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Personal Reflections on Beethoven

18 Dec 2020 8:37 AM | Manon Mitchell (Administrator)
On this occasion of the mighty

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven's 250th birthday, I pause to reflect on the wonderful times I have had with him, for I feel we spend time not only with the music of the great composers, but also with their humanity. Over a lifetime of several decades, I have had the fortune of playing many of his sonatas for piano, violin, and cello. Likewise, I have played some of his greatest chamber music, including the "Kakadu" variations and "Archduke" trio with cellist Ernst Silberstein, longtime principal of The Cleveland Orchestra

; my father was the violinist.

I'll never forget Mr. Silberstein telling me that my performance of Brahms 2nd concerto, for which he was guest principal cello, reminded him of his performances of that work with Rudolf Serkin. My first piano concerto was Beethoven's 1st, which I performed during my years at Phillips Academy, Phillips Academy Class of 1974.

I also have the opportunity to perform the 3rd and 5th concertos. I have conducted all 9 symphonies at least once, along with many of the piano concertos, and the Triple Concerto (this with Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth and three different pianists - Andrew Burashko, Louis Lortie, and Janina Fialkowska).

I recently conducted excerpts from his only opera, Fidelio, with the Calgary Civic Symphony and Calgary Concert Opera Company.


I have had the pleasure of teaching and coaching Beethoven's music to numerous students. Through all of that experience and living with Beethoven's music, I think the highlight has been my experiences conducting the 9th - 3 times. Each time has brought me closer to the "truth", although I still feel I'm wrestling with the slow movement. The last time, the emotion of the work left me in tears as the last few triumphant bars concluded this incredible musical voyage, this testament to humanity. What an extraordinary artistic, philosophical, and human legacy this giant left us!

Rolf Bertsch
December 17, 2020

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