Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 26, 2021

REVIEW: Sevenars Music Festival, Jiayan Sun

Sevenars Music Festival, The Academy, Worthington, MA 
July 11 - August 15, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

After the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled their 2020 season, this beloved family-based music festival has resumed its full schedule in 2021 of six live Sunday afternoon concerts in the comfortably rustic Academy at Worthington in the heart of the Berkshires. They are recommending that patrons maintain a three-foot distance between parties and that unvaccinated patrons wear masks in the hall.

Jiayan Sun
On July 25 rising Chinese-born pianist Jiayan Sun played Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas. Now a music faculty member at Smith College, Sun said in a pre-concert Zoom interview that he enjoys playing them together not only because they comprise Beethoven’s “final statements in the genre” but because the “intimate experience” of performing them while he was a Juilliard student on a fortepiano made for the composer had given Sun “a deeper understanding” of “Beethoven’s sound world” at this late stage of his life. 

The sonatas Opus 109 and 110 have similar structures, with two short movements leading into a longer climactic finale. Sun’s approach to each was flexible in the volatile opening movements, turbulent in the fleet “Prestissimo” and “Allegro molto” second movements and striving for maximum contrast within both groundbreaking finales (a theme and variations in Opus 109, and two versions of an “Arioso” and “Fugue” in Opus 110). Omitting an intermission, Sun tackled the dramatic first movement of Opus 111 with a vengeance, then the extended, visionary “Arietta” finale with energy and nuance.

Most striking about the pianist’s take on this trilogy is that it’s a young man’s view (Sun is 31) of Beethoven’s late work, emphasizing its boldness and innovation. His technical control was flawless, and his emotional grasp of the music compelling. It will be interesting to hear how his interpretation may evolve ten or twenty years from now, perhaps into more reflective, even spiritual terrain.  

No Sevenars concert would be complete without the assortment of homemade refreshments normally served at intermission but here offered as a festive post-show opportunity for enthusiastic concertgoers to thank their gracious host, pianist Rorianne Schrade of the founding Sevenars family, and to complement their charismatic soloist.