Concord pianist to play final notes of 3-year Beethoven series

  • Gregg Pauley, 48, practices Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” at his home in Concord on Wednesday. Pauley set out to perform Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas three years ago and will perform the last two, including “Hammerklavier”, on Friday. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Gregg Pauley’s piano show on Friday will be at Concord Community Music School. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Gregg Pauley, 48, practices Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” at his home in Concord on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Pauley set out to perform Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas three years ago and will perform the last two, including “Hammerklavier” on Friday. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Gregg Pauley, 48, practices Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” at his home in Concord on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Pauley set out to perform Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas three years ago and will perform the last two, including “Hammerklavier” on Friday. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 5/4/2016 11:37:46 PM

Gregg Pauley calls the project his Everest. 

“Why do you climb Everest?” Pauley said. “It’s a challenge that faces you, and one wants to be challenged in life.”

This challenge is certainly a monumental one, and it had been towering over the local pianist since he was a young musician. Three years ago, Pauley set out to perform Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas. In doing so, he took on the most ambitious works by one of the world’s most famous composers.

On Friday night, Pauley will play the final two sonatas in a concert at the Concord Community Music School. 

“It’s been really an overwhelming project,” Pauley said. “I think Beethoven, more than any other composer, challenges the pianist not only technically but intelligently.”

At 4 years old, Pauley began playing; he studied under world-famous pianist Ilana Vered. At 12, he learned his first Beethoven. Now, at 48, he has performed across the country, in Canada and in Italy. He gives lessons in his private studios in Concord and Newmarket; his resume includes teaching stints at the Concord Community Music School, Tufts University and St. Paul’s School. 

For a musician who has a family, teaching obligations and bills to pay, memorizing and performing 32 sonatas is no small feat. (He did have the help of more than $11,000 raised on a Rockethub.com fundraising page.) The project was organized into nine concerts, all of which were performed at the music school. He sometimes performed duplicate concerts in other New England states or at Concord’s Havenwood-Heritage Heights.

Pauley said making time to practice has been the most challenging part of his project. During performances, he has sometimes grappled with a missed note here and there. 

“This piece I’m working on right now, my teacher and mentor said to me, that’s a yearlong project in and of itself,” he said. “Eight hours a day for a year might give you a sense of understanding.”

“For me, what I really think about is not a perfect performance, but a performance that really communicates with the listener,” Pauley added.

Sherry Hieber, one of Pauley’s adult piano students, has attended every concert. In hopes of reviving her rusty talent for the piano, she started taking lessons shortly before Pauley embarked upon his project. 

“He’s very bright,” Hieber said. “It’s not just about learning the notes. It’s about learning how to express what you feel about the piece. He has a wonderful ability to understand the music. All you have to do is hear him play it.”

That teaching style carries over to his performance style, Hieber said. Pauley structured the performance schedule not chronologically, but rather in a way that grouped relevant pieces together. During the shows, he talks to the audience about the significance of each piece and his learning process.

“He shares not only the music, but the experience of learning the music,” Hieber said.

When Peggy Senter, president of the Concord Community Music School, heard Pauley’s idea more than three years ago, she had a one-word response: “Wow.” 

“All of us who live here at performing artists have lots of jobs and lots of roles, because there’s not concert fees to support your performing life,” Senter said. “He’s had a long and successful performing career, and we’re really lucky that he decided to move to Concord to work at the music school about 15 years ago.”

The series is also an deeper introduction to one of the world’s most famous composers, Senter said. While many know Beethoven as a brooding and hot-tempered artist, the sonatas reflect a broader mind.

“It’s the whole range of human emotion,” she said. “There’s certainly some famous pieces that have that revolutionary, dramatic aspect to them. But there’s beautiful, noble, peaceful as well.”

All along, like in his studio lessons, Pauley’s goal has been to introduce his audience to that range of emotion. 

“What I’ve really wanted all along is for people to really hear Beethoven, to really hear the music and to understand what he’s doing is significant,” Pauley said. “Not only for his time, but for our time and hopefully for the future. He obtained something in this life that is the best of what humans can do.”

The two works Pauley will perform this weekend are from the end of Beethoven’s life: the “Hammerklavier” and Sonata No. 32, Op. 111.  At that time, the pianist could not hear the music he had written.  

“These late sonatas are really Beethoven at his peak intellectually,” Pauley said. “He’s not constrained by the sound. He’s completely deaf at this point. He’s composing his deepest, most profound thought, regardless of what the musicians are capable of doing.”

So on Friday, after three years of practicing and performing his most demanding work, Pauley will meet Beethoven on the summit. 

INFOBOX: Tickets for Pauley’s Friday concert are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit greggpauley.com or call 228-1196. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Concord Community Music School.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.) 


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