Monday, 16 March 2015

The night Beethoven made me cry


Guest post by Terry Verhoeven

I am not one to profit from the misfortunes of others. Saturday night however I made an exception, filling the seat for PC at pianist Freddy Kempf's last NZ performance because he most regrettably could not make it and did not want his ticket to go to waste

It didn't.

What. A. Night. To. Remember.

This Wellington concert was the last in Freddy’s sell-out tour of Beethoven piano concertos which he conducted from the piano, this last night being concerto numbers four and five. Freddy was outstanding in every possible respect. I sat in awe as the maestro demonstrated to me, a concerti virgin, Beethoven's presence. And with what aplomb! The young maestro did The Gracious Mouth Through Which Music Spoke proud.

Conducting while playing was a masterstroke by the composer-pianist. A musician in our group observed later that  playing involves introversion, while conducting involves extroversion, so to be able change between the two modes as often as beautifully and as seamlessly as Freddy did was an amazing feat in itself. And one of the most invigorating and exhilarating things I have ever watched.

The hour and half long extravaganza of magnificence began with the Egmont overture, a stunningly beautiful piece in its own right. It centred the mind for what was about to come.

And then it came. The first movement of number four. How to describe it? No words can do it justice. The only words that come close to describing what I heard are the words attributed to Beethoven himself:

From the glow of enthusiasm I let the melody escape. I pursue it. Breathless I catch up with it. It flies again, I seize it. I embrace it with delight. I multiply it then by modulations, and at last I triumph in the first theme. There is the whole symphony.

I felt and saw the butterflies; in my stomach, from the excitement and exhilaration, and floating over the keys of the piano at a rhythmic pace I never would have believed was humanly possible (we were seated just behind the orchestra so only the orchestra had a better view of hands at work).

If music were honey, then Kempf's fingers were the bees. And boy did they make the honey trickle. By the end of the first movement I had reached cloud nine and the sweetness even drew a tear from me. Not an easy thing to do!

And that was just the first movement. The second was the most sublime thing I have ever heard. So contrasting to the first, yet so complementary. One simply cannot beat a live performance.

After the beauty of the fourth and the anticipation created by the intermission, the fifth was as professionally executed, but my own mind and heart had reached their crescendo during the second movement of the fourth. Still, my heart raced as  I joined in the round and well-deserved standing ovation from a packed house after all three movements of the fifth.

Freddy Kempf and the NZSO were first class. There is no praise too high I can give their performance. I honestly cannot imagine attending another that could beat it. But then again, I am a guy who has just popped his concerti cherry.



  1. This is amazing Terry,and PC : such praise has flowed. Was the concert recorded? Would we not we wish that Beethoven knew what he created. I think he did, he must have known, I hope he did.
    I wonder what he would do if he were with us today.

  2. Paul, I am not sure if it was recorded on camera. The audio almost certainly would have been recorded. Beethoven was with us that night.


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