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Pianist Stephen Hough takes on Beethoven

Stephen Hough recently performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Later this spring, he’ll be at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Stephen Hough recently performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Later this spring, he’ll be at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo

In the world of classical musicians, Stephen Hough is a rock star. The English-born, Juilliard-educated virtuoso pianist has traveled the globe, playing with top-notch conductors and celebrated orchestras.

“He has become one of the most sought-after pianists with major orchestras all over the world,” said Daniel Hege, conductor and music director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, with whom Hough will perform. “Stephen’s gift for communicating the depth and subtlety of the music is so human, it’s as if he’s speaking, but it’s better than that because it’s music.”

Hough will play a solo piano recital on Tuesday to help raise money for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra; then over the weekend he will join the orchestra for two concerts. Hough will perform two piano concertos, leaving the WSO to play one work on its own, Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony.”

When Hough was 5 he would go to his aunt’s house to play piano; his parents didn’t own one.

“I would pluck out nursery rhymes,” he said. “I begged my parents for lessons.”

Hough became enchanted with classical music. By the time he reached his teens, he had made a name for himself. But along his journey, he never lost sight of the significance of music.

“Playing is a spiritual experience,” Hough said. “Music is a life-changing expression. You go to those parts of the human soul where words can’t go.”

Hough will perform two concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Concertos 1 and 2. Both works were published in the early 19th century. Before then, Beethoven, a virtuoso pianist, would perform the piano solos and tweak them as he performed.

“Beethoven is just one of those few geniuses in human history. You get the sparkle of his inspiration in every bar,” Hough said. “These pieces are full of humor and full of love. They contain gorgeous movements.”

Hough, who has performed most of the great piano concertos of Brahms, Mozart, Schuman, Tchaikovsky and Chopin, has also performed in more than 50 recordings of works by these greats, along with Grieg, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Saint-Saens, Shubert and Mendelssohn.

Hough sees the richness and the vitality in the classics and compares them to a painting by Rembrandt or a play by Shakespeare.

“It’s not background music. You want to listen to every movement,” Hough said. “When people go to see a Rembrandt painting, they sometimes have their heart split in two. It’s just like Beethoven’s music. Great works of art last for generations. They last because they reach right inside the human soul and change people’s hearts and minds.”

In January, Hough performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Later this spring, he’ll be at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He’s also booked to perform with the top orchestras in Copenhagen, Madrid, Milan and London.

“Usually, artists such as Stephen are booked years in advance, are on tours, and just not very available,” said Hege, who has worked with Hough with other orchestras. “So we are so fortunate to have him with us.”

If you go

Stephen Hough Performs Beethoven

What: Renowned pianist performs with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 21, 3 p.m. Feb. 22

Tickets: $19-$57, www.wichitasymphony.org or 316-267-7658

Also: Stephen Hough in a solo recital, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wichita Center for the Arts, $50 general admission, $100 reserved seating

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