Catching up with Sinfonia's founder ahead of Beethoven concert

Catching up with Sinfonia's founder ahead of Beethoven concert

Sinfonia da Camera goes all Beethoven on Friday with the composer's "Overture to Coriolan," which was written for Heinrich Joseph von Collin's 1804 tragedy of the same name. The play and the composition narrate the end of the life of Roman General Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a warrior known for his exceptional valor. Also: "Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major."

Following intermission is Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 in A Major." Richard Wagner characterized the work as "the Apotheosis of the dance itself: it is dance in its highest aspect, the loftiest deed of bodily motion, incorporated into an ideal mold of tone."

Staff writer Paul Wood talked with Sinfonia founder IAN HOBSON about the concert, and his life today.

Do you have a favorite in this concert?

The overture to "Coriolan" is amazingly raw and powerful. The "Piano Concerto No. 1" is an exuberant, uplifting, joyous and youthful work which has a large role for the clarinet in the slow movement. The "Seventh Symphony" is an extraordinary expression of humanity, rhythm and determination.

You had a toy piano when you were 3 or 4. You must have really loved it.

I began on a toy piano and replicated tunes from the radio. I had a real piano by the time I was 4, and played by ear until beginning lessons at age 5.

Do you think you have a natural affinity for the keyboard? Have you excelled at other instruments?

The only instruments I can be said to excel at are keyboards — harpsichord and organ, which I studied extensively. I studied at different times violin, cello and viola, mainly to gain knowledge of them as a conductor, but I cannot say that I have any skill or aptitude for playing them myself!

Do you prefer conducting now?

I am doing a lot of conducting as well as piano playing around the world in recording and the concert hall. I find both activities rewarding and complementary.

You founded Sinfonia da Camera in 1984. Do you have a special affinity to chamber music that makes you continue with Sinfonia?

The orchestra, Sinfonia da Camera, is thriving with new membership in the ranks and long-term members who are often stars amongst faculty, student and regional players. Champaign-Urbana is still one of my homes, and I revel in the multiple roles of conductor, pianist and teacher in my activities here in private coaching sessions and public masterclasses.

You're also a scholar who has revived interest in the music of lesser-known masters such as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Hummel. Do you think they will be among your next concerts?

I am still investigating music old and new. This season we did some Cipriani Potter, a contemporary of Beethoven. We are doing next season an unknown oboe concerto by a great theatre composer from England (John Dee will be soloist, John Wooldridge the composer).

When will Sinfonia next perform, and what's on the list of possibilities?

Our new innovation of a Sinfonia concert is in the summer in conjunction with the Krannert Summer Piano Institute on July 15-21. This year we will have a double concert featuring winners of the concerto competition as well as faculty soloists from around the world. Music by Mozart, Weber, Shostakovich and more.