BENNINGTON >> Thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas. Eight concerts. Multiple venues in southwest Vermont. All to be conducted over two years. In the midst of full teaching and performance schedules, two Bennington College piano instructors aim to pull off the Herculean feat.
Enter Bennington Museum as the first local community host of this classical keyboard Odyssey. On March 12 at 2 p.m., pianists Yoshiko Sato and Christopher Lewis will perform three Beethoven piano sonatas, in a free public performance.
According to Deana Mallory, the museum's director of public programs, Sato and Lewis hope to perform one sonata each semester at Bennington College, and the others at venues throughout the community.
This concert, part of the "Music at the Museum" series, will present Beethoven's Sonata Op. 10-2 in F major, Sonata Op.54 in F major, and Sonata Op. 53 in C major.
"Bennington Museum is honored to be the first community venue in their attempt to play all of the Beethoven sonatas," Mallory said.
Yoshiko Sato studied in Keio University in Tokyo, at The Hartt School of Music in Connecticut and Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris in France. She has won numerous prizes in many competitions, and has given recitals in Japan, the U.S., France, and Switzerland.
Sato has appeared as soloist with the Manchester Symphony Orchestra, the Orquestra de Cambra de L'Emporda in Spain, the Hartt Symphony Orchestra, and with the Sage City Symphony. She has been staff accompanist and piano teacher for the music program at Bennington College since 1999.
On the subject of performing all the Beethoven sonatas, Sato said that last summer, the ambitious idea crossed her mind and became more appealing when she considered teaming up her friend and colleague Lewis.
"I'd turned 50 shortly before, so it may have been a biological call," Sato recalled. "But it [would] be a lot, [and] I wondered if Chris would share it with me. He kindly accepted. I always wanted to do something with him anyway!"
Op.10-2 and Op.54, Sato continued, are not some of the more famous Beethoven pieces, and Op. 54 has only two movements.
"But they are [all] filled with simple beauty and delight," Sato exclaimed. "Op. 10-2 is a memorable piece from my childhood. Many of my friends were assigned to learn it in piano school and I loved the piece when I heard them play it in concerts. Some decades have passed and I finally get to play it today."
For his part, Christopher Lewis has taught and performed throughout the U.S., Italy and British Columbia. He has given concerts in such major venues as Carnegie, Weill, and Alice Tully Halls (NYC); Orchestra Hall (Detroit); Empire State Performing Arts Center (Albany); Southern Vermont Arts Center; and the Bennington Center for the Arts.
Lewis is a prizewinner of the American National Chopin Competition and the New York Leschetitzky Society. He has held faculty positions at New York University as well as several private schools in New York City and since fall, 2010 has been an instructor at Bennington College.
"I've always loved the Beethoven sonatas and was thrilled when Yoshiko suggested that we work together to present all of them," Lewis said. "Pianists don't often get the chance to work together and it's great to be able to collaborate with a colleague, especially one who is such a wonderful, pristine pianist."
Lewis added that the piano "was Beethoven's instrument." He said each of the sonatas embodies something of the composer's genius in a unique way.
"The Op. 53 Sonata is known as the 'Waldstein' because it was dedicated to Count Ferdinand Waldstein, one of Beethoven's patrons," Lewis said. "It's from Beethoven's middle period, a work of great energy."
The entire "Music at the Museum" series is sponsored by composer, violinist, and Bennington College alum Alison Nowak and her husband Bob Crane.
The couple offered to sponsor a music series at the Bennington Museum after underwriting a performance there in 2014 of music by Nowak's father, the composer, pianist and former Bennington College professor Lionel Nowak (1911-1995).
The only sponsor proviso was for the concerts to be offered at no charge to the public. The Beethoven recital is the third of four such events this year, with the final installment coming in June.
"You will get to hear [Beethoven] pieces that are not usually played in concerts," Sato said. "They are extremely beautiful ones nonetheless. I hope people can enjoy these unusual finds."
"Beethoven: Three Sonatas for Piano," will be performed as part of the "Music at the Museum" series at the Ada Paresky Education Center and Paul Paresky Court, Bennington Museum, 75 Main St., on Sat. March 12, at 2 p.m. The recital is free to the public. Info: 802-447-1571, or visit benningtonmuseum.org
— Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist