It was barely 10:01 a.m. when pianist Stewart Goodyear sat at a Steinway concert grand at the Mondavi Center.
Time was of the essence, for this concert performance would not end until 13 hours later.
In the span of those hours would be a truly rare event – with Goodyear tackling all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas.
It was a herculean task, and one further underscored by the fact that Goodyear performed all of the music from memory.
In some ways this was more than just an extended concert. It was a portent of how classical music, when presented in a different and fresh way, can pique the interest of the public.
The more unusual and unprecedented, the better. Never mind that there were roughly 300 in attendance at any given time throughout the day Saturday. That’s a low number for Jackson Hall. However, what other art form would draw 300 patrons for a 13-hour affair on a sunny Saturday? Ticket prices – $75, or half off for students – may have proved a barrier to some .
Nonetheless, there was a decidedly healthy representation of young patrons in the hall who found this rare concert format intriguing.
The structure of the day allowed audience members to leave for an hour lunch at 2:00 p.m. and a two-hour dinner break at 6:30 p.m. but return to the concert hall .
“I do like Beethoven and I like classical, but I thought this kind of concert would be really interesting,” said Jasmin Fonseca, a digital media major at Sacramento City College.
It was Fonseca’s first classical music concert. She was not intimidated by the format; she and her roommate agreed to stay for the first third of the concert: a commitment of four hours.
For those who attended the full concert, a treat was in order. Goodyear proved a perceptive and fluid pianist. Heseized on the many dramatic moments in the sonatas – which begin with Beethoven writing buoyant piano music and end with sonatas filled with drama and steeped in complexity.
The piano sonatas include some of the most popular works written for the piano repertoire – such as his “Moonlight” sonata and the “Pathetique.” The 32 sonatas mark a timeline of musical development between 1795 to 1822. Some of the works, epsecially the middle and later sonatas, border on the experimental. The later early sonatas auger the onset of Romanticism.
On Saturday, Goodyear proved he was not shy at playing with tempos, nor was he skittish at conjuring explosive sounds from the keyboard. And in some passages he let some moments dissipate into silence.
The chance to hear all of these works in one sitting was akin to being party to a large musical panoramic canvas. And it’s a canvas that rarely travels.
In 2003 pianist Julian Jacobson performed all of the Beethoven sonatas over a 13-hour period in a London church. Closer to home, the last time such a thing was attempted was in 1984, when Nevada City pianist Gary Goldschneider performed the sonatas on a Bosendorfer grand piano during in a nine-hour marathon to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Grodin’s menswear store on Market Street in San Francisco.
For Goodyear, performing the sonatas in one day is an organic pursuit – and no gimmick. He first heard the sonatas when his mother brought home a 13-LP boxed set of the complete piano sonatas performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy. He was 4 at the time, and he proceeded to devour all the sonatas in one sitting.
Many in attendance were classical music diehards, like Merced resident Don Davis, 79.
“This is a real rarity,” said Davis, who is certain he will never again get the chance to hear all the sonatas performed in one day. “I’ve heard of the complete sonatas being performed over a period of time by various pianists, but not this,” said Davis.
Davis left his Merced home at 6 a.m. in order to make it for the first notes of the first sonata – Sonata No. 19 in G Minor. He was intent on staying the whole 13 hours despite the fact that such attendance would see him walking through his front door very early Sunday morning. Davis first learned to play the piano at age 6 and now plays the oboe in the Mariposa Symphony.
“I’m very fond of the Beethoven sonatas, and I practice and listen to them a lot,” said Davis. “I’m hoping to get a feeling of how these sonatas get more and more complex as Beethoven became older.”
Many who attended were there because Goodyear came to Mondavi a week early to prepare. During that time he participated in a spectrum of events. One of those included him speaking to a class of 300 students at Sacramento State. Another such event saw Goodyear appear at a near capacity talk at Sacramento’s Bows and Arrows venue, through the auspices of the local chapter of Classical Revolution.
It was during one of those pre-concert days at UC Davis that Maria Jaoudi heard Goodyear rehearsing. It was while she was taking a walk through campus. “He was rehearsing Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata,’ and it was so moving I decided to buy tickets,” Jaoudi said.
She brought her son and his fiancée. All three planned to stay through 11 p.m.
“This is what I would call a happening. That is what they used to call this kind of thing in the 60s.” said Jaoudi. “I wish this kind of thing happened more often because it would allow us to be taken away – into a timeless moment.”
“I think the idea of experiencing all the sonatas at once is attractive to people,” said Jeremy Ganter, director of programming at Mondavi.
Ganter said the attractiveness of the long concert format somewhat perplexes him given the track record of students who attend classical concerts at Mondavi – where students tend to stay for the first half of a concert and are gone at intermission – with many of them compelled to attend only as a classroom assignment.
“I’m really pleased by the fact that students are willing to sit for 13 hours of a performance,” Ganter said.
Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.