Peter Takács Beethoven Prize to Debut in 2020

January 28, 2020
Cathy Partlow Strauss ’84
piano professor Peter Takacs seated at a piano.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

Annual award for standout piano students honors the Oberlin professor, a specialist in the works of Beethoven.

Longtime piano professor Peter Takács has made the study of Beethoven’s piano compositions his life’s work. Now the Oberlin Conservatory faculty member’s distinguished career has been honored with an anonymous donation to support a new honor in piano called the Peter Takács Beethoven Prize.

The substantial $5,000 cash award will be given annually to an Oberlin Conservatory piano major who excels in performing works by Beethoven. The inaugural competition will be held December 5 and 6, 2020, to coincide with Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

The Peter Takács Beethoven Prize was established in fall 2019 by a generous benefactor especially in recognition of Takács’ acclaimed recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas.

“I was honored and humbled to learn of this incredibly generous donation to Oberlin,” says Takács. “This is truly meaningful to me.

“I have devoted a large part of my work to the music of Beethoven. The turning point was from 1998 to 2000, when I performed the 32-sonata cycle in Oberlin in eight recitals over the course of two years. Then, in 2001, I was awarded a prestigious research status grant that allowed me to record ‘The 32.’ It was an arduous process that resulted in the release of an 11-CD set in 2011 on the Cambria label.”

The Cambria set was the first recording of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas captured in hybrid SACD format. In addition to the survey of the 32 well-known sonatas, Takács also recorded all of the early unnumbered piano sonatas as well as the only sonata that Beethoven wrote for four hands. An accompanying 144-page hardcover book provides an extended essay, “The Mind of Beethoven,” written by Takács.

Press following the release included high praise from AllMusic.com, which wrote: “Takács’ playing is clean, his expression subtle, his rhythms supple, his power unrivaled; furthermore, his understanding of Beethoven’s methods and expressions is so profound that this set warrants the highest honors.”

The new competition will conform to a format that is similar to the piano department's other juried competitions: Faculty will select finalists during a semifinal round, and guest judges will adjudicate the finals and choose the winner.

Oberlin piano performance majors must secure their teacher’s approval to participate in the competition. Repertoire requirements include two significant solo works by Beethoven: Pianists must perform one of the 32 sonatas; the other piece may be another sonata or other major work. Up to six finalists may be selected to advance to the final round, which will be adjudicated by two distinguished outside judges. A pianist may enter multiple years, but may win the prize only once.

The jury for the December 2020 finals will include Robert Spano ’84, the six-time Grammy Award-winning music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival, and Craig Sheppard, a renowned pedagogue, performer, recording artist, and professor of piano and head of keyboard at the University of Washington School of Music.

Beethoven’s piano sonatas comprise one of the monuments in the history of Western art music. At the time of his formidable recording release, Takács said: “One recurrent aspect of these sonatas is their strikingly modern relevance as universal statements about the human condition—about struggle and suffering, healing and transcendence.”

The Takács Prize ensures that generations of students at Oberlin will continue to deepen their understanding of the master’s works, and it is a fitting honor that celebrates Takács’ career and contributions to the recording legacy of this powerfully expressive music.

“As we begin our celebration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, we are thrilled also to celebrate the contributions of Peter Takács, the artistry of our phenomenal student musicians, and the generosity of the individual who made this award possible,” says Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen. “We look forward to continuing this newly forged Oberlin tradition, and to awarding this new prize to our exceptional students, with great enthusiasm and gratitude for years and years to come.”

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