‘It’s a little crazy’: Inside an award-winning Boulder pianist’s online Beethoven Sonata Challenge

Original article published on the CU Independent here.

Award-winning pianist and University of Colorado Boulder professor David Korevaar performs on his YouTube channel. (Courtesy of David Korevaar)

“It’s a little crazy really,” David Korevaar said. “I’m not going to claim sanity.” 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, every day in quarantine Korevaar records one of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas in his Longmont living room. Passionate and fiery sonatas pour out of the piano, his fingers sprinting across the keys, his only audience a USB mic and MacBook Pro. 

Korevaar, chair of the piano program at the University of Colorado Boulder, is an award-winning pianist and professor. He regularly performs with CU’s Takacs Quartet and tours internationally as a soloist, most recently in Japan and Brazil. A Juilliard graduate, Korevaar has recorded nearly 40 albums.

“Not knowing what to do” with himself in quarantine, Korevaar created the Beethoven Sonata Challenge, an audacious project to post 32 Beethoven sonatas (over 10 hours of music) on YouTube in 60 days. All sonatas are recorded in one take. He is far ahead of his goal with 22 sonatas in 22 days as of April 13. 

“Giving myself a big project occupies my creative side and keeps me engaged,” Korevaar said. “It’s wonderful I get to share this. Instead of sitting at home and practicing these pieces, I can put them online and share them with the community.” 

The sonatas, composed over 27 years, traverse the extremes of Beethoven’s style. A gargantuan, diverse masterpiece, the sonatas begin with the elegant and bouncy, Mozart-esque first sonata, later moving into dramatic sonatas with flurries of scales and banging chords.  

Highlights in the cycle so far include Sonata No. 3,  No. 13 (“Pathetique”),  No. 14 (“Moonlight Sonata”) and No. 21 (“Waldstein”). No. 3 is a virtuosic sonata with brisk scales and colorful harmonies. “Pathetique” is brooding yet explosive, oscillating between dark harmonies and lightning arpeggios. The iconic “Moonlight Sonata” is reimagined with an aching opening and fervent ending. “Waldstein” is a grand, 25-minute-long sonata with impressive glissandos and speedy scales.

With his powerful touch, Korevaar is able to evoke countless moods throughout the sonatas — joy, contemplation, depression, happiness, anger and passion. Each one becomes a miniature emotional journey. 

According to Korevaar, the project has been “very well received” with a strong following of about 100 people, including CU students and CU Presents concert-goers. His first sonata recording has more than 1,000 views on YouTube and has received many enthusiastic comments, thanking Korevaar and calling the project “a gift.”

“As performers, we miss the direct contact with an audience in a hall,” Korevaar said. “A concert is a religious experience, bringing people together for a reason at the same time. There is no substitute for that.”

Though not ideal, Korevaar is grateful to stay connected with his audience and the Boulder community. He believes “performing is an act of generosity” and wants to share the joy of music in a difficult time. With 22 completed, he still has 10 more sonatas to go. 

“There’s so much wonderful music to dig into in every Beethoven work,” Korevaar said. “It’s great music and great pianism — Hard to beat.”

You can watch all of Korevaar’s videos on his YouTube channel here

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