View From the Wings – 9
by Pablo A. Tariman

Asked how he could wield magic over his audiences interpreting Beethoven sonatas, Italian pianist Christian Leotta said here there are no special formulas except to focus on three things: practice, practice and more practice.

Poster of Christian Leotta's November 11 recital in Manila.

Poster of Christian Leotta’s November 11 recital in Manila.

“A pianist is a product of the many things that shaped him – his teacher, his talent and his ability to absorb the style of the composers according to their intent,” said Leotta who added the CCP recital is his Philippine debut.

A former pupil of the acclaimed pianist Karl Ulrich Schnabel, Leotta is now recognized for being the youngest pianist since Daniel Barenboim to perform and record all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

Asked how he got to be known as a distinguished Beethoven interpreter, Leotta surmised it could be the influence of his teachers one of whom was Karl Ulrich Schnabel who is the son of the legendary pianist Artur Schnabel, another acknowledged Beethoven specialist.

It is common knowledge among piano pedagogues that the young Schnabel’s passion for teaching led him to theorize extensively about how to achieve the correct relationship between piano technique and musical expression–the former “was always to remain in the service of the spirit of the music.”

He also studied with another piano legend, Leon Fleisher, who he says had connections with Beethoven. “Mr. Fleisher was the youngest ever student of the great Artur Schnabel who studied with keyboard giant and pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky, a pupil of Carl Czerny, who in turn studied with Ludwig van Beethoven. How they play Beethoven is also my idea of how this famous composer should be interpreted. I can’t define it but interpreting Beethoven needs a special attention from the way you should produce the sound and how to sustain them and make something magical out of them. You discover that special something by constant practice.”

Pianist Christian Leotta: his teachers led him to the path of Beethoven

Pianist Christian Leotta: his teachers led him to the path of Beethoven

A Luxemburg critic hailed Leotta as “one of the major Beethoven soloists of our time” while in Canada another critic noted his “his prodigious technique used to better express the poetry of Beethoven’s music.”

After his recital of 32 Beethoven sonatas in Montreal, a critic gave his verdict thus: Leotta is a “a pianist of the highest order: technician, musician and interpreter all at once.”

Leotta points to the influences of his teachers from the Schnabel to Fleisher that led him to the path of Beethoven.

He said he was lucky to study with the son of the famous Artur Schnabel whose performances of Beethoven compositions have often been hailed as models of interpretative penetration. Schnabel’s best-known recordings are those of the Beethoven piano sonatas.

New York Times critic Harold C, Schonberg referred to Schnabel as “the man who invented Beethoven.”
The Italian pianist said he is not too fond of films based on composers’ lives. “I like ‘Amadeus’ but I find ‘Immortal Beloved’ based on Beethoven’s life quite silly.”

Leotta is in Manila for a special recital at the CCP Little Theater on Tuesday, November 11, 7:30 p.m. courtesy of the Italian Embassy, the Philippine-Italian Association and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

His program includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dilettismo BWV 992 (Capriccio on the departure of his most beloved brother), Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A minor Opus posth. 143, 0784, Gioachino Rossini’s Memento homo and Une caresse a ma femme, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor Op. 57 “Appassionata.”

Pianist Christian Leotta with his teacher, Karl Ulrich Schnabel

Pianist Christian Leotta with his teacher, Karl Ulrich Schnabel

(An Evening With Christian Leotta: From Bach to the Romantic Piano of Schubert, Rossini and Beethoven, is presented by the Embassy of Italy in Manila, the Philippine Italian Association and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with Furnitalia and with the support of Trevi Foundations Phils. Inc., Sta. Elena Golf & Country Estate, SSI Group Inc., Diamond Hotel, Shopwise, Global Executive Solutions Group and Lombardi’s Authentic Italian Restaurant for the benefit of the Philippine Italian Association Endowment Fund. Ticket prices are Php1,000 and Php800, with a 20% discount available to senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Call the CCP Box Office (832-3704), Ticket World (891-9999) or the Philippine Italian Association (815-1310).

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