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Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Superconductor Interview: Shai Wosner

The recitalist and recording artist talks Schubert.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Shai Wosner makes his Mostly Mozart debut on Aug. 10.
Photo from ShaiWosner.com
"Schubert is one of the composers I feel closest to." The speaker is Israeli pianist Shai Wosner. The Onyx Records artist and New York resident is scheduled to make his Mostly Mozart debut on August 10th as part of Lincoln Center's A Little Night Music series.

"It's not any particular piece--it's sort of his work in general I feel strongly about. It's his sensitivity--it's very right for our time especially these days."

He talks about the major work he is performing at the Lincoln Center program: the A Major sonata written at the end of Schubert's short life. "I try to see the way a work is structured and how its structure affects the smaller elements like melody, harmony and rhythm. The A Major sonata is not so much different from other pieces in that I try to go into it at is own pace. Some pieces have their own conception of time."

"First of all, everything today is so hyper-connected and super-fast," he explains. "Not that Schubert's music is slow. But his sense of time, what Schumann called the "heavenly lengths" has the ability to slow things down. And that's something we can all treasure today."

Schubert died at the age of 28, but left a large catalogue of piano pieces, including twenty-one sonatas and the Impromptus. Mr. Wosner's recital will feature the penultimate Sonata in A Major (D. 959) , which stands among the last works that Schubert wrote before dying at 28.

"Schubert's music," he says, "has a combination of clashing elements. He is capable of such serenity in his melodies--and suddenly (he cites the (C Major) String Quintet, that serenity is interrupted. The outbursts of violence and darkness--some of the most tragic music ever written--can appear unannounced, almost out of nowhere. It leaves you baffled and makes you really think. You realized that under all this serenity there is this dark under-current that just bursts out in an incredible way."

The sonatas are sometimes misunderstood when placed next to the more famous songs and symphonies. "The song is maybe the central genre of Schubert's work," Mr. Wosner says. "There's something about his melodies that are irresistable. That comes from writing for the voice. The voice is always the ideal for this kind of writing."

"I think that in the way Schubert develops his materials there is just as much symphonic thinking as there is vocal. When it comes to the songs some of them are like sonatas for voice and piano. But he's also thinking symphonically and a lot of the writing is really orchestral."

"One of the big challenges is that you want to make the music sing and speak. The human voice is the ideal." He explains that the melodic writing in the sonatas is very different from in the vast books of lieder--that sometimes the goal is to make the piano not just sing but speak as if reciting poetry.

"It's sadly ironic to say this, but after the things that happened last week with this shooting" (he is referring to the July 20 incident in an Aurora, CO movie theater) that this is music that is very right for our time."

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.