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.

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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.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

An American Impressionist? One of the Most Underrated Composers I Ever Encountered...

About ten years ago I mentioned the name of Charles Tomlinson Griffes in an early blog.  It recently occurred to me, upon thinking of this man, that  a portion  of his music emerged as some of the most singular and startlingly original musical thinking that I can recall, especially during the latter phase of my years as both a student/performer and young teacher.
His answer to French Impression should be re- investigated more palpably  than it seemingly is at this point in time. His attachment to and remarkable  promulgation of the sense of atmosphere one automatically attaches to the likes of Debussy is immediately recognizable; however, the harmonic language is amazingly original. It is true Impressionism; of interest to me is that Griffes  was born in Elmira, New York and passed away only some  36 years later in New York City.
His  early  language was nurtured  and given to manuscript during his period of study at Stern Conservatory in Berlin, at that time a private music school, with luminaries  such  as Von Bulow  and Humperdinck on the faculty.
A composition titled "Roman Sketches" houses a piece called "Fountain of  Acqua Paoela" -  a famous fountain in Rome. A brilliant description of differently sized volumes and shapes  of water flowing out of this fountain in simultaneity is represented by Griffes with the following rhythmic arrangement:
In the right hand are two lines (we are in 4/4 time) - the upper line is in quarter note triplets. The lower line is in 8th note triplets. The left hand is in 16th notes. For those of you who can grasp the ingenuity of usage  created by Griffes in his portrayal of the properties of water in this particular section of the piece - well, I would recommend your examining the results.
One, among a number of reasons why this composer has remained in my memory bank...

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On This Day - My Annual Reminder...

On April 12 of 1945,  one of the 20th century's most powerful  figures passed away in his southern retreat. Franklin Delano Roosevelt  succumbed to a brain hemorrhage just three weeks before Hitler's forces began the process of unconditional surrender to the Allies.
How sad it is to contemplate his not being present, as leader of the West against Nazi tyranny - on the day of victory, Roosevelt could not be there. What a  supreme form of irony, made even more poignant by his being stricken with polio, at age 39, back in 1921.
History imparts to us the reality of a  world leader who prevailed during the Great Depression and World War II - from a wheelchair, beset by almost constant pain, wearing about eight pounds of leg braces.
When asked more than once what, if anything, was the main source of inner strength, he always referred to the poem "Invictus" by Henley.
"My head is bloody, but unbowed".
"I am the master of my fate".
"I am the captain of my soul".
These particular statements in the poem captivated and held him.
Another example of how the power of Man's  Art  can forge a portion of his history into being...

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Three Vignettes in My Musical Experience and a Statement Made in the Great Depression - and How the Two Entities Dovetail...

One day, during my years as a high- school student, in the Prep Department at the Eastman School of Music, I was approached by my beloved piano teacher, Jerome Diamond, who asked if I'd be interested in performing at a meeting of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce during a lunch break there -  to offer a brief period of keyboard entertainment to the reigning officers of this august body of movers and shakers.
It was left to me to decide upon the music to be performed.
And so I decided to assemble an assortment of the sort of music that would best befit the event; that is, relaxing little gumdrops written by the likes of Victor Herbert and beyond.
Do picture the event:
Youngish to middle-aged men, all looking pretty much the same to me, as I recall, clinking cups and speaking with mouths full  of the foods offered - there was a constant murmuring sound emanating from these gentlemen as I played.
I clearly remember my not being upset at their lack of attention to my ongoing contribution to the great arts. I as clearly remember a decision I made at that pregnant moment to try out a piece I had up to that moment never played for an audience, which  I had recently learned with Diamond.
The piece was the Military Polonaise of Chopin.
As I dove into the music, I rather gradually became aware that the clinking and the murmur had stopped. The atmosphere had been transmogrified.
When I finished (and I really thought that it went well) I was greeted by loud applause, with some of the gentlemen standing while doing so, followed by some back-slapping and declarations such as "great" or  the like.
Diamond was not at this function-probably teaching back at the Eastman a few blocks away.
As well as I seemed to have performed, I continue to feel a sense of relief that Diamond was not there.
Would he have been angry at my decision to do what I did?
I never knew whether he ever knew about what I did.
To this day I continue to feel relieved, even though he might have been happy about my Chopin that day.
Vignette No. 2:
Later on, as a young  man and student, I recall working on the great Mozart Concerto K 488. On a particular day  my teacher at that time entered my room and asked if I would like  to try the music with him doing the orchestral part on another piano - I said "yes!" and we repaired to a nearby room with two pianos.
As the first movement moved toward the cadenza, I was aware that the teacher was having more trouble playing his reduction than I was playing the solo part. Notes that Mozart had never contemplated graced our little musical soiree, and I felt gleeful in that they were not coming from my piano - how often does the student feel triumphant over the teacher??
I have absolutely no idea as to why and how this incident came to pass.
But, again, I had experienced and enjoyed another moment of triumph.
Vignette No. 3:
While teaching on a Tuesday afternoon at the Longy School , I had a break of about 40 minutes, and so  I decided to continue working on a transcription of the Russian  Sailor's Dance by Gliere.  I used all kinds of tricks that I felt would mesmerize any audience that would hear it later on. I must say it did indeed become one of my encores in future performances, as it was received really quite well.
Well, during  one of my more fire-eating variations, the door to the studio opened (no knock), which disrupted me. As I looked up to see who had raped my privacy, I was astounded to see no other than the director of the piano department, David Bacon, forming a "Wow" with his mouth, and clapping silently, followed by a broad smile. Bacon was a respected pianist of his day, about a generation
older than me.
And yet another moment of triumph.
"Never in my life have I  been so well disposed."
My words? No - they certainly fit my three vignettes.
Adolf Hitler uttered the words, upon his realization that the Great Depression was opening the curtain of opportunity for his life's work to come into being.
How utterly arcane; how strange , the power of the word can find such totally different paths to follow...

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Violinist and Bach - Where, When and How Does the Term "Great" Fit In?...

Do  pick up a copy of a double CD, produced by Amethyst Records; then, wrestle with me about one of the truly ubiquitous  terms extant in the arts; namely GREAT.
During the past century-plus of recordings of the music for solo violin, countless listeners have been exposed to a plethora of performers giving them their views of these matchless pieces by the Baroque giant.
From Heifetz, Kreisler,  Milstein,  etc., the power of communication of a language without words has enhanced the nature of human experience by way of  a little instrument suspended  by a thumb and the  four fingers which conduct the listener along that magical path.
The performer in this particular incarnation of these pieces is an associate professor  at the Grieg Academy of the University of Bergen. His name is Ricardo Odriozola. The  music: Sonatas and Partitas by Bach.
Before listening to his performances, do read the little booklet, written by Odriozola, that is included.  For me, his main tactic in writing about the playing of this music, both in the view of the ultra-known aspects of these pieces and his intellectual and spiritual view  of same may well aid you in  particularizing the core meaning  of his recording you are about to hear.
What struck me was his statement on page two:
"Also, may I cast aside all modesty and say that I believe that my views on this music are as valid as anyone elses."
Which, for me, brought into lurid focus the word 'great.'
How many times, in my experience, have I heard a performance that made the atmosphere eddy and writhe in a manner that tells me "this is a great performance" - by an individual either not known, or, perhaps, lesser known?
Does 'great'  apply only to those artists we customarily refer to as great?
In a conversation I once had with the distinguished pianist Ansdnes (be assured that the following observation was made by me only after we had gotten to know one another!), I, with a smile, offered
"the only difference between you and me is that you can 'be up there' all of the time, and I can  'be up there' only occasionally " . Andsnes laughed, as I recall. I immediately pointed out that 'genius' helps.
But  as I listened to this recording by Odriozola, the statement I projected to Andsnes came roaring back to me.
I can distinctly  recall that countless times, during my performing years, there were seconds, or perhaps minutes during which I intrinsically felt that I was eliciting as much meaning to the notes I had just played as any one I have ever heard play those same notes.
The  greater number of the statements of Odriozola in this particular view of these works by Bach are etched by and infused with every bit of the power and thrust of linguistic  meaning by the composer as any I have ever heard - the name Odriozola disappears and the  music, nothing else, hangs in front of me in the same manner of  empirical reality attached to my lifelong connection with this music.
The very same reaction I have when these same pieces are played by Heifetz, Kreisler, Milstein and the rest.
From my perch, Odriozola needs to be heard. He belongs to the coterie established by the history of the recorded performances of these transcendent jewels.

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