Gregg Pauley attempts 32 masterful challenges at the Concord Community Music School
Any way you look at it, the goal is a lofty one. But in his attempt to perform all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas, Gregg Pauley is resisting the seemingly Beethovian urge to cloister himself scowlingly away, immersed in a singular pursuit while the rest of his life fades to a vexing background haze. He wants the project to fulfill a mission that goes beyond the personal satisfaction of completing an arduous musical challenge.
“I just want to share these pieces because they’re so important to me,” said Pauley, who will present the first of nine concerts in his Beethoven series on Oct. 11 at the Concord Community Music School. “Sharing music is one of the most wonderful things that humans can do.”
It is also, despite common perceptions about the great composer, very much in keeping with Beethoven’s own musical expression. “People interpret Beethoven as this curmudgeon,” said Pauley, who teaches piano at the music school, St. Paul’s School and his private studio. “In fact, he loved humanity.”
Formidable in appearance and incomparably brilliant, Beethoven spun his sonatas from the simplest of musical ingredients, as though gently beckoning his audience to join his musical journey. “Beethoven has this ability to take this most basic element and turn it into something genius,” Pauley said. “He is a conduit to something that is human, but also superhuman. . . . He doesn’t put himself on a pedestal. He is there by his mere nature, but he always seems to extend a hand down.”
In keeping with that approach, Pauley plans to explore and share the sonatas at a comfortable pace, weaving the project into his daily life – stealing a few hours to practice in between mowing the lawn and feeding his kids dinner – and maintaining the teaching aspect of his career that has very much shaped his philosophy of music.
“I have learned that teaching is as much an art as performance,” said Pauley, who studied under world-famous pianist Ilana Vered and has performed at some of the most prestigious concert venues. Whether teaching or performing, his greatest joys have come in those moments when he helps someone discover the beauty of great music. He remembers a concert in Los Angeles a few years ago when a man from the audience approached him after the show. “He said, ‘I didn’t even know I liked classical music,’ ” Pauley recalled. “What better compliment can you get?”
Spread out over three years, Pauley’s Beethoven Project, which he has titled “State of Wonder,” is designed to connect regular people with the brilliance and beauty of Beethoven. “Ultimately, I think one of my successful attributes as a musician is an ability to communicate,” Pauley said.
The concerts are built around various themes and will include some commentary by Pauley about each sonata’s context and composition. He’ll explore such topics as the way Beethoven’s sonatas were named, particularly prolific periods of his career and his musical sense of humor:
“The humor comes from the surprises – all this wonderful juxtaposition of ideas,” Pauley explained.
But if it can make you laugh and cry, Beethoven’s music can also reach you on another plane. “He seems to compose at an almost atomic level. He presents a simple piece of information, looks at it from as many angles as possible and then finds resolution,” Pauley said. “He sort of transcends music and seems to present and almost philosophical dissertation. His music is really an almost intellectual pursuit.”
For that reason, the sonatas are not just therapeutic but mentally invigorating, said Cathy Kaplan, a music school colleague who is managing publicity for the project. “I think they really promote problem solving skills,” she said.
To solve the problem of funding, Pauley is also appealing to the masses, using a Rockethub.com page (rockethub.com/32584) to crowd fund the project and reaching out to friends and colleagues for support.
Pauley’s first performance in the series takes place Oct. 11 at 7:30 at the Concord Community Music School. Admission is free. Visit
greggpauley.com for info.