Hershey Felder’s Beethoven: When the Maestro Becomes the Maestro

I do not profess, by any stretch of the imagination, to be an expert on classical music. I probably couldn’t differentiate Beethoven from Chopin or Mozart.  I know what I like and what bores me, but unlike musical theater, that is most probably where my knowledge ends. And yet, I do know that not only did I like Hershey Felder’s Beethoven, I was totally mesmerized and captivated by it. 

Photo by Christopher Ash

I know that Beethoven was a composer of great note, one of the three Bs of classical music, who lived in the 1800s, went deaf, managed to create some of the world’s most revered and respected classical works, and died relatively young. After that, it’s all pretty touch-and-go. Oh, and I can tell you that pieces like his 5th and 9th Symphonies, Moonlight Sonata, Pathetigue Sonata, and of course, Fur Elise are all familiar and obviously world-renowned. Technically, I am at a loss. It goes back to I know what I like, and if a pianist hits the wrong key, I am fairly certain I am able to spot it. So how am I qualified to review this performance, you may ask? Simple, it has less to do with the music of Beethoven than it does of the person taking on this magical journey of his life.

Hershey Felder completely inhabits Beethoven’s world, his life, his foibles, his idiosyncrasies, and perhaps most importantly, his talent. There are no videos, YouTube, bootlegged concert clips, records, or any of the like of Beethoven, so we work off the written word, the musical transcriptions, and the stories that were left for the world to decipher. Felder inhabits the persona of Dr. Gerhard von Breuning, the last living man to have known Beethoven and Ludwig van Beethoven himself.

Photo by Christopher Ash

Based on von Breuning’s book, Felder shares with the audience, as von Breuning, his memories of growing up as a friend of Beethoven’s son and how he came to spend his childhood being with Beethoven in Vienna as they lived across the park from one another. Interspersed through his memories, we meet Beethoven. Felder switches from character to character before your eyes with the most imperceptible change in his physicality, stature, and, of course, voice. Interspersed through his talk with the audience, Felder has to include mentions of Beethoven’s music. This is where the show soars.

Felder sits at the concert grand piano located center stage and performs bits and pieces of the symphonies, sonatas, etc…

The music acts as transitions in time, book-ending, if you will, parts of Ludwig’s life and story. As amazing a performer as Felder is, inhabiting the characters, he is that much more as a pianist. One does not need to be a classical aficionado to appreciate the enormity of Felder’s musical prowess. It is a joy to hear him play and watch as his hands fly across the keyboard. When you combine a superb showman with an amazing musical talent, you are presented with ninety-plus minutes of incomparable entertainment.

Photo by Christopher Ash

Felder has done numerous one-man shows, including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, and Leonard Bernstein, to name a few. He travels the time continuum with equal grace, panache, and talent.

 At the show’s conclusion, he continues to break the fourth wall and does a half-hour Q&A session with the audience about anything they wish to ask… from his performance to his personal life. He is warm, funny, and genuine. Hershey Felder is like lightning in a bottle; only this bottle is overflowing with talent.

Beethoven runs through Sunday, September 10, at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. For more information, www.berkshiretheatregroup.org or call 413-997-4444.

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