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Grammy Award Winners to Produce Beethoven Concerts in Old Lyme


By Emelia Otte, CT Examiner, October 16, 2020

It’s the second time that acclaimed classical violinist James Ehnes will be performing in Old Lyme, and he’s glad to be back.

He has played with orchestras and in venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall in London and the Philharmonie in Berlin, but Ehnes said that smaller venues often stand out more in his mind.

“Sometimes the most incredible experiences, these magical evenings, happen in places that are much more intimate,” said Ehnes, who will be playing in two concerts for Musical Masterworks, which has hosted classical music and chamber music concerts at the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme for 30 years.

This year, rather than gathering people in person during a pandemic, the music nonprofit will create high-quality videos of the performances for audience members to view online.

Robbin Myers, director of marketing for Musical Masterworks, said the recorded performance would actually try to enhance the intimacy of the listening experience.

“Having four cameras, we’re going to be able to get neat, close-up shots — angles you would miss sitting in the audience,” she said.

The two concerts, one on October 24 and one on December 19, celebrate the of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

At the October concert, Ehnes will perform three Beethoven sonatas with highly-regarded pianist Andrew Armstrong. In December, Ehnes will play three other works of Beethoven as part of a string quartet.

Ehnes described the anniversary as a kind of ur-moment for music.

“You could make, I think, a very legitimate argument that everything before Beethoven sort of leads up to Beethoven, and then everything after Beethoven is kind of a result of his influence,” said Ehnes.

Beethoven alone, Ehnes said, “would just be a good enough reason to become a musician.”

The sin of phoniness

“Music — it’s a collection of beautiful moments — but really in order for it to be something truly special, it needs to tell a story and have an arc and have a narrative,” said Ehnes.

To communicate a piece of music to an audience means you have to know exactly what message you want to send, said Ehnes, along with the ability to convince yourself that your interpretation of the music is valid.

“You really have to expose your artistic feelings completely to the audience,” he said. “I think people can tell phoniness. And I think that’s the one sort of unforgivable sin in our industry.”

Ehnes and Armstrong have been playing together for years, and recently released a joint recording of Beethoven Sonatas nos. 4, 5 and 8. They even did a musical tour of Canada together for Ehnes’ 40th birthday.

“It was me and my wife, my two kids and Andy and a minivan,” he said. “We had a blast.”

Ehnes said that even without the usual audience, performing with Armstrong in the congregational church would be inspiration enough.

“It won’t be a problem to find inspiration, what with playing with such a great colleague and having at least a few people in the room, and playing in the really nice acoustics at the church,” he said.

The concerts will be produced and the audio engineered by Grammy Award-winners Erica Brenner and Ian Dobie.

Videos are $40 each, $100 for three or $150 for access to all five. The October 24 concert link will be available from November 7 to November 28.