The Musical Weekend of Shai Wosner

Considering that he just made his Santa Barbara debut playing the Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time with Camerata Pacifica last March, pianist Shai Wosner has already become a local favorite. At least it sure seems that way this weekend, when the young Israeli native – the winner of a 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant who has performed with major orchestras and ensembles around the world – will both serve as soloist for the Santa Barbara Symphony’s season-opening concerts at the Arlington, where he’ll perform Beethoven’s magnificent Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, on Saturday and Sunday, and play in recital on Monday night for an audience less than one-tenth as big at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday night as part of trilogy of concerts kicking off the venue’s 2007-08 chamber music series.

Q. How often do you play both recital and concerto with two organizations in the same town while on tour?

A. It’s not very often. Usually it’s either/or. So it’s new to me, too.

Is it difficult to switch between the two so quickly?

It’s very different. You try to just focus on each one as it is, and not mix them too much. But to tell you the truth, I really haven’t done it very often, so I’m not sure myself.

OK. So how different is it to play for two thousand people versus two hundred?

Even when it’s a bigger hall, you try to draw them in and make it intimate. You really aim for the same thing even though the places are different. You just focus on the music. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. If you need to project to them, it doesn’t really work anyway. But if you try to focus more intensely on what you’re playing usually they are drawn in to that, rather than trying to broaden it and put it out there. It’s hard to explain. What you do take into account, the sound of the hall, the acoustics, but not the size of it necessarily. You go by the way it sounds, not by how many people are there.

What can you tell me about the Beethoven? How do you approach such a monumental work?

It’s very unique, like all of his. None of the five concertos are really conventional. This one, the break from convention is apparent from the very beginning in that the piano actually starts rather than the orchestra. In the fourth, it’s actually more significant than in the fifth, where it’s just a cadenza. In the fourth it’s actually the theme of the concerto. So in a way, the motto for the whole concerto is conceived in the beginning with just the piano and then developed in the orchestra. It’s a great masterpiece, truly profound.

What will you be playing in the recital?

A couple of Beethoven Sonatas, op. 31 no. 3, and Op. 57 (“Appassionata”) plus short pieces by Schubert and Schoenberg. Those are two sets of six musical movements by each composer. I’m playing them as a group together, alternating back and forth between them.

How do you choose your repertoire?

I usually try to match things to form a solid balanced program, things that go well with one another, maybe even react to one another, as is the case with the Schubert and Schoenberg: when you put them together you create a new context for them, which I think can be very interesting.

It’s your second time to Santa Barbara and of course, you’ve played in many major cities. Is there a difference in the audiences that you are aware of?

You do feel the audience. You get a vibe. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether they are more or less educated. It changes from concert to concert. You can generalize or characterize audiences by habits, by region. For example, in the Netherlands, audiences give you a standing ovation no matter how much they might hate it. It’s just something they do. But you do try to gauge whether the audience is listening. You notice when they listen and when they don’t.