Eric Paetkau, music director
Jane Coop, piano
2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. It’s a big year for orchestras all over the globe as we celebrate the composer who quite literally changed the game.
When we decided we wanted to feature one of Beethoven’s remarkable piano concertos, the list of pianists we wanted to work with was short – Jane Coop topped that list for her brilliant tone and sensitivity to the phrase. We cannot wait to share the stage with her again.
Abigail Richardson-Schulte’s Step Up gets things going and makes a great pairing for the energy of Beethoven’s third piano concerto.
Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony is the perfect music to celebrate his artistry. It’s iconic.
Just like its composer.
Step Up – Abigail Richardson-Schulte*
Piano Concerto No. 3 in c Minor – Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 6 in F Major, The Pastoral – Ludwig van Beethoven
*denotes Canadian composer
Pianist Jane Coop, one of Canada’s most prominent and distinguished artists, was born in Saint John, New Brunswick and grew up in Calgary, Alberta. For advanced studies her principal teachers were Anton Kuerti in Toronto and Leon Fleisher in Baltimore.
At the age of nineteen she won First Prize in the CBC’s national radio competition (the Young Performers Competition), and this, along with First Prize at the Washington International Competition, launched her career. In the early years she made recital debuts at Wigmore Hall and Carnegie Recital Hall (now called Weill Hall), and gave concerto performances with the Toronto Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic the Victoria Symphony and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra. In 1976 she was invited to tour the New England States as soloist with Mario Bernardi and the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada in Mozart’s Concerto in D minor, K.466.
Subsequently she has played in over twenty countries, in such eminent halls as the Bolshoi Hall in St. Petersburg, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall, Roy Thomson Hall, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, the Beijing Concert Hall and the Salle Gaveau (Paris). In her own country she has given concerts from north to south: Whitehorse (Yukon) and Niagara Falls (ON), and from west to east: Tofino (BC) and St. John’s (Nfld) and many, many cities, towns and communities in between. She is in fact one of the few who has remained resident in Canada throughout her career.
Coop’s love of chamber music has led her to collaborate with artists from many parts of the world. Her longtime association with violinist Andrew Dawes, and her more recent partnership with cellist Antonio Lysy have given her the opportunity to delve into the sonata literature of Beethoven, a body of music to which she feels particularly drawn. Summer festivals in North America and Europe have provided venues for performances with the Manhattan, Miami, Audubon, Orford, Lafayette, Colorado, Seattle, Angeles and Pacifica String Quartets, as well as the Los Angeles Chamber Winds, York Winds, and such luminaries as Barry Tuckwell, Jamie Somerville, Martin Beaver, Jeanne Baxtrasser and Michelle Zukovsky. Coop is a cherished faculty artist at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival, the oldest chamber festival in North America. There she collaborates in performances of much of the chamber music literature for piano and strings, and coaches brilliant young musicians from across the continent.
Her commitment to teaching is centred around her long time position at the University of British Columbia’s School of Music in Vancouver, where she was a senior professor and Head of the Piano Division. In 2003 she was designated Distinguished University Scholar by the university’s president, and in 2007 she received a Killam Teaching Award. In 1992 she was the founding Artistic Director of the Young Artists’ Experience – a summer chamber music program for students from the age of 14 to 18 which took place in Whistler, BC. Its mandate was to give the young people a wide exposure to art and life, thus offering in the daily schedule yoga, composition, poetry, philosophy and visual art as well as music.
Coop’s reputation has inspired international competition organizers to invite her to judge their events over the past fifteen years. She has served on the juries of the Kapell (Maryland), Dublin, Washington DC, Hilton Head, Honens, Gina Bachauer and the New York Piano Competitions. She has also been a jury member for the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards, the Glenn Gould Prize, the Hnatyshyn Foundation Developing Artists Grants and various Canada Council grant awards. Her sixteen recordings, three of which have been nominated for Juno awards, have garnered glowing reviews and have been heard on classical radio programs in many countries.
In December 2012, Jane Coop was appointed to the Order of Canada, our country’s highest honour for lifetime achievement.
Piano Concerto No. 3 – Beethoven
Beethoven and the two other pre-eminent musical geniuses of his time—Haydn and Mozart—can be imagined in astronomical terms as planets in the same solar system, but with very different orbits.
Every so often there were moments of conjunction, as when Beethoven moved to Vienna, first in 1787 when he was 17 to study with Mozart; Mozart himself had moved to Vienna just five years earlier. Beethoven had to return home to Bonn almost immediately for the saddest of reasons: the death of his mother. But he returned to Vienna five years later to study with Haydn.
It says something about Beethoven’s rebellious spirit that the chance to study with one of music history’s greatest mentors—the nurturing, appreciative Haydn—meant little to him; he may have been the only musician in Vienna who did not love Papa Haydn, whom he described as boring and old-fashioned.
But he stayed there for the same reason that Mozart did: For a composer trying to make his mark, Vienna was the place to be. And, like Mozart, Beethoven knew that composing and performing his own piano concertos was a good way to establish himself in the front ranks of pianists and composers at the same time.
But Beethoven was circumspect in bringing piano concertos before the public. Critics generally divide Beethoven’s stylistic periods into early, middle and late; they identify his Piano Concerto No. 2 as the earliest of the early concertos, most clearly showing the influence of Mozart and Haydn. (It actually predates the one we now know as No. 1; though published later, it was composed earlier.)
Beethoven was reserved, even dissatisfied, with these early concertos, though they are undeniably beautiful and foreshadow the grandeur to come. His Concerto No. 2 met with immediate success after its premiere in 1795, yet Beethoven delayed its publication, eventually submitting it only with reluctance.
He charged his publisher, Hofmeister of Leipzig, half the price of other early works of comparable scope including his Symphony No. 1, noting that “as I have already written, I don’t consider it one of my best works.”
To many listeners, including the musicologist and Beethoven specialist Hans-Werner Küthen, No. 3 is Beethoven’s “breakout” concerto. Küthen has described this concerto as a gateway between the Classical concerto tradition and the revolution that began with Beethoven’s fourth and fifth concertos, and that continued in the Romantic era.
Beethoven completed most of his work on the Piano Concerto No. 3 in 1799 and 1800, just two years after finishing his [current] Concerto No. 1, though he continued refining No. 3 until performing the premiere in April 1803. Still, it represents a cautious departure from his earlier concertos: Here is Beethoven preparing to break away from the formal constraints of the Classical era, like a bicycle racer making his move.
With this concerto Beethoven begins to explore a new kind of thinking about the concerto form, expanding its scope and force.
With his deep study of all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, Küthen observes that “The four versions of the B-flat concerto [No. 2], the three of the C major [No. 1], and a single one of the C minor concerto show that the time span between draft and final form becomes increasingly short, that the composer wins the upper hand over the virtuoso, and in [the Third Concerto] Op. 37 a first perfection of the genre is reached, which was the object of the greatest emulation in the 19th century.”
Symphony No. 6 – Beethoven
Beethoven’s friends and biographers have left ample evidence of his deep love of nature. Hardly a day passed that he didn’t take a long walk through the woods and fields surrounding Vienna, drinking in the sights and sounds of the countryside and bellowing his inventions at top volume as he went. He found that setting ideal for thinking through whatever piece he was composing. He regularly forsook Vienna during the hot Austrian summer. These working holidays in the verdant hinterlands also proved highly fruitful. During them, he would frequently produce sketches for new music, later putting them into finished form in Vienna during the winter.
The Sixth Symphony is the principal musical manifestation of his love of nature. He began sketching it as early as 1802, but only buckled down to concentrated effort from 1807 to 1808. The première took place, along with that of Symphony No. 5, at a marathon all-Beethoven concert in Vienna at the close of the latter year (albeit with No. 6 performed before No. 5).
The Sixth is his most direct symphonic example of program music, the kind which seeks to express ideas from outside the art. He himself applied the subtitle Pastoral to the Sixth, but he didn’t intend it to be taken as program music of the more explicit kind, in which composers such as Liszt, Strauss and Sibelius later specialized.
“Anyone who has the faintest idea of country life will not need any descriptive titles to imagine for himself what the author intends,” he wrote. “Even without a description one will be able to recognize it all, for it is (a record of) sentiments rather than painting in sound.” His sketchbook for the final period of its composition contain such further musings on this subject as “leave the listeners to work out the situations for themselves,” and “all tone-painting will lose its effect in instrumental music if pushed too far.” French composer Hector Berlioz commented, “There is no question of gaily dressed shepherds…it is a matter of nature in her simple truth.”
In emotional terms, the Pastoral Symphony’s principal characteristic is a sense of relaxed contentment. The first movement, Awakening of Cheerful Thoughts Upon Arriving in the Country, proceeds at a leisurely pace; even its climaxes are relatively restrained. The following Scene by the Brook unfolds with aptly flowing grace. At the very end, Beethoven has woodwinds imitate different birds: flute, nightingale; oboe, quail; clarinet, cuckoo.
The remaining three movements are played without pauses between them. For his scherzo, Merry Gathering of Country Folk, Beethoven summons a group of rustics for a cheerful group of dances. A vivid thunderstorm intrudes violently (with a piccolo providing an extra daub of color), but the symphony’s opening mood of serenity is restored by the final, uplifting Shepherds’ Song of Thanksgiving.
“The entire finale seems an ecstatic hymn of thanks to some pantheistic god, to nature with a capital ‘N’, to whatever beneficent power one can perceive in a universe that seemed as dark and terrifyingly irrational in Beethoven’s days as it can in ours,” writes Edward Downes. “That a man of sorrow and self-inflicted injuries like Beethoven could glimpse such glory and, by the incomprehensible alchemy of his art, lift us to share his vision – even if only for a few moments – is a miracle that remains as fresh as tomorrow’s sunrise.”