Zanrosso is back, with Beethoven on board

Renowned pianist Amy Zanrosso is returning to the Kootenays, to perform Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the Symphony of the Kootenays

Photos above and below by Ray Sena

Five is Cranbrook’s classic number for the first week of October.

The Symphony of the Kootenays is making the autumn about Ludwig Van Beethoven, and launching its 2019/20 season with two concerts — in Trail (Saturday, Oct. 5), and Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre (Sunday, Oct. 6, 3 p.m.) On the bill of fare are two landmark Beethoven works: The Fifth Symphony and the 5th Piano Concerto (The Emperor).

Amy Zanrosso, a renowned and dynamic pianist, will take the stage with the Symphony for the Emperor.

In the fall of 2016, Zanrosso made her debut with the Symphony of the Kootenays, performing Beethoven’s challenging, difficult, famous 4th Concerto. This time, she’s presenting the challenging, difficult, even more famous 5th Concerto.

“I’ve listened to it countless times, but I’d never really considered performing it, simply because it always seemed a little bit out of reach,” Zanrosso told the Townsman.

“But I’m so glad I’ve learned it. I always thought I was a 4th type of person, but I think the 5th is now beating it by a very narrow margin at this point.”

Zanrosso currently lives in Oakland, California, but is originally from Castlegar. She says she’s excited to be returning to southeast B.C., with more Beethoven on board.

“I’m really happy that it’s happening again. Three years might be a long time, but maybe it’s just about the right amount of time in between, to make it just as exciting as the first time.”

The 2016 concert was so successful that Zanrosso and Jeff Faragher — the Symphony’s Music and Artistic director — agreed that a future project with Zanrosso and the Symphony was a must.

“And then he got in touch with me in March, and he said what about [the 5th Concerto] … I said ‘Oh My God.’ I would have liked to have had more time, but I wouldn’t have said no to something like that.”

Over the past spring and summer Zanrosso has been learning the 5th Concerto and rehearsing with a string quintet in preparation for next months concerts with the full orchestra.

“I haven’t played it with an orchestra yet,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it with an orchestra, and I’ve been playing it with a string quintet here, which is obviously different from a full orchestra — but it will give me an idea. But it definitely has chamber parts, especially the second movement, and also big battling sections between me and the orchestra. There are really big battles, which is fantastic.

“But a concerto is always about balancing dynamics, because it’s so easy, whether it’s a violin or piano concerto, for an orchestra to overpower a soloist. You have to be sensitive to each other.”

Beethoven’s music, perhaps more than any other composer, captures the essence and emotion of the human experience. But his music challenges every musician with the impossible.

“It never gets to a point where it feels easy, but it gets to a point where you don’t have to think as hard about it,” Zanrosso said. “And that feels really good. It’s almost overwhelming by the time I get to the end of the third movement. I did a run yesterday and I felt exhilarated. It’s so well-written and special.”

She reflected on the difference between the 4th and 5th Concertos.

“The 5th is easier ensemble-wise. I’m so sure of that. The 4th is so intimate and so special you have to know each other’s parts like it’s your own part. In the 5th you have to be on that same page, but it’s definitely a bit more loose in terms of how hard you have to work in order to play with each other. There’s a lot more freedom there, I think.

“It’s definitely going to be easier, even though it’s longer, and requires more endurance. The 4th is a different beast altogether.

“I feel the 5th is just more open,” Zanrosso said. “ I think it’s more accessible. It’s overwhelming in the way it tumbles over you, and I hope the audience feels that. It’s a great rush of joy.

“In terms of Beethoven, I feel that, compared to the 4th, which is very intimate, the 5th is triumphant, like a big wave of happiness. I hope that translates to the audience.”

Zanrosso can also relate to the two concertos, and their differences, on a deeper, much more personal level. Three years ago, when she performed the 4th, her mother had recently passed away.

“I think I was really still grieving, and I was in a darker place. The 4th really suited where I was at the time. And now, three years later, I’m in a brighter place. Still missing my Mom like crazy, but I think I’m going to feel so different walking up on that stage with this music than I did with the 4th, and I hope people that were there before will feel that energy.

“Just from the opening statement of the Beethoven, it’s going to be obvious that this is about happiness, this is about good things in life.”

First performed in 1811, the Emperor is at the pinnacle of Beethoven’s piano music. He himself was renowned more as a dynamic and revolutionary pianist than a composer in his earlier career, before the onset of his deafness.

“I do find that when I’m playing it, I’m picturing him, even though he never performed the piece,” Zanrosso said. “I try to imagine how he would have done it — how wild would he have been with his opening cadenzas; would he have thrown in his own improv in the middle? Because it’s really improvisatory.”

The music is shot through with the personality of the composer, and yet the musician must bring her own personality to it, and make the performance her own.

“I think about him a lot,” Zanrosso said. “I try to bring out the Beethoven in me, a little bit. Brash, and impetuous, and how I picture him, or how I’ve read about him. But it’s also a lot of me — moreso than Beethoven. He might hate my interpretation, who knows. He would yell at me. But that’s okay, I accept it, because it’s not him playing, it’s me.”

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