Pomona Faculty Showcase Intricacies of Beethoven Sonatas

Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music was brought alive with the distinct sounds of Ludwig van Beethoven on Saturday, Oct. 25. Faculty cellist Roger Lebow, a member of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, was joined by faculty member and concert pianist Phillip Young in the first of two programs featuring the legendary German composer. 

The night’s
program consisted of Sonata No. 1 in F Major, “Op. 5 No. 1”; Sonata No. 4 in C
Major
, “Op. 102 No. 1”; and Sonata No. 3 in A Major. The duo will present the
second part of the complete set Nov. 1.

“They’re
such sublime pieces,” Lebow said. “They’re so complex, rewarding and
spiritual. And, of course, very punishing.”

These
pieces were composed between 1796 and 1815, the period in which Beethoven began
to lose his hearing. They exemplify the important transition between the classical
and romantic periods of music, embodying a fascinating combination of both classical
structure and nuanced romantic emotion. To play such an impressive selection
requires technical skill and passion, both of which Lebow and Young displayed.  

“Beethoven
is bigger than a lot of composers, and this kind of task is a lot
bigger than a normal task,” Young said. “That challenge is very nice. It asks you to rise up
to it, and that’s why you stick yourself out there and do it.”

The pieces are
divided into multiple movements, which enabled the composer to convey a variety
of emotions.

Beethoven’s Sonata
in F major contains both an Adagio sostenuto
introduction to the first Allegro movement,
and a Rondo played at a fast speed. The Sonata
in C Major contains an Andante—Allegro
vivace
and an Adagio—tempo d’ante—Allegro vivace. The Sonata
in A Major contains three movements: Allegro
ma non tanto, Scherzo—Allegro molto in A minor,
and an Adagio cantibleAllegro vivace.

These
sonatas displayed tremendous variety, from the slower adagios to the rapid-paced allegros.
The tones varied as well, transitioning from mellow to agitated to
melancholic. In all sonatas, the cello had a distinct, rich melody, beautifully
accompanied by the piano. The accompaniment proved to be just as intense as the
solo part. Beethoven was renowned for his keyboard skills and often
demonstrated his prowess in his compositions.

“I really
enjoyed the performance,” said Alex Woods PO ’18, a pianist who has studied a variety
of Beethoven’s pieces. “His sonatas are really varied in tone and speed, but
they all convey an emotional depth that you’ll have a hard time hearing from
someone else.”

An
impressive selection requires experienced performers, so it is not surprising
that both performers have extensive musical resumes.

Lebow is
one of Southern California’s most celebrated cellists. He teaches cello at
Pomona and has performed a repertoire spanning five centuries at many
distinguished locations, from the Los Angeles Opera to the Oregon Bach
Festival. He helped form the music collective XTET, the Armadillo String
Quartet and the Clarion Trio. He has also appeared in numerous professional
recordings of various musical works.

Young is a
faculty member at Pasadena City College and has played at world-renowned
venues, including the Seattle Opera House, Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan Hall and
Carnegie Hall, among others. He has given master classes at many prestigious
institutions and holds degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the
University of Southern California.  

While
classical music requires much experience and dedication, Lebow encourages people
not to be intimidated. In fact, whether a devoted fan or an inexperienced
listener, he is certain that everyone will enjoy the next performance.

“There’s a universal quality to his works,” he said. “There’s something in his work that touches everybody who is there,
and it’s a lot of fun.”

Lebow encourages
students—especially those who don’t usually attend concerts of this style—to come next week and hear the true ingenuity of Beethoven’s compositions. Music has the ability to connect what other
things cannot. 

A second portion of the sonatas will be performed Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. in the Bridges Hall
of Music. The pieces will consist of
Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 5 No. 2;
Variations of the Theme from Mozart’s
The
Magic Flute; and Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102 No. 2. 

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