To conclude the two-year celebration of Elizabethtown College’s new Steinway piano, the Monsters of the Steinway series featured Shai Wosner on the piano Saturday evening. During the concert, Wosner performed Franz Schubert’s “Piano Sonata in A Major” and “Piano Sonata in B-flat Major.”
Wosner, a native of Israel, studied piano under Emanuel Krasovsky and composition, theory and improvisational techniques under André Hajdu. He continued to study at The Julliard School with Emanuel Ax. Wosner has been experienced in solo works of Schubert throughout the years, featuring a Schubert-themed recital at the Kennedy Center and at the Lincoln Center’s “Mostly Mozart” all Schubert-themed recital.
In addition, Wosner released an album in 2011 featuring solo piano works by Schubert. In his concert repertoire, Wosner has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Atlanta, Baltimore, Berkeley, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras. He also holds the Avery Fisher Career Grant and a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award.
The performances for the evening were split into two parts, separated by an intermission. The first part of the concert featured Schubert’s four-movement piece, “Piano Sonata in A Major,” with “Allegro,” “Andantino,” “Scherzo: Allegro vivace” and “Rondo: Allegretto.” Following intermission, Wosner closed the concert with another one of Schubert’s four-movement pieces, “Piano Sonata in B-flat Major,” with “Molto moderato,” “Andante sostenuto,” “Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza” and “Allegro ma non troppo.”
While he was alive, Schubert’s composing career lasted 18 years. At the age of 26, Schubert was diagnosed with syphilis. Around this time, his works had changed with prevailing themes of hopelessness, austerity, sparseness and terror, giving his works a quality of depth and darkness. He died in 1828 at the age of 31.
Despite his short career, his biographer Maurice Brown claimed that Schubert produced “an outburst of composition without parallel in the history of music.” He published a little over 200 pieces during his lifetime. Around a thousand other smaller pieces comprise Schubert’s repertoire, leaving future artists with a wide selection of pieces to perform.
American musicologist Richard Taruskin described Schubert as an artist aiming to express words through music; words which verbal communication cannot express. “The early romantic composer whose works now loom in history as the most decisive, all-transforming ‘crossing of the edge’ into inwardness was a composer who lived his short life in relative obscurity, and whose enormous influence, both on his creative peers and on the listening habits of audiences, as almost a posthumous one … never had so many routes of harmonic navigation been open to composers, so many ways of making connections, so many methods of creating and controlling fluctuations of harmonic tension,” Taruskin said. “And to the extent that these fluctuations were understood as metaphors or analogues to nuances of feeling, never had there been such a supple means of recording and, as it were, ‘graphing’ the movements of the sentient subjective self — and all, in instrumental music, without any reference to externally motivating ‘objects.’ Never had ‘absolute music’ been so articulately expressive of the verbally inexpressible.”
Wosner has always admired the works of Schubert and has enjoyed performing his works throughout his career. “I think his music is very relevant to our time because he operates on a sense of time that is very different from most other music,” Wosner said. “It’s very expansive. You feel like you are one with the flow of the world and time itself in his music.”
During the performance, Wosner played lengthy Schubert pieces without the music. Both sonatas had a playing length of about thirty minutes each. “I try to memorize the pieces,” Wosner said. “It’s not always so easy — actually, it’s never so easy, to be honest. I try to because, first of all, everyone does it, and you’re kind of supposed to. The other reason is that sometimes the music can be distracting if it’s there. You practice and you try to assimilate the piece into you and make it a part of you. I know it sounds poetic, but it’s really true. You try to live with them, and when you play them, you inhabit them to a point where you don’t have to think so much what the notes are but more what they mean and how you want to shape them.”
To Wosner, it is his belief that Schubert’s pieces may have something to offer to modern society, and through his playing, people can experience this offering for themselves. “In the background of Schubert’s pieces, there’s always this huge space of time,” Wosner said.
“I think, nowadays, everything becomes shorter and shorter. With Twitter, you have to say what you have to say in 140 characters. In Vine, you have to say what you have to say in six seconds. Things become so condensed and so sound byte-y that I think it’s maybe good to have Schubert in your life as the antidote to that, to remind you that time is bigger and greater and the world is bigger and greater.”