Roll over Beethoven- Alberto Portugheis and friends celebrate Beethoven’s 251st

Amazingly Alberto Portugheis will be celebrating his 81st birthday on New Year’s day and he still has the time to dedicate himself to so many worthwhile causes with a passion and dedication that as I have said before is of another age.

Having heard, since early childhood, stories of the horrors of war, he became a committed anti-war campaigner, persistently writing and speaking against militarism. His vision is set out in his book, Dear Ahed: The Game of War and a Path to Peace The book is dedicated to his late father, Simon Portugheis, who fueled his son’s disapproval of war and militarism and inspired his quest for a way to achieve lasting worldwide peace.

Alberto was born in La Plata, but now lives in London. He has three children, Susana, Clara, David. His son, David Portugheis, is a composer and photographer.Both Portugheis’ parents came from Jewish families.His mother, Catalina, was born in Argentina of Romanian and Russian descent, from her mother and father, respectively. Her family was originally German, but emigrated from Eastern Europe during World War I. Several of Alberto Portugheis’ family members perished in the two World Wars.His father, Simon Portugheis, was a Romanian of Portuguese origin, hence the family name. His side of the family, all living siblings included, had arrived in Argentina from Romania just before World War II. Historically, ancestors on his father’s side of the family had lived in Holland and Portugal.Through marriages, Alberto Portugheis has Polish, Lithuanian, Israeli, Brazilian and American relatives.Thus, he grew up in a family that was a mix of various nationalities and origins.While preparing for life as an assiduous musician, he first studied in Buenos Aires with Vincenzo Scaramuzza who also taught his lifelong friend Martha Argerich ; in Geneva with Madeleine Lipatti,Louis Hiltbrand and Youra Guller.After winning first prize at the Geneva Concours de Virtuosité in June 1964, he embarked upon an international career, visiting nearly 50 countries, performing in solo and chamber music concerts as well as being a soloist with many international orchestras, including the Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony, London Mozart Players, English Chamber, Suisse Romande, Lausanne Chamber, Paris and Israel Sinfoniettas, Filarmónica de Buenos Aires, Nacional de Argentina, and Sofia Philharmonic, among others.

Alberto Portugheis – a renaissance man

His Masterclasses attract a wealth of talent from many countries in the world.One of his many students writes :”Cultured and compassionate, the Maestro is a gentle soul, always with a smile, an unassuming human being—Like Jesus washing the desert-worn feet of his disciples, it is rather moving to witness Maestro Portugheis sitting next to his piano students as a page-turner… turning the pages of their musical scores with a profound paternal affection”.Alberto shares a passion for food with the great Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini. He told Johnny Black of CD Classics that his world travels as a concert pianist “was the most valuable experience” that he could have had to fuel an interest in good food.For many years, this multi-faceted man practised his passion for cooking, becoming not only the Head-Chef of various restaurants, but also presenting international gastronomic festivals.He became frustrated at working in other people’s kitchens so together with his colleague, friend and compatriot, Martha Argerich, he opened a successful restaurant in London, known as “Rhapsody”. The restaurant run together with Martha’s brother attracted a clientele of famous musicians and was Shura Cherkassky’s favourite haunt for many years .

St John’s Notting Hill

It was exactly this lifetime experience that he brought to the birthday celebration for Beethoven’s 251st celebrations in the imposing church of St John’s in Lansdowne Crescent.With friends Orpheus Leander,violin and George Cooke,cello they performed three of Beethoven’s most famous chamber works for violin and cello.

Orpheus Leander Alberto Portugheis George Cooke

Ending with an encore of the Scherzo from the Archduke Trio op 97.We were thus treated to a lifetime’s journey from Beethoven’s youthful op 5 cello sonata and the Violin Sonatas op 24 ‘Spring’.Followed after a brief interval with his maturity in the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata op.47 to the Archduke Trio op 97 written just sixteen years before his death.

George Cooke with a deeply engrossed Alberto Portugheis

Playing of great clarity where the piano played such a major part with its remarkable rhythmic energy and penetrating cantabile of great authority and beauty.As Alberto pointed out it was not only his playing but thanks to the magical intervention of the piano technician Nigel Polmear who had turned a respectable piano into a Prince for the night or should I say knight …….in shining armour that is for sure.Alberto ,though,was the true anchor with his lifetime experience of playing chamber music and his quiet authority with which he allowed Beethoven’s voice to be heard so authentically.His two younger colleagues brought all their youthful vigour and considerable technical mastery to an evening where these masterworks were brought so vividly to life.

Orpheus Leander

The opening of the Sonata for piano and violin op 24 starts with a serene theme that launches the three leisurely variations of the Adagio molto espressivo.It begins with a sustained note and a graceful turn, over a gently rippling accompaniment. It’s a suitably expansive opening to Beethoven’s first violin sonata in four movements The nickname ‘Frühlings-Sonate’ wasn’t Beethoven’s (the only note he added to the manuscript was a comment in red pencil that ‘The copyist who put triplets and septuplets here is an ass’). But F major had a long history as the key of the countryside , even before Beethoven’s own Pastoral symphony of 1808.The scherzo plays a cheerful game of catch-up between piano and violin, with a whirling trio section . And the finale sweeps into its amiable flowing episodes with, just before the very end, the briefest and most unaffected possible prayer of thanksgiving. ‘The original fiery and bold spirit of this composer … is now becoming increasingly serene’, wrote an approving (if over-optimistic) Leipzig critic.

Orpheus Leander with Alberto Portugheis

The Sonata op 47 written in 1803 for piano and violin is notable for its technical difficulty, unusual length and emotional scope. It is commonly known as the Kreitzer Sonata after the violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer ,to whom it was ultimately dedicated, but who thoroughly disliked the piece and refused to play it.

In the composer’s 1803 sketchbook, the work was titled “Sonata per il Pianoforte ed uno violino obligato in uno stile molto concertante come d’un concerto”After its successful premiere in 1803, the work was published in 1805 as Beethoven’s Op. 47, with its re-dedication to Rudolphe Kreutzer, which gave the composition its nickname. Kreutzer never performed the work, considering it “outrageously unintelligible”. He did not particularly care for any of Beethoven’s music, and they only ever met once, briefly.

George Cooke with Alberto Portugheis

The second of the two Sonata of Op 5 was the subject of an amusing incident in the spring of 1799. Domenico Dragonetti, as legend has it the greatest double bass player in history, was passing through Vienna on his way from Venice to London. He soon met Beethoven, as an English friend, Samuel Appleby, recalled:Beethoven had been told that his new friend could execute violoncello music upon his huge instrument, and one morning, when Dragonetti called at his room, he expressed his desire to hear a sonata. The doublebass was sent for, and the Sonata, No 2 of Op 5, was selected. Beethoven played his part, with his eyes immovably fixed upon his companion, and, in the finale, where the arpeggios occur, was so delighted and excited that at the close he sprang up and threw his arms around both player and instrument.

The Trio in B flat op 97 was completed in 1811 and was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria – hence the title .Rudolf was an amateur pianist and a patron, friend, and composition student of Beethoven. Beethoven dedicated a total of fourteen compositions to the Archduke, who dedicated one of his own to Beethoven in return.It was written late in Beethoven’s so-called “middle period”. He began composing it in the summer of 1810 and completed it in March 1811.

The first public performance was given by Beethoven himself at the Viennese hotel Zum römischen Kaiser on 11 April 1814. Beethoven’s deafness compromised his ability as a performer, and after a repeat performance a few weeks later, Beethoven never appeared again in public as a pianist.The violinist and composer Louis Spohr witnessed a rehearsal of the work, and wrote: “On account of his deafness there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired. In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys until the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of notes were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible unless one could look into the pianoforte part. I was deeply saddened at so hard a fate.”The pianist and composer Ignaz Mischeles attended the first performance, and wrote about the work: “In the case of how many compositions is the word ‘new’ misapplied! But never in Beethoven’s, and least of all in this, which again is full of originality. His playing, aside from its intellectual element, satisfied me less, being wanting in clarity and precision; but I observed many traces of the grand style of playing which I had long recognized in his compositions.”


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