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REVIEW: Hershey Felder as Beethoven: An Exclusive Live-Streamed Musical Event from Florence, Italy

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Dramatizing Dr. Gerhard von Breuning’s factual memoir, Aus dem Schwarzspanierhaus (Out of the House of Black-Robed Spaniards, Beethoven’s last residence), Hershey Felder brings Ludwig van Beethoven to life through the eyes of the Viennese Doctor Breuning, who spent his boyhood by the Maestro’s side.

Based on the original stage play direction by Joel Zwick, the show livestreamed Sunday, July 12th at 5PM PDT, 7PM CDT and 8PM EDT, and featured some of the composer’s greatest works, from the Moonlight Sonata and Pathétique Sonata to selections from the 5th and 9th Symphonies, and the Emperor Concerto, with Felder in an intense, illuminating, unforgettable journey through time that immerses audiences in the astounding life of Ludwig van Beethoven. Proceeds from this event will benefit each of the many participating theatres throughout the nation.

Plus, in keeping with Hershey Felder’s “ENCORE” tradition and audience engagement, Hershey Felder Presents has established THE HERSHEY FELDER PRESENTS ARTS PRIZE COMPETITION. Ticket-holders were invited to cast one vote for their favorite Competition Video using their registered email address, and the competition winner by viewer vote will be awarded $25,000 (twenty-five thousand U.S. dollars). The competition is open to all art disciplines (Musicians, Actors, Singers, Dancers, Fine Artists, Poets, Orators, Storytellers & etc.) using the life and music of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). All artists are invited to apply with a creative video presentation of “anything Beethoven or Beethoven inspired.”

We have all heard his music. Ludwig van Beethoven, famous for his nine symphonies along with his ubiquitous piano compositions and other chamber works, is more than just the sum of his music. Hershey Felder is back on stage telling the fascinating story of Beethoven’s life from the perspectives of both Gerhard von Breuning and the maestro himself. Hershey Felder, Beethoven, with text by Felder, is based on Dr. Gerhard von Breuning’s personal recollections published in 1874 in “Aus dem Schwarzspanierhaus.” Felder’s presentation, punctuated by his piano virtuosity, is absolutely stunning.

The setting is October 1863 Vienna. A graveyard is surrounded by artfully placed tombstones, a shovel, some dirt, bricks that had previously covered a metal box, and a Steinway grand piano is center stage. Felder’s set is gorgeous, and Christopher Ash’s lighting and projection design add greatly to its effect, both in the graveyard itself with a very realistic background, and in flashback sequences taking the audience into the city or inside various structures with all the accoutrements. Some abstract projections also come into play, enhancing the tone of a given scene. The lighting and upstage sections of the set give the production a subtle, and slightly spooky, antique feel in various shades of gray.

At the top of the show, Felder, as Breuning, relates how his own father, Stephan von Breuning, became acquainted with the little Beethoven, and how they studied music together as boys. The lifelong friendship that ensued had its challenges over the years, but after Gerhard’s fateful encounter, he describes his own friendship with Beethoven, seeded by his father, as precious and life changing. It becomes clear from Breuning’s tale that Beethoven was a gifted and caring man, yet he also possessed a mercurial temperament which made for some significant challenges in his personal life.

Over time, Felder lapses into several Beethoven classics including portions of Symphony #3, Symphony #5, Op.27 Piano Sonata No. 2 in C# Minor (better known as the “Moonlight” Sonata, though the story makes clear Beethoven never named it that), Op.13 Piano Sonata No. 8 (“Pathétique”), and others. At one point, when talking about a particularly difficult time in Beethoven’s life after Mozart’s death, Felder plays and sings a portion of Mozart’s Requiem as he describes Beethoven’s grieving period.

Several times during the performance, Felder begins playing piano alone, and somewhere along the way, his playing is combined with a symphonic recording, particularly during some of the Beethoven Symphony segments. This also happens during Mozart’s Requiem. It’s not done obtrusively, and the recording is balanced under Felder’s piano lead adding emphasis and texture.

Felder concludes the production with one Beethoven classic in its entirety that most any piano student would attempt at some point. It’s safe to say that most students would never approach the level of virtuosity and emotion that Felder captures in this breathtaking finale.

Beyond Beethoven, one will also come away from this production with a great appreciation of Hershey Felder. He’s a performer unlike any other, and one cannot see this production and not be in awe of his talents as an actor, as a musician, and knowing that he wrote the script, as a writer. His understanding of the lives of the various composers he studies is impressive, and his characterizations make them all the more accessible and vibrant to us all. Altogether a truly grand performance.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


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