Loading

Beethoven Odyssey BRINGING BEETHOVEN TO A PIANO NEAR YOU

The Beethoven Odyssey is a labor of love dedicated to sharing this music and telling its story. You are invited to come experience it in person!

About Beethoven

In addition to his celebrated abilities as a composer, Beethoven was a superb pianist and improvisor, and it is not strange that he chose the piano as a vehicle for many of his most daring and personal musical outpourings. Dubbed “The New-Testament” of piano literature by Hans von Bulow (Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier being the “Old-Testament”), these 32 sonatas were written over the course of 27 years, contain more than 600 pages and 11 hours of music, and narrate the story of one of humanity’s most exceptional and inspiring life-journeys.

“Indeed, every truly monumental masterpiece Beethoven composed came after his deafness and thought of suicide, including the Ninth Symphony, considered by many to be the pinnacle of human artistic achievement. At the premiere of the Ninth, which Beethoven conducted, the concertmaster had to stand up and turn the composer around to face the audience after the performance had ended. He couldn’t hear the thunderous applause as they gave him a standing ovation.

The year 2020 marks Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. In celebration of this landmark, Juilliard-trained pianist Zachary Hughes will be performing and telling stories about the complete 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven on select Sundays at 3pm throughout 2020 in Greenville, SC. This 13-part concert series will take place on the magnificent 1988 Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand Piano at the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Two centuries later, we are still talking about and listening to Beethoven. That is the power of the legacy he left. The transformative energy, the striving for an ideal, the resolute refusal to allow deafness to stop his creative genius –these qualities present themselves to us through his music just as clearly today as they ever did. We are lucky indeed to live in a world where his presence is still felt, and his music still heard.”

My name is Zachary Hughes and I love Beethoven...

Beethoven was a man of many faces. As his life progressed and his music grew until he started to loose his hearing. Our world was changed by his music. His music was shaped by his life and they are intrinsically connected.

My life has been connected to Luwigs from the first moments I heard his music.

Juilliard-trained pianist Zachary Hughes will be performing and telling stories about the complete 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven on select Sundays at 3pm throughout 2020 in Greenville, SC.

Along with the great Polish pianist Mr. Rubinstein, I possess a wholehearted love for women and wine (in that order). And I too have often invested my time accordingly. However, there is one thing in life I love more dearly, and that is Beethoven. The great Ludwig van. When I was thirteen or fourteen, I heard my first live piano concert, which included the Appassionata Sonata. I was floored. Ecstatic. To this day, I can count on one hand the musical experiences I’ve had that compare to that first brush with Beethoven live. From that night on, I knew that Ludwig would play a huge role in my life.

Let’s back up. I was born in a little Californian beach town on the central coast called Los Osos, growing up playing in the surf and hiking through the sand dunes. When I was 11 we moved across the country to a little town called Abingdon bordering Virginia and Tennessee, where I found a new home in the Appalachian mountains, running through the forests with friends wielding wooden swords and donning homemade armor. We’d pretend to be characters from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, my favorite books and movies as a kid.

Apart from a love of nature and reading, piano took up all of my free time. My siblings and I were homeschooled, and we lived on a small farm, so there were few distractions for me growing up. Beethoven’s music spoke to me in a profound way from a young age, and I listened to every recording of the complete piano sonatas I could get my hands on. Rather than start learning the “easier” sonatas, I decided that the Pathetique and Waldstein sonatas were the way to go and jumped straight into the deep end, much to my teacher’s chagrin. I wasn’t ready for these masterpieces, but the music was far too beautiful to worry about mundane things such as how I would actually manage all those notes!

At 18, I found myself in New York City, an incoming freshman at The Juilliard School. I was a small-town kid suddenly surrounded by every pleasure and delight known to man. The ensuing four years were a whirlwind of new experience, challenge, and growth.

After graduating from Juilliard in 2015, I gradually realized that my innate and simple love of music and Beethoven had slipped through my fingers somewhere along the way. It had been replaced by a lot of knowledge, a lot of professional experience, and a certain coldness to music that I couldn’t shake.

In 2018, while serving as principal keyboardist for The Knoxville Symphony, I had the sudden idea to learn all of the Beethoven sonatas and take them on the road, playing them for audiences who had never heard the entire “32”. For the first time since high school, I felt the spark returning. I started devouring all the Beethoven-related knowledge I could get my hands on to prepare for this project.

Then I talked myself out of it. “No one actually wants to hear this music except you. You’re not ready to play all 32 sonatas. You’ll never be able to make enough money to support yourself doing that. You should have more life experience before attempting such a monumental project.”

So, I went out in search of more life experience and called up a Marine Corps recruiting office. Eight months and a few thousand pull-ups later, I reported to Quantico, VA for Officer Candidates School. I performed very well, quickly started getting all the ‘“life-experience” I was looking for (and then some), but three weeks later was diagnosed with severe stress fractures in both tibias. I was sent home to Greenville, SC immediately, with the only thing on my mind to heal up, retrain, and get back in the fight.

From Beethoven's Burial site

While I sat at home bored out of my mind letting my legs heal, I received an email asking me if I would be interested in playing a dedication concert for a Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand piano that had recently been donated to the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. At first I had no intention of entertaining the idea since I hadn’t practiced in 6 months. Gradually however, I succumbed to the temptation of playing on such a magnificent instrument. I thought a project while my legs recovered would do me some good.

The concert was a huge success. The love of music had returned to my playing, and with one thing leading to another, the idea and possibility of starting a concert series for the next year came up. The complete Beethoven Sonata Cycle. I was faced with what would be one of the hardest decisions of my life - return to Officer Candidates School, or realize my dream of performing all 32 Beethoven Sonatas?

I realized regret was inevitable. I would have to give up something of incredible value either way. Rather than dwell on regret, I chose what would bring myself and others the most joy. I called my recruiter, thanked him sincerely for the invaluable lessons I had learned from him and other Marines, and told him my decision. I chose Beethoven.

Today, of all the good things in life, sharing the Beethoven piano sonatas with people is the thing I am excited about most. I have found that a life lived in this music is a life well lived. To quote Mr. Rubinstein again, “I’m the luckiest man I know”.

To learn more, visit click below, as well as like/follow The Beethoven Odyssey on Facebook and Instagram to catch sneak-peeks of future concerts!

Concert Details

These “Chautauqua-Concerts” are entirely donation based, with suggested donations of $20 for adults and $10 for students. However, guests are encouraged to give more or less as they are able, so that this music can continue to be shared.

Childcare

GUUF is generously providing childcare during the concerts, and parents need to register for a particular concert date by contacting GUUF at office@greenvilleuu.org or (864) 271-4883.org.

Concert Dates

  • February 23
  • March 22
  • April 19
  • May 3
  • Fall Schedule to be announced

All concerts to be held at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

1135 State Park Road Greenville, SC 29609

What An Amazing Piano!

1988 Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand piano

On Sunday, June 9, 2019, The Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship celebrated the inaugural concert of its newly acquired Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand Piano generously given by Rem Stokes Greenville native and longtime Unitarian Universalist.

The Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s great fortune in being the recipient of the generous gift of the Bösendorfer piano dates back to the 1930’s during the last years of the Great Depression, when Rem Stokes was growing up in Greenville. His mother took in extra knitting at night in order to afford piano lessons for her son, and he studied piano for four years with Mrs. Bass on Toy Street from the age of eight until twelve. But that short amount of study engendered a lifelong love of piano, and Rem has played ever since.

This Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand piano was built in Vienna in 1988. It was acquired by a concert hall in Chicago and was kept, along with a few other concert grand pianos, so that visiting pianists could choose which concert grand piano they wished to use while performing there. Our Bösendorfer has been signed by several artists who performed on it, including Garrick Ohlsson, Janice Larson Razaq, and Cecil Taylor. After four years in the concert hall, Rem bought the piano for his personal use, and he and his late wife Lee had it in their home in Inverness, Illinois, for twenty-five years. Four years ago, they moved into a retirement community, where the piano wouldn’t fit, so he stored it at their UU church in Palatine, IL. (In case you’re wondering, Rem and Lee had already given a Steinway concert grand piano to their church, so he knew they didn’t need a second large piano.) Rem has visited us when in Greenville to attend Clemson reunions, and somewhere along the line he got the idea that we might like to have this remarkable instrument.

So GUUF is the fortunate object of his generosity. The Bösendorfer Imperial Concert Grand piano is 9’6” long and weighs 1217 pounds. It has 97 keys, 9 more than the usual 88, with the additional keys being extra bass notes (all black keys so as not to confuse pianists who are used to the traditional 88). It is generally considered to be one of the finest pianos in the world.

The Experience

Brought to you by Zachary Hughes in association with the:

1135 State Park Road Greenville, SC 29609

(864) 271-4883