Beethoven for Breakfast
Royal Over-Seas League
With a name like Beethoven for Breakfast, it stands to reason that this show won’t form the finale to a bacchanalian night’s boozing. It’s 9:30am in the Royal Over-Seas League building on Princes Street. A few patrons do seem a little unsteady on their feet, admittedly, but thankfully they have their sticks for support. The Princes Suite is laid out like a church, with rows of velvet-upholstered chairs bifurcated by a central aisle that leads to a grand piano upon the stage. A tasteful flower arrangement is positioned to one side. The wizened patrons talk in muted tones and adjust hearing aids. At any moment I expect the pall-bearers to enter the room and the whispers to beget a hushed silence.
This is Beethoven for Breakfast. Figuratively, of course. There will be no sign of the great man himself, nor of breakfast itself for that matter. Today, in place of toast and marmalade, we will be feasting on a discerning selection of Beethoven’s ouevre. Should this aural smorgasbord fail to satisfy, there’s always Rachmaninov after Lunch and Mozart at Teatime to look forward to.
The first half of the performance – the toast and grapefruit juice section, if you will – is provided by pianist Jayson Gilham. Then, the full fry-up will come in the form of Rhodes Trio, imparting the soothing sounds of Piano Trio No 7 in B flat Op 97 via the triumvirate of piano, violin and cello. Having been politely instructed to switch off their mobile phones, the audience duly comply, fumbling as they attempt to silence these confusing pieces of 21st-century kit. There’s bound to be one person who fails in this endeavour. There’s always one.
Jayson Gilham gathers his thoughts and lets them linger for a moment while the audience anticipate the first tentative notes to ‘Allegro ma non troppo’. His head hangs for a moment and then he’s off, recreating Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 28 in A Op. I know all this because I have the programme in my hand. Usually, I don’t know my Beethoven from my Beardyman, and not just because one artist has an uncanny knack of impersonating the other.
As possibly the youngest and least classically-cultured member of the audience, I am not qualified to assess how successfully Gilham brings this 18th-century Sonata to life. I do know that the Australian is an adroit pianist however who’s capable of teasing the most delicate sounds out of the grand piano. I also know that much of the sound is unfortunately being absorbed into the low ceiling of the Princes Suite. Had I a hearing aid, it would be getting turned up.
Talented as Jayson Gilham is, I find my attention wandering. When I was obliged to attend church as a kid, I never could concentrate for any length of time. One thing I did enjoy at that age however was watching Tom & Jerry. It is from this cherished cartoon that most of my knowledge of classical music comes. It’s a beautiful thing, the Fringe. One night you’re witnessing the Marquis de Sade defiling sacred places; the next morning it’s Beethoven for Breakfast with the whole congregation. It’s strange to think that 200 years ago, while the Marquis de Sade was entering exits and redefining the concept of a lost weekend, Beethoven was experimenting with music in equally unorthodox ways. Apart from rumoured cases of syphilis however, the two had little in common.
Jayson Gilham finally finishes his Allegro and leaves the stage to thunderous applause. Apparently he was very good. The audience are thoroughly enjoying themselves, and best of all, not a single mobile phone has gone off. Next up is Rhodes Trio. I’m more of an Alkaline Trio man myself, but I’m willing to give them a shot. With three times as many instruments to play with, the trio fare better than their predecessor, filling the room with sweet, classical sounds. Whereas the previous Piano Sonata sounded bellicose and discordant at times, the Piano Trio produced by our classical trio is smooth and golden. It is far more commensurate with such an unearthly hour of the morning. There is an especially pleasing staccato section in which the cellist and violist race through a complex series of arpeggios. The audience beam with joy, and it’s around this point that the mobile phone starts to go off. Everyone notices it, apart from the lady to whom it belongs. It’s in her bag. Of course it’s in her bag. Eventually, she is alerted to its improprieties, and with much tutting and rummaging, the infernal contraption is silenced. All ears return to the seductive sounds emanating from the stage. The phone will be back soon enough of course; those things never switch off. They simply go into hibernation before returning twice as angry ten minutes later.
Some believe that the more mature citizens among us should have to periodically resit their driving test to prove they’re not a danger on the roads. I think that’s wrong. I think they should be obliged to undergo mobile phone training instead. As Rhodes Trio reach another delicate passage of Beethoven, the snoozing mobile pipes up again. This time it will not be silenced. Not by its owner anyway. In a panic, she retreats to the Observation Bar for an early cup of tea, taking the pesky contraption with her. It is still ringing dutifully as the double doors swing shut.
Superb as Beethoven for Breakfast is, I reach my fill long before the horsehair bows have finished their merry dance across the strings. I join in enthusiastically with the applause however, for there is no doubting the quality of these internationally-acclaimed musicians. Beethoven For Breakfast was a little too much for me to stomach, but if you like that kind of thing, it’s the perfect prelude to a square sausage roll with extra ketchup.
This is the full, unabridged version of a review I wrote for the Fringe publication I’ve been working for this month.