Jan Lisiecki
Jan Lisiecki | Credit: Christoph Köstlin

What would Beethoven do?

Living in the SF Bay area, so close to the fabulous Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies , we have frequent opportunities to hear Beethoven’s music and hear specialists talk about his life. This weekend the San Francisco Symphony is presenting a set of concerts led by Christoph Eschenbach, starring the fantastic young pianist Jan Lisiecki playing Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4. 

After a private premiere of the work at his patron Prince Lobokowitz’s Viennese palace, Beethoven gave the public concert premiere in the center of his massive December 22, 1808, concert, framed by other new symphonies and vocal works.

But at Thursday’s SFS matinee, after I gave the preconcert lecture on what was to be the SFS premiere on Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s Overture in C, Brahms’s First Symphony, and the above-mentioned concerto, SFS Interim CEO Matthew Spivey came to the stage with an unprecedented announcement: “I am sorry to announce at this late hour that we must cancel today's 2 p.m. performance in Davies Symphony Hall. Despite robust safety measures in place, positive COVID-19 tests were reported within the orchestra during routine testing earlier today. Out of an abundance of caution and in order to prioritize the health and safety of audiences, performers, and staff, today's performance will not take place.” 

What would Beethoven do? Take the stage himself and perform solo. 

And that’s exactly what happened. In a moving display of professionalism and passion in equal parts, pianist Jan Lisiecki took the stage alone and played a full, memorized recital. Drawn from his recent award-winning Chopin recordings, Lisiecki chose a dramatic program of twelve works that delighted his stunned audience.

The San Francisco Symphony is moving ahead with concerts, saying, “Following consultation with our Health and Safety Task Force and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and in accordance with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations, the San Francisco Symphony has determined that it is safe and prudent to present the rest of this week's performances as planned. To read all of the health and safety measures in place to keep San Francisco Symphony patrons and employees safe, please visit sfsymphony.org/Home/Safety.”