By Belle Hatfield
For The Vanguard
Pianist Peter Allen will climb a musical Mount Everest of sorts when he performs at the Yarmouth County Museum on Sunday, July 8. The Hear Here Society is hosting the afternoon concert, which will conclude with Ludwig Beethoven’s epic sonata, the Hammerklavier (Sonata no. 29 in B flat major). It is one of the most challenging works for solo piano. It is big. It is intense. It stretches a pianist’s physical and emotional resources.
It is perhaps fitting that Allen would wait until on a sabbatical year from his position as an associate professor of music at Dalhousie University to bring this sonata to a performance peak. When he performed the sonata at a highlight concert at this year’s Scotia Festival of Music (May 30), Allen thinks it might have marked the first time in decades that it had been performed in Nova Scotia.
“It is very, very hard. It is long and it is very complicated. It is not like Moonlight Sonata Beethoven,” he observed in an interview with The Vanguard.
The sonata marks the beginning of the composer’s late works, written in a world without sound. By 1818, Beethoven was profoundly deaf.
Allen wonders whether these late works, which also include the 9th symphony with its triumphant Ode to Joy, were the blessing disguised within the tragedy that was his loss of hearing.
“He really, really started to experiment and these are the creations that came out of this incredibly brilliant, deaf head. And there’s a part of me that thinks … if he wasn’t deaf would he have written them? It freed him up. There were no limitations.”
He plans to round out the performance with the music of Chopin and Haydn.
Allen is often heard on CBC regional and national radio. As a chamber musician, he has performed throughout Canada. He was on the staff at the Banff Centre for the performing arts for five years prior to his return to Nova Scotia in 2005. He performs often with Symphony Nova Scotia’s concertmaster, Robert Uchida, and can be heard as the concerto soloist on occasion with Symphony Nova Scotia. Indeed, he is scheduled to perform Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with the symphony later this year.
He is a regular on the summer festival circuit.
He has a Masters of Music in Performance from Yale University. Though his education background was not in composition, increasingly he is turning to the keyboard to write, not just to perform.
As a composer, Allen premiered a new work for piano six-hands at this year’s Scotia Festival of Music, which just wrapped up in Halifax. He was a composition finalist for the 2006 N.S. Lieutenant Governor's Masterworks Award for his orchestral work "Variations on the Halifax Explosion". His composition Hurricane Juan Piano Concerto”, was commissioned by CBC Radio 2 and was world-premiered by Symphony Nova Scotia in 2008. Allen was at the piano.
“I’m a pianist first, but it’s been almost 50-50 over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.
The Sunday afternoon concert will begin at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Seating is limited. Call 742-8765 or 881-2538 for tickets.