Beethoven, first of the Romantics, came to notice in Vienna as an astonishingly virtuoso young pianist with a genius at improvisation. His writing for piano led the ways in which he re-forged the musical heritage of the west. Through her acclaimed poems, British poet Ruth Padel will conjure Beethoven’s life as he created this legacy, while building a chronological portrait of his genius around three piano pieces played by pianist Karl Lutchmayer. First, ‘Twelve Variations on a Russian Dance’ from 1796, written during his early years in Vienna. Then Sonata No. 27, written in 1814, his middle years and so-called ‘heroic’ period, after Napoleon had occupied and devastated Vienna. Finally, the Opus 126 Bagatelles of 1825, which he dedicated to his brother, and wrote while he was composing his groundbreaking late string quartets in his agonized but uniquely inspired last years.
‘Beethoven is more intimate than ever in these new poems,’ said the New York Times of Ruth’s book Beethoven Variations. ‘She tells the great composer’s life story more profoundly than most biographies.’ Ruth is an award-winning British poet with close links to classical music and wildlife conservation, especially in India. She has also published two novels: Where the Serpent Lives, set mainly in India, features wildlife scientists studying king cobras (‘A nature lover’s delight, compelling, acute, lyrical: she has done for the forests of Karnataka and Bengal what Amitav Ghosh did for the Sundarbans in The Hungry Tide,’ India Today); Daughters of the Labyrinth explores the power of buried memory and the little-known Holocaust on the island of Crete, and has been shortlisted for two Greek prizes (‘A thought-provoking novel of identity, history and our times,’ The New European).
Ruth has published twelve poetry collections, shortlisted for all major UK prizes, including the much-praised Darwin: A Life in Poems, which, like Beethoven Variations, tells a life story in poems, this time of Charles Darwin, who was Ruth’s great-great-grandfather. Her non-fiction includes a book on tiger conservation, shortlisted for the Kiriwama Prize; she is currently finishing The Elephant in the Room, a book on elephants.
She has been Professor of Poetry at King’s College London, Chair of Judges for the T. S. Eliot Prize, a Judge for the International Man Booker Prize and Aventis Science Book Prize, and is Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and Royal Society of Literature. She is a frequent speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival, and her poems have appeared in, among others, The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, Harvard Review, Indian Quarterly, The White Review, Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, Poetry Review, and The Guardian. Awards include First Prize in the National Poetry Competition, a British Council Darwin Now Award, and a Cholmondley Prize. Her latest publication is Watershed, poems on water and climate denial.
Karl Lutchmayer is equally renowned as a concert pianist and a lecturer. The first Steinway Artist of Indian origin, Karl performs across the globe, and has worked with conductors including Lorin Maazel and Sir Andrew Davis, and performed at all the major London concert halls. He has broadcast on BBC Television and Radio, All India Radio and Classic FM, and is a regular chamber performer. A passionate advocate of contemporary music, Karl has also given over 90 world premieres and had many works written especially for him.
Karl’s London lecture-recital series, Conversational Concerts, has garnered critical and public acclaim, and following his landmark recitals celebrating the Liszt and Alkan Bicentenaries, he has received invitations from four continents to give concerts and lecture-recitals. In 2019 he was part of the team introducing the London Prom concerts for BBC television, and he curated and performed in a three-day festival of the music of Busoni in London, including a performance of the Piano Concerto for which he received extensive media attention. Karl held an academic lectureship for 15 years at Trinity Laban (formerly Trinity College of Music) in Greenwich, where he was responsible for mentoring numerous music projects in the community, and is a regular guest lecturer at conservatoires around the world, including the Juilliard and Manhattan Schools in New York.
For the last decade Karl has focussed much of his time and attention on nurturing the burgeoning Western classical music scene in India, his family home. Here, as well as developing audience creation projects in new spaces, he was the first educator to create long-term programmes to support young musicians and their music teachers to fulfill their potential. His success in that role has seen him work as a key consultant for international organisations wishing to support and further that work, and he now advises on education and outreach projects across the country, including as the Dean of Studies for the International Pre-College Music Programme, and the Director of Music for Musiquity. It was for this education work that he was awarded the Bharat Gaurav (Pride of India) Lifetime Achievement award in 2015 and the Indians of the World Medal in June 2022.
Karl studied at the Junior Department of Trinity College of Music, then at the Royal College of Music where he was awarded the Hopkinson Medal by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. He then undertook further studies with Lev Naumov at the Moscow Conservatoire. His research interests include the music of Liszt, Alkan, Busoni and Enescu; The Creative Transcription Network; reception theory; the history of piano recital programming; gesture and performance; and the piano concert arrangement as a challenge to the work concept, which is the subject of his current PhD research at the University of Cambridge.
Between concerts, research and education, Karl has also been a member of the board of trustees for the Incorporated Society of Musicians, and is currently chairman of the board of the dance theatre company, Sweetshop Revolution, which focuses on working with isolated communities including hospices, hospitals and care homes. For the last few years he has lived in Oxford, however he is still sometimes spotted in London, in his alternative incarnation as keyboard, percussion and theremin player in the prog rock band The Connoisseur.