For a moment Sunday afternoon, it looked like Margot Kidder was on the verge of tears.
It was as if something in Harry Clark’s script for “Sister-In-Law Beethoven” hit close to home.
The emotional break came near the end of the 90-minute Chamber Music Plus performance when Kidder, seated on a stool beneath a single spotlight that cast an ominous shadow, talked about the near suicide of her character’s son. She was reading the role of Johanna van Beethoven, the composer’s sister-in-law with whom he battled for custody of her son in 1816.
Beethoven had won, but the cost was great; the nephew was miserably unhappy and ran away to be with his mother. He also tried several times to take his own life, including in that one scene where he shot himself in the head with two pistols.
As Kidder was telling how one gun didn’t fire and a bullet from the second one only grazed him, she wiped her eye. From the middle of the loosely filled Berger Performing Arts Center, the emotion looked pretty real.
That’s always the surprise of Chamber Music Plus’s Rhythms of Life portraits. You expect the seasoned actors Clark and his pianist wife Sanda Schuldmann bring in to do a wonderful job of reading the script. But these actors bring so much emotion to the performance that it feels like a fleshed-out stage performance that deserves a more lofty description than “dramatic reading.”
Clark, a cellist, and Schuldmann performed several of Beethoven’s chamber works, including the Scherzo & Trio from Sonata in A, “Adelaide” and the Equali for four trombones with the cello sitting in for the brass voices. Schuldmann’s solo turn on the Minuet in G was inspiring.
The afternoon’s highlight came toward the end, right before Kidder’s heartfelt scene, when Schuldmann and Clark teamed up on the haunting adagio from Beethoven’s Cello Sonata in D. They emphasized the emotion without wallowing in the melancholy, creating a contemplative soundtrack that put you inside the heart of Beethoven’s sister-in-law.
Sunday's performance closed out Chamber Music Plus's ninth Tucson season. Their 10th anniversary season includes the return of "Sister Mozart," a work that introduced Schuldmann and Clark to Tucson and the world premiere next March of Clark's newest piece "The Trials of Dimitri Shostakovich." Season tickets are on sale now.