Hinrich Alpers is a German pianist who just happens to love French music.
“There are actually two focal points in my repertoire right now. Beethoven is one. He is the most important German composer and as I won the Beethoven competition in Bonn, Germany, several years ago, that really became one of the big important things that I do.
“The other focal point happens to be French music. It’s probably because my first piano teacher was French and she had a love of French music and that has rubbed off.”
The idea to combine the two, as Alpers is about to do in a Chamberfest concert on July 28, is pretty simple: “I have recorded the complete piano works by Ravel on the Honens label. And I am constantly being asked to play Ravel, as much as I am being asked to play Beethoven.”
Both composers are big personalities and that requires some stick handling for the performer. But “I have found this one programme in which they don’t tread on each other’s feet.”
He will open his concert with Beethoven’s Variations and Fugue in E-flat major, Op. 35, Eroica Variations and then launch into Ravel’s Sonatina, Menut sur le nom de d’Haydn, Valses nobles et sentimental and La Valse.
In many ways the two composers reflect the tensions between the two European nations in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, Alpers says.
“Officially Ravel wasn’t allowed to like German music but privately he probably enjoyed Beethoven. I have read that he enjoyed the late works of Beethoven, which surprised me because those are the works that normally freak out French composers, because they are so weird.”
He has chosen to play the Eroica variations.
“Eroica was once dedicated to Napoleon. Beethoven got angry with him and crossed out the dedication. But his admiration for the French Revolution stayed. He had hoped for something similar to happen in Austria and Germany.
“So, I don’t think it’s a long shot at all to put them together.”
After all that history, Alpers says, seeing how close France and Germany are today, “it’s kind of like a miracle. That feeling that French musicians shouldn’t play German music and vice versa, that’s completely gone away.
“Ravel was a sincere and very upright man. Nationalist feeling never clouded Ravel’s judgement of what was good music.”
This is a profound message to put front and centre: Music is a bridge between peoples.
“I think it’s more than that,” Alpers added, “it’s the language of peace. It’s something that brings people together.”
Alpers will talk about the history of this music when he performs.
“I do it quite a lot. I don’t think people need the context but most of the time they enjoy the context. I started doing this 15 years ago after I won (the) Honens (competition). I started to be asked about the programmes was playing and did it more and more. I realized I could do it and still focus on playing.”
Hinrich Alpers plays Ravel
Where: National Gallery of Canada
When: Saturday July 29 at 1 p.m.