Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Alexander Brailowsky - A Great Artist with a Kind Heart

I was a sophomore, probably age 15, when this event took place.
During a piano lesson at Eastman (I was in the Prep department at the time) with my teacher, Jerome Diamond (who became veritably a second father to me later on), Mr. Diamond asked me if I had tickets to the Brailowsky recital that week, to take place in the Eastman theater.
I informed Mr. Diamond that I had indeed bought my ticket, and was looking forward to hearing this great pianist, who along with his legendary contemporary, Artur Rubinstein, was thought of as a leading interpreter of Chopin.
Diamond then asked if I would like to meet this man. I was thrilled beyond words, and of course said "yes!"
Later that week, I met Mr. Diamond in a particular location backstage , and proceeded to a small room deep in the bowels of the Eastman theater. Along the way, Diamond informed me that he had known Brailowsky for several years, and were friends - that thrilled me even more.
We waited a short time in this small room. The door then opened, and before me was this man, this living legend. He , of course, was very familiar to me, as I had many of his albums with his face on the covers. I was surprised to see that he was a rather small, actually frail man, with a slight stoop - but that broad smile was there, and he embraced Mr. Diamond, then shook my hand.
I then noticed that he had a bunch of manuscripts under his arm, which he proceeded to lay out over a table. I almost fell over upon noticing that it was music I had written!
He pointed out various aspects on the sheets, none of which I can recall, as I was in shock at the moment. However, I regained enough control to hear him say (with that wonderful twinkle in his eye) that " you have a gift; however, you have trouble committing your ideas onto paper."
These were his exact words, which for a moment I could not understand.
It then dawned on me that the mere transfer of ideas without the attendant knowledge was a fallacy. He was telling me that I must undergo immediately a scholarly study of the language in order to summon reasons for the existence of the notes I produced.
So that short sentence altered my entire life. I soon thereafter began study of the language of music, which has been going on ever since.
Brailowsky, after a few more minutes, took leave with a warm handshake and the kindest wishes for the future. Diamond and I talked for a short time. I thanked him for his support and for his arranging this meeting with Brailowsky.
Diamond then divulged that, over a considerable period of time, he had been sending Brailowsky my compositions, many of which I had performed in the Honor recitals in the Prep department for the past two or so years. What a wonderful compliment my teacher had paid me - imagine!
His sending these little attempts at composition to this great musician, because he thought that they were of sufficient worth.
A day I shall not forget.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

"He Ate My Concerto Whole" - Does This Recording Certify That Statement?

In 1928, a 24 year-old pianist by the name of Vladimir Horowitz, just days after his first arrival in America, visited his hero , Sergei Rachmaninoff for the first time, in New York City.
Rachmaninoff, arguably the greatest pianist of his time, remarked to Horowitz that he had heard of the sensation the young pianist had created in the playing of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto in England and Germany, and was most interested in hearing what this young lion had discovered in his Concerto; so, upon Rachmaninoff's suggestion, the two cabbed down to Steinway's, sat down at two pianos, and Horowitz performed the 3rd with the composer playing the orchestral part on his chosen piano.
This is where Rachmaninoff uttered his famous statement "Horowitz swallowed my Concerto whole" after their performance was completed. Interestingly, Rachmaninoff vowed never to play his 3rd Concerto publicly again, after hearing Horowitz. He broke his pledge when in the early forties, Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, which may have had the best string section of all the major orchestras of the time, asked the composer to record all four concertos he had written, and Rachmaninoff agreed. The recordings can be heard.
Why I bring all this up now is that I recently came across a 1956 recording of Horowitz performing the Rachmaninoff 3rd with Reiner and the RCA Symphony Orchestra.
Now, there are several recordings of Horowitz playing this concerto, starting with one done in London while still in his twenties, and ending with a 1978 recording.
I must tell you that this 1956 recording is one of such intensity and fire, and at a pitch of excitement rarely experienced by this writer (quite evident that Horowitz was having an exceedingly good day!) , that this recording MUST have come close to what Rachmaninoff had experienced twenty eight years before in Steinway's in New York.
Horowitz devours the material, making this gargantuan composition "a tiny, tiny Concerto" ( a quip by Brahms, in his description of his own First Concerto, also a piece of immense dimension and proportion).
Search for this particular recording of the Rachmaninoff Concerto. I am confident that it will draw you into this powerful maelstrom of statement, the equal of which is impossible to imagine.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Paul Wittgenstein - A Study in Courage

Paul Wittgenstein was born in Vienna in 1887, and was already considered a pianist of promise when the First World War resulted in his being severely wounded in a campaign against Russian troops. His right arm was amputated, and all seemed at an end for Wittgenstein; however, this young man prevailed by writing pieces for the left hand, establishing a reputation for his prowess, let alone the substance of his determination and will.
He soon asked composers to write specific music for one hand. Some of the composers who wrote music for Wittgenstein were Paul Hindemith, Erik Korngold, Benjamin Britten and others; however, the most famous piece was written by Maurice Ravel, in his wonderful Concerto for Left Hand. Ravel and Prokofiev were the two most powerful composers writing for the young pianist. Unfortunately, Wittgenstein stated that he never understood the concerto written for him by Prokofiev, and never did perform it. I remember, as a teen-ager, having a recording of the Prokofiev concerto, played (surprisingly) by Rudolf Serkin, revered as one of the great performers of Beethoven and Schubert.
Wittgenstein became established as one of the world's leading pianists. I remember seeing him, as a student, on PBS in a live recital in the days of black-and white TV. He was elderly, of course, but still demonstrated the remarkable results of his personal victory - an artist whose limitless force of will, like Beethoven, prevailed in spite of the monstrous forces pitted against him.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

On This Day, Thoughts of FDR

As is sometimes the case, I will digress from the world of the arts in order to project some thoughts connected with this day.
On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly in Warm Springs, Georgia.
I remember, as a kid, strolling home from my piano lesson, just having left my beloved professor Jerome Diamond of Eastman (I shall write about him soon), musing over the wonderful advice he had given me, when as I passed by a small grocery store, one of my school friends who was working there stuck his head out of the door and exclaimed that FDR had just died.
Even though I was very young then, I had followed Roosevelt's career and notoriety very closely, and even then knew of the power of command this man held, being the Commander-in-Chief of history's most powerful democracy on the verge of defeating Hitlerism in the West.
What followed during the next few days were countless pictures of the grief exhibited by millions of Americans, including so many blacks living in a still segregated culture. The personal power this man represented has not been equaled since those times.
There was fear in this country; fear of the possibility that America would falter in its mission, due to the immense hole formed by the death of Roosevelt. Conversely, when Propaganda Minister of Nazi Germany, Dr. Josef Goebbels, heard of the death of FDR, he rushed into Hitler's office in an exultant mood, stating that Fate now has been turned against the democratic powers, and that Germany indeed would emerge as ultimate victors. Both he and Hitler were ecstatic - imagine! This occurred just 18 days before Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. This event demonstrates the fear the Nazi held for Roosevelt, let alone the hatred.
Funny; both Roosevelt and Hitler came to power within weeks of one another, in January of 1933. And both died within weeks of one another in April of 1945.
Funny; one of our tunes during Roosevelt's early reconstruction days was "Happy Days Are Here Again" - and the Germans were singing the same tune at the same time in their native German.
Funny; how Roosevelt and Hitler both came into power with the same intent; that is, to reconstruct their respective cultures.
How chilling it is to contemplate the lurid clarity of the difference in their methodology.
I have pictures of Roosevelt sitting with the Boy Scouts, and eating the same meal the boys were eating - I also have photos of Hitler doing the very same thing with his Hitler Youth.
I am disappointed to have noticed today that I see veritably nothing on TV to take note of this day, April 12, the death of, arguably, the most powerful American president since Lincoln. Perhaps, as this day moves on, some notable presidential historian such as Doris Goodwin or Michael Beschloss will appear on some program to project the importance of this date.
May I hasten to add that I lean in no particular direction politically in writing about this man. I merely am writing about an example of how events make the man, not necessarily the other way around.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fritz Kreisler - A Reminiscence

This week I came across some recordings which I must have somehow gotten hold of in my young years; recordings I had completely forgotten about.
They are of the legendary Viennese violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) .
My primary reason for writing about him at this point in time was not only because of my finding these recordings, but also because I saw and heard this man in recital when I was a young boy, probably of elementary school age.
This particular recital was given some time after a near-fatal accident in New York city. He had been struck by a truck in, I believe, 1940. His advancing age, plus the effects of the accident left him with only a segment of his great technique, and some of his intonation was less than infallible; however, the golden sound was still there , flooding the hall with the unmistakable aura of Kreisler.
I remember seeing a photograph in the newspaper of Kreisler, unconscious, propped up against a curb or lamp pole. with a rivulet of blood running down across his face - some well-meaning but obviously ill-advised person or persons had pulled him into that position, not realizing the possibility of further damage to this great artist who had incurred a fractured skull and other lesser injuries.
This image of Kreisler must have accompanied me as I listened to him in that hall so many years ago.
As I recall, Kreisler continued performing for a few more years until about 1950.
He also composed, and some of his music is still heard today. There are recordings available of this man and his luminous sound.
He also studied medicine during his formative years, went to war in the Austrian army during World War I, and was wounded. His brief tome "Four Years in the Trenches" was published in Boston in, I believe, 1915.
If you are not familiar with the work of this defining artist, you can find some recordings rather easily.
(A note I have been remiss in forwarding to the reader):
All the material in my blog is material stored in this addled cranium. When I finally gave in to suggestions that I do this blog, I stated that the day I have to refer to the printed page or the Internet to aid me in this blog is the day that the blog will cease - it's a sort of 'game' with me, and I hope that you will continue with me as long as my memory apparatus holds out!

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Fabian Sevitsky and Jesus Maria Sanroma ...WHO??

Few today know of the names in my title above; however, these two musicians were very well known, especially during the mid-20th century. The incidents you are about to read were related to me by two of my teachers in my student years, both of whom performed with them.
Fabian Sevitsky was a conductor, known chiefly as the director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, but sought after for appearances with many of the major orchestras.
He was also known as somewhat of a martinet and egoist, who, according to my teacher who performed under him incurred wrath from time to time from various orchestra members.
On one occasion, after a particularly heated exchange with the tuba player in a rehearsal, revenge was put into a reality by that tuba player, who after the rehearsal purchased a fish from a fish market nearby, returned to the hall, placed the fish into the bell area of his tuba, left it on a chair and took leave, knowing that he would not need to return the following day to participate in any rehearsal. One can only imagine the "atmosphere" engendered by this act when on the following day, the members of the orchestra returned for rehearsal, along with the vaunted conductor.
Jesus Maria Sanroma was Puerto Rico's most illustrious contribution in pianism to the world of music. He, in fact, was the staff pianist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra for quite some time; however, his fame developed primarily from his association with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and several recordings were made during that period.
Luminaries such as Artur Rubinstein spoke glowingly of Sanroma, and he became a successful recording artist.
Sanroma (who was lovingly called 'choo-choo' by his closest friends) was as well possessed of a strong sense of humor; for example, on a very warm summer day in a small performing hall in Boston, Sanroma came out on stage dragging a floor fan after him, placed the fan next to his stool, turned it on full, and began to play. For a short period of time he performed music that was totally obliterated by the roar of the fan. There MUST have been confusion in the audience; but then he stopped, turned the fan off with a laugh, and proceeded to do his recital. According to my teacher, who was at this event, the audience embraced Sanroma's confrontation with the fan, and all had a good hearty laugh.
I think I should have liked to know these two artists - both, seemingly, were assiduously strong individuals.

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