St. Michael’s Choir School alumnus Steward Goodyear will perform all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas at this year’s Luminato festival in Toronto. Photo by Andrew Garn

St. Michael’s Choir School alumnus to perform all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas

By  Allison Hunwicks, The Catholic Register
  • May 25, 2012

TORONTO - Beethoven has long been hailed as one of the most emotionally charged and technically demanding composers of all time. So The Beethoven Marathon is shaping up as quite a demanding day for Toronto-born pianist Stewart Goodyear.

Goodyear will be playing all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas. And, not just playing them — playing them all in a day and in order, no less.

“I always felt that all of the sonatas were a set. Albeit, a very long set — an 11- or 12-hour set,”  laughs Goodyear in a conversation with The Catholic Register about his June 9 performance during Toronto’s 2012 Luminato festival.

“It really is a retrospective of his art. I felt that playing all of the sonatas was almost equivalent to seeing an artist’s exhibit and taking a tour of his or her work. With paintings or sculptures, you don’t just stop at one room, you want to take the whole tour. That’s exactly how I feel about the sonatas.”

The performance will take place at Koerner Hall, the Royal Conservatory of Music’s flagship performance venue, in three sections that Goodyear has devised to showcase the musical transition and revolutionary composition style that is Beethoven’s work.

“The first part, that starts at 10 in the morning, is really early Beethoven. You see Beethoven flirting with convention with the way that sonatas had been written before. There are some influences of Mozart and Haydn, but the Beethoven stamp is clearly there. With every sonata, you see him becoming more and more revolutionary,” said Goodyear.

The final two sections, at 3 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., will move through the sonatas composed after 1800 and into the final stylistic interpretations of the musical period’s gradual transition from Classical era to Romantic era that Beethoven so exquisitely interprets in his work.

“It ends on a very serene note with the last three (sonatas). It’s almost as if Beethoven is finding inner peace for the first time, or at least becoming close to it,” said Goodyear.

Goodyear has always had a close affinity for the composer, who influenced him from a very early age to become a classical musician and, more specifically, a pianist. “Beethoven was like mother’s milk to me, in a sense. I was constantly surrounded by  his music, I always played his sonatas. I only recently programmed his music because I wanted to feel emotionally close to the music I was playing — I wanted to understand the emotions inside and out. I felt ready to perform all of them.”

Stewart Goodyear performing (photo by Andrew Garn)

Memorizing such a vast body of work was no problem for Goodyear. While studying at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia under the direction of Leon Fleisher, Goodyear was asked by his teacher to prepare one Beethoven sonata each week.

“It had to be learned thoroughly, it had to be memorized, and it had to be ready at performance level by the lesson time. So, it was a great practice for me. I learned so much about memorizing and about learning pieces quickly. As I was learning each sonata, I got to know how Beethoven would compose, how he would develop an idea and what emotions he would convey. It was an amazing year.” 

Fortunately, Goodyear also had excellent musical beginnings. He is an alumnus of the St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto, an institute that greatly affected his career trajectory.

“What I loved about the (St. Michael’s Choir School) musically was the fact that we were exposed to music that was composed from the 1500s to the present. It was a great study of counterpoint and phrasing. It was a very valuable music lesson and a great experience,” said Goodyear.

“I wanted to be a musician, even before I went to the choir school. My first year there, singing those motets inspired me to become a composer, actually.”

Until his Toronto performance, audiences can find Goodyear playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of a string of international engagements that will take him across the globe as far as Leipzig, Germany, and Tokyo.

But what about listeners who might feel just a bit daunted by the prospect of nearly 11 hours of Beethoven?

“I think for some of the audience members that have not been exposed to some of the other sonatas besides the famous ones, it will be a very interesting roller-coaster ride of experiences,” said Goodyear.

“They will want to take in the whole tour. I really believe that. They will want to sit through the whole thing — they won’t get enough.”

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