Plano on Piano: Soloist joins CSO, Lehninger tonight for Beethoven’s third concerto

Benjamin Hoste | Staff Photographer
The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performs Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater.

Pianist Roberto Plano looks for something beyond perfection when he plays music.

He believes that every musician must strive to balance technical mastery with musical expression. A musician who is technically perfect but doesn’t have an artistic message is less musical than a musician who can play with emotion and vitality despite his or her mistakes, he said.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will accompany Plano on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. The CSO will also perform Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture” and Maurice Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso,” “Pavane pour une infante défunte” and “Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2.”

Guest conductor Marcelo Lehninger will lead the CSO in tonight’s program.

For Plano and Lehninger, the Beethoven concerto is special because it was written during a turning point of music composition; it straddles the Classical and Romantic eras. The rules of interpretation are a little looser for soloist and conductor, and they can take a few liberties with the performance.

“I really love to play this piece,” Plano said. “Every time I play it, I have goose bumps.”

Plano said he will perform a cadenza —an ornamental, virtuosic passage of solo music — that Beethoven didn’t write. The cadenza was written by Wilhelm Kempff and uses Beethoven’s original thematic material in a more modern way. Plano said he always looks for new ways to develop his classical piano repertoire and keep the pieces fresh.

“We have to be careful not to lose interesting classical music,” Plano said. “We have a mission to keep this alive. The modern world of music — sometimes they go too much for perfection, forgetting that this is an art.”

While Plano believes that technical skill, practice and hard work are all important aspects in learning music, he said that the ability to be musical and artistic cannot be overlooked — and it also can’t be taught.

“There are just a few that really have the gift — this gift of being personal and really an artist onstage, not just like a tape playing back [the music on the page],” Plano said. “The ultimate goal should be making art, not just playing the right notes.”

Lehninger agrees with Plano — to an extent. He said that Romantic-era compositions allow a certain amount of flexibility for musicians to interpret new ideas and readings. Kurt Masur, one of the conductor’s mentors, wrote of Lehninger that his “musical honesty” made him capable of finding his own truth in music and not copying another’s vision.

However, Lehninger is very sensitive about keeping musical expression rooted in the score. He said that the performer must always serve the composer and the music in his or her interpretation, not the other way around.

“All I try to do is to respect the text, to respect the score, to respect what the composer would have wanted,” Lehninger said. “The score is a bible: You can read and interpret it, but that’s the bible and you need to respect it.”

When Lehninger thinks back to his younger days of conducting, he finds some of his musical choices downright terrible. Every musician needs time and experience to gain maturity in expressive choices and knowledge of the repertoire they play, he said.

“If a musician in an orchestra asks why you’re doing [the music] that way, I need to have an answer,” Lehninger said. “And the answer can never be, ‘Because I want to do it that way.’ The answer needs to be [one] that you got from the composer.”

Plano has also learned about music from teaching at the Accademia Musicale Varesina. He asks his students to dive deep into themselves to find personal ways of expressing the music. He said that when he uses the techniques he teaches his students and revisits music he’s performed before, he can uncover something new that the composer had written.

“It is like a treasure map,” Plano said. “You know from your experience in teaching that something was hidden in it.”