Pianist David Korevaar discusses Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto

Pianist David Korevaar joins the Fort Collins Symphony on August 12th, 2022 for an All-Beethoven Summer Festival, featuring the enchanting Piano Concerto No. 4, the spirited Symphony No. 7, and the dramatic Coriolan Overture.

In this interview, David introduces the 4th piano concerto and shares his early influences, as well as what he learned from teaching students and playing chamber music.

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Interview with Pianist David Korevaar

Intro:

Jeremy Cuebas: Hi there and welcome to the Fort Collins Symphony Podcast. My name is Jeremy Cuebas and I’m here with pianist David Korevaar. David, thank you so much for joining us today.

David Korevaar: It’s great to be here, Jeremy, thanks so much for having me on.

Jeremy Cuebas: So, David’s gonna be performing Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto with us. And we’re gonna be talking about that today. David, how did you start out as a musician? What brought you to the piano?

David’s early influences:

David Korevaar: I don’t know how common this story is, but in my generation, mothers liked their children to take piano lessons. That was a thing. And I was, I was the youngest, um, in my family and we were all very competitive. So when my older brother began his piano lessons, I basically fussed until they let me start too, even though I was too young by their light. So I was, I was six. The piano teacher really didn’t wanna teach anybody younger than eight.

David Korevaar: Basically, the assignment I got was, well, if you can get through the primmer book on your own, then you can have lessons. So that’s what I did. So I basically taught myself how to read music by reading through the, the primmer book.

David Korevaar: Then I, my journey was a little complicated by the fact that I really became very excited about playing the flute once instrumental music was a thing which, was at my school it was third grade. And by the time, I guess when I was in sixth grade or so I was studying with one of the best flute teachers in San Diego, which is where I grew up.

David Korevaar: And so I was very committed to that route, and actually joined youth orchestra fairly young and stayed in that through the end of high school. What really flipped a switch for me and really sent me into piano as my life was being introduced to Earl Wild when I was 12. He took me on as a student.

David Korevaar: And I’m actually shocked at that because I think my background was not that strong. I had certain strengths, but playing the piano wasn’t necessarily one of them. And so to be one of, at that point, he was living in Palm Springs and wasn’t performing a lot for a few years because of his health, and I was one of his only students for a fairly long period. And every two weeks I’d go up and have lessons with Earl Wild in Palm Springs. And he would give me an entire afternoon. He was just amazingly generous with his time.

David Korevaar: What was interesting about working with somebody like that: Earl was not somebody who had taught a lot of younger students.

David Korevaar: I think his experience was teaching people who were already quite accomplished. And I realized later in hindsight that it took me about eight years to figure out what he had told me. I mean there was just so much meat to what he gave me, uh, in terms of basics of how you address the instrument mostly. And I still use a lot of that in my own teaching.

Teaching:

David Korevaar: So my main job these days is as a professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. And, uh, I started working there in 2000. And it’s been a wonderful ride.

David Korevaar: One of the things I, I realized early on in, in my career at CU was how much I was learning from my students.

David Korevaar: So the better the students were, the better I could teach or the better, the more I could learn in a way. Um, and a lot about how, you know, it’s like chamber music, a lot of the sort of listening we do in a chamber music situation because we’re listening to other people is teaching us how to listen to ourselves in a way, and the same works with students that we have by listening to the students, we learn to hear ourselves.

David Korevaar: And this is a wonderful kind of feedback that happens. And hopefully the, the students get as much out of it as I do. I mean, I think they must, but it’s a, it’s been a very interesting journey in that respect because I feel like it’s so much a part of my own personal journey to be in this position.

Jeremy Cuebas: When you’re doing the chamber music and you’re… Is it that you’re starting to hear yourself from other people’s perspective or imagining that is that part of.

David Korevaar: Yeah. And you playing, I mean, I have so much experience doing this over so many years in so many different kinds of settings and ensembles.

David Korevaar: There’s a couple things about it. One is being inside another person in a way a lot of what you do to play together with somebody else is to really be connected to them in a very [00:04:00] intimate way.

David Korevaar: It’s interesting as somebody who’s, you know, spent so much of my energy over the years, also playing solo piano repertoire, and recording solo piano repertoire, I feel like the chamber music experience is so rewarding because I’m not alone. And that collaborative thing, and this is true when you play concert with an orchestra as well.

David Korevaar: The collaborative aspect of it is something that, uh, it’s a force multiplier. I’m trying to come up with the proper buzzword for that, that is this idea that we’re, by being part of something bigger, we are becoming better ourselves, whether it’s two people or 60.

Introducing Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto:

Jeremy Cuebas: So let’s talk about the concerto. You’re doing with us: Beethoven’s fourth concerto. Could you introduce this to maybe a listener who doesn’t know classical music very well? What can they expect going to see this piece?

David Korevaar: So I was gonna lead this part of the discussion off by saying that one of the reasons I’m doing this concerto in Fort Collins is because Wes Kenny asked me which one I’d like to do, and I said I really wanna do the fourth because I had never done it. So I’m really excited about it. Um, and I guess maybe this isn’t aimed at your brand new listener, but this is a concerto that if you start asking pianists what their favorite Beethoven piano concerto is, or even what their favorite piano concerto is, Beethoven four often comes up.

David Korevaar: And I think it’s because there’s this amazing combination of lyricism, drama and virtuosity. You’ve got all these ingredients and as is true with, you know, with Beethoven. In sort of the middle of his career, he’s interested in doing some surprising things.

1st movement:

David Korevaar: I mean, I think for somebody who knows sort of the concerto repertoire, the most surprising thing about this piece is the way it begins with a soft, almost apologetic entrance by the piano alone. And when the orchestra sneaks in, in what seems at the moment to be a completely unrelated key, I mean, there’s something just transcendent about that moment. By setting the piece off this way, he’s created a whole different drama from really just about any other concerto up to that time. Watch how the drama of piano and orchestra evolves in this piece.

2nd movement:

David Korevaar: Another big highlight is the second movement, which is actually quite short. I think it’s the shortest slow movement in any of the Beethoven concertos by quite a bit. But dramatically it’s such a remarkable piece. The story that everybody sort of associates with it, which may or may not have roots in Beethoven himself is of Orpheus taming the wild beasts. In which case the pianist represents Orpheus and the orchestra represents the wild beasts, which I’m sure every orchestra musician wants to hear.

David Korevaar: But what happens in the course of this is that the pianist, who is singing softly until the very end of the movement, everything is marked to be played with the soft pedal down. The orchestra, which begins very brusquely, by about, uh, it’s maybe two thirds of the way through the movement, the orchestra’s hushed. Like they’re listening to the piano finally. And the piano is being listened to because the piano never insists.

David Korevaar: It’s like this great piece of diplomacy. You get your point across by whispering, by making people come to you and listen, and somehow the orchestra gets it. It’s, it’s such an amazing concept for a concerto movement.

David Korevaar: And of course the result of all of this is at the beginning of the third movement, which begins with the orchestra, the orchestra’s playing pianissimo. It starts like way over there. You know, it’s such a surprise when that begins. It also begins on the wrong chord, which is another good Beethoven trait.

David Korevaar: I think you can tell from the way I’m talking, I’m very excited about this piece. It’s taken me a long time to come to it. I’ve played the other four concertos for many, many years. And it’s interesting to come to this one relatively late, hopefully with more knowledge and maturity than I would’ve brought to it 20 years ago or 40 years ago, had I learned it then.

Jeremy and David discuss the concerto:

Jeremy Cuebas: Well, I think whispering is perfect for the second movement. And you said it’s kind of the anti-concerto movement and it’s not just the competition, but it’s also like at no point in that movement is the orchestra accompanying the piano, like they almost don’t ever play at the same time. It’s almost always back and forth.

David Korevaar: That’s right. That’s a really important part of it. It’s just like the very last chord, you know, in a way. The orchestra plays an E minor chord and the piano plays this little arpeggio and otherwise it’s always this antiphonal play going on.

How has your relationship with the piece evolved?

Jeremy Cuebas: One of my normal questions is “how has your relationship with this piece evolved from maybe when you played it the first time to now?” Um, so it’s fascinating that this is actually gonna be your first time performing it. You’ll finally click in that fourth concerto off.

David Korevaar: Right. Well, and, but the question is, I think the question’s interesting anyway, even if I hadn’t played the piece, because it’s a piece I always admired without loving when I was younger.

Jeremy Cuebas: Okay.

David Korevaar: And it’s only really been in the last say 10 years or so that I’ve come to appreciate it, I think. This is sort of like with the way I was with Mozart, who was, you know, probably my favorite composer to play now in a lot of respects, especially when you’re looking at concerto repertoire. And, when I was in my twenties, I had no use for it. I didn’t get it in my early twenties. It’s just like, what’s this all about? It’s all kind of pretty. And you know, I didn’t, I didn’t get the subtlety. I didn’t get this amazing thing that Mozart can do and Beethoven does as well, so I think it’s relevant of making the entire mood change with one note.

David Korevaar: And that’s something that requires, I think, a certain amount of understanding. We look at Mozart as this kind of innocent genius. We don’t, we look at Beethoven as a troubled genius, I suppose. The music speaks. That’s why we still play it. That’s why we still care, and learning how to make that speak, learning how to listen to what the piece is telling me so that I can tell you what the piece is telling me. And that I then have to have the technical accomplishment on the instrument to be able to translate that for an audience. And so that’s a lot of stuff to happen. And in a way, I guess I’m the sort of summary of this whole wander-y answer is: I’m glad I waited.

Collaboration:

David Korevaar:  Sort of going back to what I’d said earlier about the chamber music experience and being invested in another person: when you’re playing solo piano, repertoire, you’re looking to create all of those different characters and voices just with your own two hands and without any help from anybody else. But having had that experience of working with others really deepens the potential. It really makes you listen better, really makes you understand better what’s going on.

David Korevaar: Um, you know, in terms of the process of learning a piece, you know, the obvious difference is that. I’m not playing all the parts with my two hands, if I’m in a chamber or concerto situation, which means I have to internalize those other parts in some other way. Um, generally I’ll sing lines, um, try to hear lines in my head as much as I can, but to really, I mean, part of my job, you know, in chamber music and I think you can share to this is true as well.

David Korevaar: Although we lead, fortunately we have help from the conductor with this is to actually know what everybody’s up to.

Closing:

Jeremy Cuebas: Fantastic. Well, David, are there any other, anything else you’d like to share with our audience before we close out today?

David Korevaar: Um, just seeing again how much I’m looking forward to this concert and hope that everybody can come on August 12th.

Jeremy Cuebas: Absolutely. Yeah, August 12th. Um, in Fort Collins, we’ll be doing Beethoven festival featuring David Korevaar performing Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto. And we hope to see you there. David, thanks so much for joining us today.

David Korevaar: Thank you, Jeremy. It was great.


Pianist David Korevaar joins the Fort Collins Symphony on August 12th, 2022 for an All-Beethoven Summer Festival, featuring the enchanting Piano Concerto No. 4, the spirited Symphony No. 7, and the dramatic Coriolan Overture.

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