Someone told us a story of a famous pianist who believed in bringing culture to the people, and went to a factory in Italy to give a lecture in front of a piano. He started to talk about Schoenberg, and after a few minutes, a voice rose from the audience: "Shut up, and play!" Ok, he said, and sat down at the piano, playing the Schoenberg piece. The voice rose again: "Rather, talk!"

András Schiff, the Hungarian-born British Grammy winning piano virtuoso was telling the anecdote during a lecture series in London where he was talking --and playing-- about Beethoven's piano sonatas. Had we been sitting at the lecture, rather than streaming it on the internet, we'd have the opposite conundrum: talk! play! We could no choose, but we'd enjoy either. The guy has a great, slightly dry sense of humor, he knows Beethoven in and out, both from a scholarly or a musical point of view, and he can flat out play.

The Beethoven piano sonatas: you've heard them many times. The Moonlight sonata is one of these assignments that piano pupils take on too early and butcher too eagerly. Schiff, he is no butcher, and he is going to show us how it's done. He's playing an eight concert cycle of the 32 sonatas, in chronological order, a musical marathon of sort. The first two concerts are this month, Sunday Oct. 7th and 14th, co-presented by SF Performances and the SF Symphony (there are two more concerts in April, and the rest next season). That's a pretty exciting event, so we jumped on the opportunity to email some questions.

We were listening to your lectures at Wigmore Hall, we only had time to go through Op2, 7, 10 and 13 so far. These are great lectures, and will improve our playing of the sonatas. At least we hope so. Are you going to have a similar discussion format in SF?

András I am glad You enjoyed the Wigmore lectures, thank you very much indeed. There won't be anything like that in San Francisco, at least not now. I feel that the crisis in classical music - if there is such a thing - is a matter of quality and understanding. There is no shortage in the number of concerts that are being presented to the public, nor is there a lack of audience attendance. The problem is that audiences are less and less knowledgeable. This is a question of education, schools do very little about this, families are busy with other things, there is less home music-making. In such a cultural climate we have to make an effort to explain to the public how to listen to great music. Of course, many of them already know this, but to the majority this is necessary and welcome. After the Wigmore Hall lectures, there were no questions from the audience. But usually, I'm happy to answer them.