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Andras Schiff's Beethoven to be streamed live from Disney Wednesday*

March 31, 2009 | 11:41 am

Schiff András Schiff’s cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas at Walt Disney Concert Hall, a two-year project, ends Wednesday night.  It ends not in Disney but beyond.  Beyond in that these three astonishing final sonatas -- best known through their Opus numbers 109, 110 and 111 -- are transporting music, like nothing written for the piano before and pretty much after.  But beyond also, as in cyberspace.  NPR has just announced that it will stream the concert live through the facilities of KUSC.

This is something rare and chance-taking for the sensitive Schiff.  Things have gone wrong for him in Disney, where audience noises can break his riveted (and riveting) concentration.  But last week, as he raced through, exhaustingly hammered away at and all but exploded Beethoven’s mammoth “Hammerklavier,” he seemed at once the most nuanced and the most unstoppable of pianists.

The live stream is also a fitting finish for what has proven a surprisingly Internet friendly cycle.  The last volume of Schiff’s Beethoven sonatas, gloriously recorded on ECM and with fascinating booklet notes by the pianist, has recently been released.  But the Web offers a host of illuminating extras. 

Britain’s Guardian newspaper provides on its website free MP3 downloads of the complete series of talks on the sonatas that Schiff gave before his London Beethoven cycle in Wigmore Hall.  Here are hours upon hours of insights, equally engrossing to listeners new to Beethoven and those who have known these sonatas for a lifetime.

For more Schiff, tune in to Jim Svejda's KUSC show, which will feature the pianist as guest on Wednesday between 7 p.m. and midnight. [*UPDATE: The Svejda show with Schiff was, in fact, on Tuesday night.]

And here is more good news: KUSC has upgraded its bit-rate for its Internet radio streams to 128k.  That’s still crummy by any reasonable audio standards (old fashioned cassette tapes could do better; antiquated 78 rpm records could do a lot better) but 128 seems to be OK to tin-eared iTuners.  That is the standard for millions of songs Apple sells every day.  And maybe, just maybe, 128k will provide a wide enough digital portal for piano music to lift those final trills of Opus 111 out of cyberspace and into the transcendental psychic space where they ultimately belong.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: András Schiff beginning his Disney Hall Beethoven cycle in October 2007.  Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times