Image credit: Sebastian Dows-Miller
Athena Hawksley-Walker and Tom Fetherstonhaugh, both second-year music students at Merton College, Oxford, are currently performing the complete Beethoven violin sonatas in a series of concerts taking place in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. They tell Arts Blog about this unique project.
Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas, composed between 1798 and 1812, are regarded as the cornerstone of the violin and piano repertory, and are hugely important works in the western classical music canon. They are unmatched in terms of a large-scale cycle of works for a violin and piano duo. Although their composition spans a somewhat smaller time period than some of his other works – for example his string quartets – they offer a huge insight into Beethoven’s development as a composer, with Sonata No.10 in G major sitting on the cusp of his movement into his fragmentary and transcendent so-called ‘late style’.
As well as being arguably the most important single body of works for violin and piano, the pieces demand both extreme technical skill from the performers and an ability to communicate effectively with each other in order to capture and express, through music, the full range of human emotion.
The very first time we played together it was in ‘opposite formation’: Tom on violin and Athena on piano. In fact, the first piece we performed was Beethoven’s violin Sonata No. 5, ‘Spring’. Our artistic partnership continues to grow and this series is our most ambitious yet.
The first three concerts in the series have already taken place, with the remaining sonatas set to be performed across the rest of the year. Sonatas 6 and 10 will be performed on Monday 14 May, and numbers 8 and 9 on Monday 22 October. Each concert will commence at 7.30pm.
On Monday 14 May a pre-concert talk will be given by Daniel Grimley, Professor of Music at the University of Oxford. Professor Grimley is an expert on European classical music and has particular research interests in the links between music, landscape, and geographical culture, covering music from the classical period up to 20th-century works.
Athena Hawksley-Walker studied violin and piano at the Royal College of Music Junior Department for nine years with Ani Schnarch and Neil Roxburgh, winning prizes in violin, piano and theory, both at the RCM and from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. In addition, she was awarded Kingston Young Musician of the Year and Richmond Young Pianist of the Year and distinction in both violin and piano dipABRSM diplomas. Athena was in the National Youth Orchestra for four years, co-leading in her final year. She now studies with Michael Foyle at the Royal Academy of Music through the Oxford Music Faculty’s RAM scheme.
Tom Fetherstonhaugh is organ scholar at Merton College, Oxford, where is he is responsible for accompanying the college choir for BBC broadcasts, concerts, tours and services. He is a busy recitalist, giving solo concerts around the UK and Europe. Alongside his organ-playing, Tom is a conductor. He founded Fantasia Orchestra, a group of London musicians whose concerts have won critical acclaim: the Arts Desk has called the strings sound ‘already a thing of wonder’. Tom is about to start his second season as conductor of the Oxford University Sinfonietta.