Ludwig van Beethoven had far from a perfect life.
Beethoven’s mother died when he was just 16, and the tragedy sent his father spiraling into alcoholism. That left Beethoven responsible for his younger siblings.
Life didn’t get easier when he started receiving recognition for his music. He fell in love with a woman of a higher social class, but their relationship couldn’t ever be official.
“I think, because in his life, he was so unsatisfied — there was so much conflict, internal conflict ... that is the drama and drive and passion and despair that is present in his music,” says Vera Volchansky, director of orchestras and associate professor of strings at Millersville University.
Listeners can hear a taste of that Friday when Millersville University’s orchestra performs Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Op. 58 No. 4 in G major with guest pianist Mikhail Yanovitsky, a Juilliard-trained musician who now teaches at Temple University. It will be Yanovitsky’s first performance in Lancaster in 26 years.
The orchestra will also perform Symphony No. 8, Op. 88 in G major.
The concert also marks the beginning of this season’s celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday. Millersville will continue the celebration in the spring with another concert in Beethoven’s honor.
Volchansky and Yanovitsky both say the fourth concerto is played less frequently than other works by Beethoven. Yanovitsky, who has performed all of Beethoven’s concertos, has only performed the fourth concerto once before, in Chicago about 10 years ago.
“After such a long break, I have been able to rethink the piece,” Yanovitsky says. “I have been able to improve, have more ideas, and to have more experience.”
And yet, Yanovitsky says sometimes a deeper dive into a selection means coming to terms with the unknown.
“The more you understand the piece, the more you understand there are some secrets, some moments which you may never understand, which makes it intriguing, captivating, which makes these concertos one of a kind,” Yanovitsky says.
Volchansky says the fourth concerto allows listeners an opportunity to hear a different side to the famed composer.
“His other concertos are a little more straightforward and classical in that sense,” Volchansky says. “His fifth concerto is great, of course, and very, very famous, but it’s also very bright. His fourth concerto is a lot more introverted. It’s like he’s having a conversation with himself. It’s actually difficult to play because it’s so understated in some ways.”
As the piece progresses, it takes different shapes. In the second movement, there’s a conversation between the orchestra and soloist. In the third movement, there’s a sense of levity with a more sweeping feel.
“This attests to Beethoven’s belief that the good wins over evil,” Yanovitsky says.
And, as we move into a musical season rich with opportunities to celebrate Beethoven, the concert will allow listeners another chance to reflect on the composer’s legacy.
“We still cannot formulate how much was done by his music and his personality, on the one hand,” Yanovitsky says. “On the other hand, it’s beautiful to the human ear. There are a lot of composers who made revolutionary changes whose music is not as appealing as Beethoven’s.”