for the four pianists on various specific details of performance: some to emphasize, some to downplay, what not to rush, what not to drag, etc. But decibel levels are not a concern, as he is confident his students will deliver a sound neither too big nor too small for the hall. "I was pretty nervous," Lopez admitted, but he sounded quite good, as did his classmates, despite minor problems they will iron out before the marathon. Another semi-public concert at Old Main is slated for Tuesday.
On the big day, Thursday, concertgoers may buy food in the Orchestra Hall atrium. Beautiful Soup will be serving lunch in the lobby from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Schnäck will be serving German food and beer from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., according to a press release from the Detroit Symphony. The famous "Pathétique" and "Moonlight" Sonatas will be played before the lunch break, by Yeon-Kyung Kim from the University of Michigan at 10:55 a.m. and Rhys Burgess of Oakland University at 1:00 p.m., respectively. Mihyun Kim from U of M will cap the day at 9:25 p.m. with the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Opus 111.
The times given here are approximate because they are based on the assumption of modern average performance times for these pieces. With the exception of the Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, the "Hammerklavier" (which will be played by Hee Jeong Kim from U of M in the evening), Beethoven gave no metronome markings for any of his piano sonatas, according to Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion by Charles Rosen.
"They did a similar thing when I was a student at U of M," recalled Prof. Conway; he took part in playing a piece from the Mikrokosmos by Bartók Béla. But that "may have taken three hours," compared to the larger undertaking of the Beethoven piano sonatas. The complete sonatas played by Alfred Brendel on the Decca label take up 12 compact discs (though EMI does it in ten for Daniel Baremboim, and eight for H. J. Lim).