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Pianist Rudolf Buchbinder expresses undying love for Beethoven

By Park Ga-young

Published : June 28, 2023 - 15:11

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Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder talks during a press conference at Ode Port in Apgujeong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald) Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder talks during a press conference at Ode Port in Apgujeong, Seoul, Wednesday. (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)

Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder is finally bringing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas to South Korea, marking his 60th cycle since he embarked on the journey in the 1970s.

Starting from Wednesday, he takes the stage seven times at Seoul Arts Center through July 9.

Several hours before his first performance of the complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle, for which he will perform Nos. 1, 4, 10, 13 and 14, the famed "Moonlight Sonata," he met with reporters and delved into his dedication to Beethoven, a “great composer and revolutionist.”

“I grew up in a small room with an upright piano. Above the piano, there was a portrait of Beethoven. Since then, the image of him has followed me all along,” Buchbinder said during a press conference at Ode Port in Apgujeong, southern Seoul, Wednesday.

Since 2012, the pianist, now 76, has been a regular guest in Seoul, captivating audiences with his renditions of Beethoven's piano sonatas and piano concertos. The current visit marks his eighth trip to South Korea and stands out as the first time he will perform all 32 piano sonatas.

“What’s more significant than this milestone of the 60th rendition of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas is that I perform in Seoul, a city I hold dear to my heart for its audience,” he said. “It's astonishing to witness the growing popularity of classical music among young people (here). This is not the case in Europe."

Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder performs the third movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17, Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder performs the third movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17, "The Tempest," at a press conference at Ode Port in Apgujeong, Seoul on Wednesday. (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)

Asked if he gets tired of playing Beethoven’s music, he answered, “Never.”

Rather, he still finds something new every time he takes to the stage, which is where he "learns the most" and "every moment becomes more dramatic."

The most important factors on the stage are spontaneity, emotions and tension, which make live performances all the more special. For that reason, his major discography comprises recordings of live performances.

His 2021 album, the second with Deutsche Grammophon, is a recording of his seven concerts at the Salzburg Festival in 2014, the first time the cycle was performed in full by a single artist during a single Salzburg season.

Buchbinder, who is renowned for his deep connection to Beethoven's keyboard compositions, entered into an exclusive agreement with Deutsche Grammophon in 2019 at the age of 72, just one year before the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.

"My life has unfolded like a crescendo and I'm not sure which path my life will lead to ... I have more ways to go," he said.

One thing is certain: his dedication to and curiosity for Beethoven. "I would like to spend 24 hours in a room with Beethoven and observe him."

For the recitals in South Korea, the sonatas will be grouped together across the different performances, with each concert featuring a selection of five or six sonatas. The concerts will take place in the concert hall of the Seoul Arts Center, concluding with the performance of Sonatas Nos. 30, 31 and 32 on July 9.

Ticket prices range from 50,000 won to 130,000 won.