Friday, February 8, 2013

33 Variations by Moisés Kaufmann, Zach Theatre, January 23 - February 17, 2013

Austiin Live Theatre review
33 Variations Moises Kaufmann Zach Theatre Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

In 1819 Viennese music publisher Anton Diabelli invited many of the leading musicians of the Habsburg empire to compose a variation upon a simple waltz of his own devising. Profits from the project were to be contributed to support orphans and widows of soldiers killed in the Napoleonic wars. Ludwig von Beethoven initially declined to contribute, then changed his mind. He eventually penned 33 variations, over several years, which Diabelli published as a separate volume sponsored by the 'Patriotic Alliance of Artists' (Vaterländischer Künstlerverein).

Alfred Brendel called this late work of Beethoven "the greatest of all piano works"; Arnold Shoenberg wrote that "in respect of its harmony, [the Diabelli Variations] deserves to be called the most adventurous work by Beethoven." Moisés Kaufmann of the Tectonic Theatre Project -- yes, the Kaufmann who assembled the memorable two-part Laramie Project -- took the story and legends of Beethoven's writing of the variations and made a play of it.

Zach Theatre artistic director Dave Steakley tells us that UT-based concert pianist Anton Nel approached him with the offer to join in a production of Kaufmann's 33 Variations. Nel is a world-class artist who has appeared with many of the world's great symphonies. We'd heard him with Peter Bay and the talent at the Austin Symphony, so how could we not look forward to this production?

I came away deeply disappointed by 33 Variations, and it's taken me a while to figure out why. I'm not a musician -- I can clumsily interpret simple sheet music on a keyboard but when all is said and done, my head just doesn't work that way. But classical music captivates me, and none more so than that of Beethoven. I listen with awe to a piano virtuoso like Nel, understanding only that this is an art that surpasses my own capabilities entirely.

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