Sunday, June 18, 2017

Absolute Music - That Miracle Language Without Need for Words...

I thought that it  would be of value and interest to my senses, if I were to listen to a substantial number of recordings of the Mazurka by Chopin, opus 63, number 3.
For me, this gem in c# minor ranks among a small number of the best that Chopin had written in this form. And, along with my having performed it and having used it in my teaching over many years, I decided to enhance my sense of perspective by invoking a saturating mode through a century of various recordings of this masterpiece; something I had planned on doing but never got around to  pursuing.
What came out of this  hour or so of performances that started with post-Lisztian  pianists through giants of our time resulted in a  brilliantly illuminated reminder of how the word 'semiotics' can apply to music - how Interpretation and  Opinion are truly bedfellows.
As an example, the wild difference of opinion as to how to create the message of this music, say, between Rachmaninoff and Rubinstein; or,  Cortot and  Horowitz will invariably form a wide admixture of argumentation.
That wonderful form of consternation coming out of a reality that some totally unknown pianist would deeply move me, directly after hearing one of the historically acclaimed titans creating a stance that did not do a thing for me -  quite an experience  in my endless pursuit of some form of reason.
I remember recording, back-to-back, a series of about seven or eight different  performances of  the  two cadenzas written by Rachmaninoff for his first concerto;  my reason for doing so being my need to witness the resulting reactions on the part of the pianists  to the manner in which they had dealt with the material leading up to the cadenza, which usually can serve as a  a kind of certification of how to package and 'tie with a bow' the meaning of that first movement. It was a collection of staggeringly different 'opinions' of how to construct the movement leading to that cadenza.
So - which of what we hear is  'right'? Or should that question be wrestled with at all?
For those of us involved in this art form - it seems that argumentation is an automatic need, and serves as one of the core values in the  pursuit of answers which must accompany the tactic of 'what to do with those notes'...
What say you?


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

73 Years Ago This Day...My Second of Two Addenda

A time of remembrance on this 6th day of June is that other 6th day of June in 1944, when some 5000 sea-going vehicles appeared off the coast of Normandy. We call it D - Day.
What followed has been recounted by book, film, and personal memory countless times.
What may be lost due to the immensity of both size and ultimate meaning of Operation Overlord, led by a future American President(Eisenhower), is the process of transition, from the American experience.
May I cite just a tiny handful of numbers , all coming into view within a period of four plus years?
When the Selective Service Act came into being in the United States before this country went to war, and the draft was activated, almost 9 percent of the young men were deferred  from regulation military service because of their dental conditions.
During this period, the standing army of the United States numbered around the same as that of Portugal, or Romania (also spelled Rumania).
When D-Day occurred, among the Allied troops landing on the beaches, were some 73,000 Americans, all of whom were discharged from their boats on that first day.
And within five days, about a third of a million troops had been disgorged onto French soil.
As a musician, I continue to marvel as to what Man can achieve with the powers given.
Ironically; sadly  - what this species can achieve, on its dark side, cannot be pushed away...


Saturday, June 3, 2017

An Addendum Having Nothing To Do With the Arts...

As we approach the 6th day of this month, our thoughts, for many of us, will become directed to Operation Overlord.  The beginning of the liberation of  Western Europe from the evils of Hitler obviously was one of the primary events connected with the shaping of history which continues into  our time.
But this week also heralds the 75th anniversary of another event which, arguably, may be considered as an equal in import to Overlord;  and that is The Battle of Midway- to explain:
Only four months after Pearl Harbor, the spectacular  Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and other cities of Japan so stunned and infuriated the Tojo government that their reflexive decision was to extend their domain further east into the Pacific so as to make it impossible for the Americans  ever again  to attack Japan by air. The island of Midway, an American possession,  was their choice of occupation.
What the Japanese did not know  -  a portion of their naval code had been deciphered  by American naval intelligence.
The result, in a four day operation, was that the invading Japanese fleet was led into a trap that destroyed four of their aircraft carriers.
Gone forever was the offensive naval  arm of the Japanese Empire - there was no way that they could win this war.
And so, even though it required an island-hopping operation that lasted until Okinawa was occupied in the spring of 1945, and the decision to use the Bomb was implemented, the Battle of Midway only 6 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor decided the final outcome.
How stunning the web spun by a look into historiography can be...

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"A Beethoven Journey" - Some Thoughts and Reaction...

During a  golden period of some fifteen years, I was given the opportunity to experience countless conversations by traditional mail, E-mail, and a number of meetings with the esteemed Norwegian pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes.
Of these golden moments, besides the genuine warmth and grace that this man always projected, the most singular aspect that I gleaned from him was the experience of "hearing for the first time" music I had been familiar with for much of my professional life.
After his release of  an album of Liszt piano music, I wrote to him about the unique experience of receiving a message from the composer I had never contemplated (and  be assured that I find this really quite impossible to convey in words); that is, with the traditional reminders of the enormous technique always in attendance in the playing of Liszt, I became aware that Andsnes was able to make the music appear veritably separated from the physicality which one would normally attach to the Liszt experience - it was if the music simply appeared in a mode of purity somehow removed from the technique which is and always has been  the means of carrying the message. It, for me, simply appeared for the sake of its own existence, without any trace of the visceral thrills one associates with Liszt - the music simply was a form suspended in front of my consciousness.
And this occurs every time I listen to this album.
What comes to mind is a moment when I remarked to him that when I hear his playing of music of the Romantic period, I hear a kind of beauty linked, at the same time, with almost no sentiment attached to the idea promulgated - how can this be? I brought this up to him during one of our times together -  I recall that he said nothing - he only smiled, and we went on to another subject.
Was his smile a certification of "yes, that's exactly how I look at this kind of music. I'm so happy that you too experience my particular imagery" - or was his smile simply the only way he could react to my statement, as it was as much a mystery to him as well as to his listener?
In his recent project  "A Beethoven Journey"  the first thing that came to me was a question I had which I never did ask; namely,  why Beethoven was not in attendance in his performances, so far as I can remember, when I first met him when he was about 28.
Well, now the world knows, as he states that he just "wasn't ready" - and now, in his mid-forties, he gives us his stance on the music of the man who once uttered "it is they who should  bow to us" - perhaps as powerful a statement that any Child of the Enlightenment, especially an artist,  could project about a view of the prevailing powers of royalty and wealth/power.
For me, Andsnes might well have been searching for a way to better focus on the core values of Beethoven, usually described in terms of 'victory over travail' which have been written about since  the middle of the 19th century, as it pertains to the composer.
What I perceive from  Andsnes, in his performances we now are given, is an aura, for me, of a kind of positivism that moves one step beyond the personal victory over the travail of total deafness and  a kind of isolation that was so much a part of Beethoven's last quarter century. For me, this is the appearance of  an indescribable form of personal victory that puts a stamp on the kind of 'victory'
that we have understood for almost two centuries.
Andsnes, for me, has found a way of  placing  a positivistic umbrella over that Final Victory.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Violin? Piano? Fits and Starts - The Genesis of a Career in the Arts...

When I was about six or seven, my parents decided upon an introduction to the violin; first, with a presentation of a diminutive form of the instrument  - then, with an introduction to a young lady whose name was Miss Smith.
From that point forward for a period of about a year and a half, I became involved with the unraveling of the mysteries germane to that instrument; then...
a piano, suddenly and without fanfare, appeared in the living room.
And Miss Smith never again appeared.
Enter a middle-aged gentleman, equipped with both a warm smile and very hairy ears(amazing what one remembers!) named Mr. Falkoff, my first piano teacher.
I simply cannot recall one second of my year and a half with Miss Smith, or any of the material for the violin that I must have had to encounter - that memory is simply in another world somewhere.
Her impact upon me, I can only suppose, never emerged into a recognizable form.
And so, for the next five years or so, a really loving and singularly important relationship was formed between Mr.  Falkoff and me. And the piano remains my oldest friend.
Again; for reasons I cannot either fathom or recognize, I returned to the violin; developed a pretty fair level of performance through"self-teaching;" became a member of the orchestra at high school as a first desk violinist, with the apotheosis of my remembrances being the  playing the violin part of the Brahms 2nd Symphony in a concert during my senior year.
All this while joining the Prep Department at Eastman on the piano after a tearful 'goodbye' to Mr. Falkoff and  saying a 'hello' to one of the most important people in this life; namely, Jerome Diamond of the Eastman piano faculty.
I'll never really be able to correctly weigh or appraise the true role of the violin in my development years - for me, it has been and continues to play a rather arcane role  - it simply fits into the whole experience..
And a wonderful example of poesy, in the form of the violinist Ricardo Odriozola, whom I have written music for this past third of a century, finally certifying  the reason as to why the violin was my introduction to the world of music?  And virtually the only instrument I have written for these past years, even though the piano has been my most faithful companion?
Questions that remain unanswered...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Piano Reconfigured into the size of a Pea - a Formal Welcome to Our New Century...

I have been aware of the piano playing of this graduate of the Curtis Institute for some years, and have throughout this period been drawn to her level of performance.
And now; at this particular point in time, I  have become aware of  a reality which informs me that this  wisp of a woman is capable of playing any piece of music written for the instrument.
She is now the darling of the keyboard all over the world, seducing audiences wherever she appears.
Some have called her the most overwhelming performer alive, and cults bearing her name are popping up in the wake of   the locations she has performed in.
She is Yuja Wang.
Picture a  young woman (she is now in her 30th year) bearing a figure of delicacy, dressed  in a form-fitting gown or dress, mostly either red or black, tripping onto the stage on high heels, bowing deeply from the waist, and wriggling onto the bench, sometimes with a  right thigh bared  almost to the hips.
She dispatches the "Hammerklavier" as if it were a fraction of its size, simply due to the gargantuan technical dimension she attaches to whatever she does.
Her veritably nonchalant physical attitude one witnesses during the Prokofiev Third Concerto, or seventh sonata bears  the appearance of a perfect form of denial  in the face of the traditional realities of the massive difficulties connected with these compositions.
And yet there is an aura of some form of substance emanating from her playing that I have yet to identify, in terms of  any form of description I can give myself.
Her playing of the Mozart concerto for two pianos with none other than Menahem Pressler is filled with a message every bit as relevant as that which the the revered artist Pressler, about three times her age, gives us.
The Schubert or Schumann compositions in her repertoire are as ubiquitous as the Horowitz or Volodos transcriptions included in her personal larder.
The principal issue that I am assailed by at this time about this wisp of a woman is a kind of consternation caused by the question "how do I listen to this  musician?"
At this point in time, I am so dissuaded by her Brobdingnagian powers, physically, over the piano, that I have yet to find a source of concentration available, in order to be intelligently capable of listening to the core of her message and specific projection of true language - more specifically; is she a great artist?
Is there a treasure trove , THAT unmistakable, totally non-describable  treasure trove that so few possess, in   her playing of either the absolute or descriptive music that she chooses to perform?
Or is it just a protracted mannerism at a high level that fails to move the atmosphere around me?
Right now, I cannot resolve these questions.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

One of Music's Most Powerful Families...

I don't think that the name Casadesus is as familiar today as it really should be.
The three members of this family I have in mind are Robert, Gaby, and Jean.
The center of this family circle was Robert. When I was a youngster, he was one of my favorites among the great pianists of the day. His Mozart was so wonderfully controlled , and I loved his readings of St. Saens, especially the Concertos. Later on, I found that he was one of very few to have recorded all of the piano music of Ravel. He was one of the leading pianists  of the 20th century.
His wife, Gaby, was recognized as one of the  more renowned  women pianists of the same period, and both she and Robert performed much together during the mid-century. Her playing of Chabrier and other French composers  placed her along with her husband among the eminent musicians during this period.
Their son Jean was becoming increasingly familiar to audiences around the world by way of his prowess as a pianist. I remember a memorable concert of the father, mother and son performing the Bach "D" minor Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra on T. V. in the early sixties.
Tragically, Jean's life ended in his 44th year in an auto accident.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Casadesus family, why not do a little searching? You will be more than impressed with their gifts and accomplishments. Robert, especially - he was one of the leading French musicians of the twentieth century.