Kovacevich is limbering up for a Beethoven marathon

Pianist and conductor Stephen Kovacevich kicks off an epic 18-month concert series performing all of Beethoven s symphonies and concertos As an interpreter of Beethoven at the keyboard and on the conductor s podiu

Limbering up for a musical marathon

Pianist and conductor

Stephen Kovacevich

kicks off an epic

18-month concert series performing all of Beethoven's symphonies and concertos

As an interpreter of Beethoven at the keyboard and on the conductor's podium, Stephen Kovacevich has few peers.

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The Hampstead resident's latest large-scale project should tempt music lovers to the start of a concert cycle of all of Beethoven's symphonies and piano concertos.

They will be arranged in seven programmes over the next 18 months.

This musical marathon will see Kovacevich at the helm and in partnership with the London Mozart Players, whose London base is now the 900-seat Cadogan Hall, off Sloane Square.

Kovacevich explains: "I have appeared with the LMP over the years. And I think it was following very successful performances of Brahms's Third and Fourth Symphonies that we discussed the idea of a large-scale project. The result is this Beethoven cycle."

He clearly enjoys playing with, and conducting, the LMP, which he describes as a medium-size ensemble whose musical compass embraces the symphonic output well and one which he feels very at home with when directing from the pianist's stool.

As a soloist and conductor, he has performed with many of the world's most prominent orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo, the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Toronto Symphony.

An American, he came to Britain as an 18-year-old to study with the legendary Dame Myra Hess.

And, despite having lived here for almost half a century - much of the time in Hampstead - his outlook remains very trans-Atlantic with enduring attachment to his native California.

He first came to prominence here with performances of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. And his subsequent career has revealed him as one of the most searching interpreters of the Classical and Romantic repertoire, with emphasis on the music of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.

However, his musical horizon is very wide and his repertoire includes Chopin, Ravel, Schubert, Schumann, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.

As well as meeting demands for appearances throughout Europe, the Far East, Australasia and North America, Kovacevich has enjoyed two long-term recording contracts, firstly with Philips and latterly with EMI.

For EMI, he has recorded the two Brahms piano concertos, of which the first won the 1993 Gramophone Award and the Stereo Review record of the year and the second, the Diapason d'Or.

Perhaps the peak of his recording career to date was his complete Beethoven piano sonatas finished in 2003. It is a cycle that, despite a crowded catalogue, stands as one of the most authoritative.

His most recent release is a disc of Chopin and Ravel that has won prizes in the Choc du Monde de la Musique and Recompensa Classica.

In talking to Kovacevich, one gains the indelible impression of a musician for whom creative intensity operates at high temperature, but always under absolute control and never without a degree of thoughtfulness that gives his performances distinction and authority.

It is this freshness, vitality and individuality that one can expect throughout the forthcoming Beethoven cycle.

"I plan to give some short talks before some of the concerts or individual works on the programme to help the audience's perceptions of what they are about to hear, particularly in regard to the composer's intentions," he says.

"Take Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, a work for which he gave the premiere and which has given rise to much thought about the tempo of the first movement. I have always tended to slow tempo, though there is visible evidence that Beethoven himself was unsure as to what tempo to use.

"When I introduce the concerto at our second concert of the series on April 26, I am going to tell the audience that we shall play the movement at a single tempo throughout."

He and the LMP have performed the symphonies and concertos many times over the years - so the need for intensive rehearsal will not be there.

However, Kovacevich does suggest they will be putting in work to bring their playing up to concert pitch and to refine their perceptions of the music.

Despite the commitment over the next two years to the Beethoven cycle, Kovacevich's career will definitely not be on hold since his usual globetrotting schedule will embrace Paris, New York and Tokyo as well as his adopted home - London.

Stephen Kovacevich joins the London Mozart Players for the start of a complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos at the Cadogan Hall, Sloane Terrace, on March 15 at 7.30pm. The programme includes Symphony No 1, Piano Concerto No 2 and Symphony No 2. Tickets, priced £10-£30, are available on 020-7730 4500 or online at www.cadoganhall.com/bookonline/html (£1.50 charge applies).