Beethoven, Violin Sonatas No. 6, 7, and 8: An Interview With Andrew Wan

Andrew Wan/Charles Richard-Hamelin - Beethoven Sonatas Op. 30

With this sparkling new disc of Beethoven’s Op. 30 violin sonatas, Andrew Wan and Charles Richard-Hamelin are embarking on a multi-disc journey through Beethoven’s complete music for violin and piano.  Composed in 1802, the Op. 30 sonatas encompass the gamut of musical emotion, particularly in these musicians’ skilled hands – from moments of breathtaking gentleness in No. 6 (A major), to haunting passion and even anger in the c minor sonata (No. 7), to almost dancing brightness and lightness in No. 8 (G major).

As for the partnership between Wan and Richard-Hamelin, this first disc holds tremendous promise for future projects, which hopefully will continue beyond the planned arc of Beethoven’s violin sonatas – the delicacy of touch that both musicians possess would work beautifully, say, for Mozart’s violin sonatas.  (This is a hint and a plea for Andrew and Charles, in case they didn’t catch it!)  This disc has been on constant play on my device for weeks now and will no doubt remain there for some time to come.

We’re so fortunate that Andrew Wan took the time to talk to us about this project.

This album, I believe, is the first of what will be a complete collection of Beethoven’s sonatas for violin and piano.  Why Beethoven, and why the Op 30 sonatas in particular as a starting point?

I have to give credit to Charles for this particular idea of starting our three year set with these three sonatas.  In researching what others have done in the past, and taking into consideration what would feel the most comfortable, it seemed like a logical choice to start with the Op. 30s.  I have a particular affinity for the sixth sonata (the slow movement never fails to move me), so that was an added bonus.

These three sonatas leave very distinctive impressions, at least for this listener… the C minor in particular has a much heavier, even stormy feel to it.  How would you describe the differences between the three?

I’m in total agreement.  The key of c minor for Beethoven has its obvious connection to drama and strife – it’s nearly impossible to play a work by this composer in this key without thinking of his fifth symphony, his “Pathétique” Sonata or his fourth string quartet.  The sixth violin sonata in A major has a much more welcoming, friendly feel to it, and the eighth sonata has a whimsical, perhaps even ironic edge to it.  What’s important to remember is that he wrote these works around the time he was grappling with his impending deafness – the amount of revealing emotion and vulnerability is obvious through all these works and binds them together.

Can you talk about the recording process for this album?  I suspect our readers have a sense of the process for folk/pop albums but it would be interesting to understand how a classical album typically comes to be.

We worked on these sonatas in painstaking detail, tweaking after every performance leading up to our three days of marathon recording.  We recorded in the legendary Église St. Augustin in Mirabel, QC on a beautiful New York Steinway concert grand furnished by Pianos Bolduc and with one of the most brilliant producers in our field, Carl Talbot. Collaborating with him is one of the best of many perks when working with Analekta.

How has your musical partnership with Charles Richard-Hamelin evolved over the course of this project?

One of my favourite things that I love about working with Charles is that we share a very similar philosophy about our approach to this composer, to performing and to recording.  He is an incredibly thoughtful musician who takes a simultaneously large but also focused view on every phrase.  It has been such an effective, educational and satisfying partnership.

Andrew Wan/Charles Richard-Hamelin

You’re the concertmaster of the OSM and have had the opportunity to perform some of the great orchestral repertoire; how does the experience of playing chamber music differ for you?

That’s a great question.  I love the fact that I have multiple artistic tracks that I can draw from, with each one invariably affecting the other.  The ideal situation for orchestral musicians is when we feel a sense of flexible communication amongst us, facilitated and enhanced by a conductor who has a clear vision.  What we search for in a smaller ensemble, even down to a violin and piano sonata, is the breadth of scope and sense of largeness (when the music calls for it) that is typically more easily found when playing a gargantuan symphonic work.

You are a teacher of music as well as a performer. How has the classical music scene changed over the course of your career as digital music, live streaming, and other technological advances have taken hold?  How do you see classical music’s future?

Forcing ourselves to adapt to an ever-changing model seems to be the name of the game.  There are obvious advantages to the advancement of technology: streaming concerts with, the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert hall, playing music off of an iPad without page turns (everyone should check out the scrolling music app Blackbinder, of which I am I firm believer!), the list is constantly growing.  Our challenge remains the same: how to keep what we do relevant?  Perhaps this is a question that would be better answered by record executives and artistic directors.  On our end as performers and lovers of what we do, I am so thankful and pleased with the reception this disc has received – it seems there is still at least a bit of an appetite for a few more interpretations of these Beethoven Sonatas.

Preview and buy “Beethoven, Violin Sonatas No. 6, 7, and 8” on Analekta’s website.

Exposed to the wonders of CBC and Montréal Canadiens hockey as a teenager thanks to a satellite dish in rural Kansas, I have been an unabashed lover of all things Canadian ever since. I am a lifelong collector of esoteric and varied music, a teacher of piano, an avid reader, and a stamp/coin collector. In real life, I work in the field of technology.

Come find me on Goodreads.

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