Thursday, June 24, 2010

For Two Pianos?? Yes, Indeed...

The one time I collaborated in music for two pianos for an audience occurred around the period in which I was just starting out.
I do remember that it was before a large audience in a rather large place - where, or what the event was all about, I cannot remember; however I DO remember that it was quite an undertaking, due to the repertoire involved and the time it took to put it all together. Additionally, I discovered that, for myself, I would much rather put that kind of time into the learning of the repertoire for solo piano; therefore, the reason for my playing piano in a two-piano setting just that one time.
I remember much of the program, but not all:
We started with the great Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365, by Mozart. Then, after a short intermission, we did the two piano version Brahms wrote of the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, followed by "Scaramouche" of Milhaud.
We also did at least one more piece, the identity of which I cannot recall.
And so you can see that it was quite a marathon for two young people just starting out - my partner was a graduate of the New England Conservatory, if I remember correctly, and she played really well.
The one aspect from this experience that bore fruit was that I really got around to listening more intelligently to MYSELF, in ensuing years of solo work.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On This Date...History's Path Changes Direction

As it is the 22nd of June today, I thought that another June 22 should be remembered, as it altered the course of human history:
On this date in 1941, the greatest land conflict in human history began in the early hours of the morning - Adolf Hitler sent some 3000,000 men across an immense border into Mother Russia, and the most destructive war in memory was under way, culminating in the destruction of the perpetrator and his evil regime - what, it seems to me, is even greater in dimension than that enormous struggle, is what came out of the ashes, which after almost seventy years, is the world we now live in; certainly, if Hitler had won the war, the equation which represents the opposing factors we call Freedom and Tyranny would almost assuredly have a different form than that which is now before our eyes. No one can inform us as to what that form might be, but the dimensions of the opposing forces in 1941 certainly have to be considered, in my view, a factor in determining our present world status.
How curious a creature Man is - he can make it possible, in about six years, to destroy almost 60,000,000 of his own species world-wide, and during the same period can give us such monumental and provocative statements as the seventh symphony of Shostakovich, or the "War" sonatas of Prokofiev, both composers living and writing in that besieged and defiled country called Russia -
and yet, two and two are still four-
A rather poetic and somewhat ironic incident coming out of all this:
The tyrant Stalin, who outlived Hitler, and the composer Prokofiev dying on the same day in 1953...


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Musicians Who, for Me, Have Probed the Deepest...

This morning, I asked myself which musicians, for me, have taken the longest and deepest journeys into that wondrous area of boundlessness forming the core of what we call Music - and I took much time to think about this question, as there are so many great artists who have been recorded, let alone great artists we can witness in the great halls throughout the world.
As this kind of question really has no form, please know that I will mention only one or two artists today, fully understanding that others will come into that rare place of recognition within my consciousness as time moves on:
The first name that struck me is Dinu Lipatti, the fabled Rumanian pianist, who in about 33 years of life, found ways of probing into the language that will sometimes move me to tears. In such a brief life, Lipatti was capable of actuating a unique experience within me; of taking me on a more extended trip into music that I have known much of my life, that I could never have contemplated without his imagery. Only a very small number among the great artists I have heard are able to move the atmosphere around me as Lipatti could, and does.
It is of interest to me that when Andsnes recorded the Bach-Busoni transcription "Ich Ruf Zu Dir," he dedicated this performance to Lipatti, whom the great Norwegian pianist openly admires.
A violinist comes into this rare arena of placement, for me, and his name was Fritz Kreisler - although he was already past his prime when I saw him once, as a child, some of the recordings left by this legendary artist do the same kind of thing that Lipatti does, especially in his journey into the works of Beethoven - at times, I feel when I hear Kreisler and Beethoven combined, I sense that the violinist, like the composer, has a perfect insulation from any aspect of the world outside of the music - it is, for me, that both the composer and the performer are totally sealed off from any aspects of human consciousness, save the music itself.
These two are the first to come to mind concerning this kind of Journey into Music -


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Greatest Compliment

During my long experience in this thing called Music, I have received quite a number of compliments (whether deserved or not is another matter!), for which I am grateful; however, the most coveted event connected to my adventure in music was a statement made by my mother:
After my first formal performance, a brief one, made before a small audience ( I was about eleven), and upon returning home after the occasion, I found a card on my little table in my bedroom with a five dollar bill enclosed - both of my parents were still wrestling with their new language after their move to America from Europe, and my mother's choice of words, I can assure you, improved geometrically as time went on; however, at THIS time, she wrote:
"I am proud - you is mine boy."
No compliment has ever meant more to me.


Monday, June 14, 2010

At Age 19, My Love For Prokoviev

At nineteen, I asked my teacher, John Hasson, whom I have written about in a previous blog, if it were possible to work on a Prokoviev piano sonata. I remember his looking at me for a moment, then asking "do you know what you'll be getting into?" I had an instant feeling that he did not put much faith in my attaining any palpable success in such a venture at that time in my development.
After a short period of time, probably a few weeks, I asked him again- this time he asked (probably with a sigh of some resignation at my persistence!), "which sonata did you have in mind?"
I said, without hesitation, "the seventh," to which he replied, as I recall, "you must have heard the Horowitz recording."
Well, he had nailed me in his supposition - I was totally enthralled and in total love with the magnificent recording by Horowitz, which I must have listened to several times per week at that time - I was simply mesmerized by both the music and the playing. It, of course, was one of the three so-called "war sonatas" that Prokofiev had written in Russia during the Second World War, and, for me, the most powerful of the three.
Hasson gave in, quite reluctantly; and so I started work on the mammoth score.
It took about a year to learn, and I became an instant observer of the uniqueness of Prokoviev's view of the piano (translation: at times, I was considering dropping the entire project due to the Brobdingnagian difficulties in both the first and third movements).
I DID prevail, however, and performed it once, and only once, in public, as I then realized ( and probably grudgingly) and admitted to myself how much time it had taken me to learn it, and was in some fear as to how much Mr. Prokoviev had detracted me from the learning of other pieces in the repertoire during a most formative period in my development.
At any rate, it was an unforgettable experience, which included a realization on my part that I was no Horowitz, and that there is some music that should be given over to those anointed with that power attendant with the word 'greatness.'


Friday, June 11, 2010

My Greatest Learning Experience as an Educator

A number of years back, I was assigned a piano student as a freshman in the college - not unusual, of course, as that is a normal aspect of the teaching experience.
However, I quickly discovered that Claude (the name I will assign him in this blog) was not only the student assigned me, but also that he was legally blind.
Upon learning about Claude's situation, I immediately went to the Director in a mild panic, pointing out that I have had no training germane to a situation such as this. He patted me on the shoulder, assuring me that "knowing you, I'm confident that you will prevail. I chose you as the only teacher in the keyboard department whom I feel assured about in this matter."
Frankly, I felt that the Director's praise of my "abilities in this matter" amounted to his choosing me, probably because the other keyboard teachers would have refused outright. But to this day, this can still be construed as only speculation on my part, at best.
Well, for the next four years, I was beset by the question of how to prepare this fellow for his senior recital - it seemed, at first, overwhelming to me, and I became rather forlorn, and not without fear that I may very well fail.
And so, I along with Claude, underwent learning processes that ran parallel with student and teacher; namely, he would learn the repertoire needed to graduate, and I would have to determine the procedures that would best enhance his (and my!) chances for survival, let alone success.
I still have images in my mind of Claude, literally placing manuscript right on the tip of his nose and memorizing by the millimeter each and every piece he had to learn, as he could not read as you and I do; or, memorizing his material by Braille. Do be reminded that Claude could read, but at a snail's pace, as whatever sight he had was really minimal.
My primary task was to balance the amount of learning by tip-of-the-nose reading, and memorizing with the Braille, depending upon the the kind of music he was learning at the time.
For the four years Claude and I were together, I can assure you that both he and I were in true tandem as regards learning what we both needed to learn, in order for the seemingly impossible to come into being.
The Impossible DID occur on the day of his senior recital, when Claude performed a full blown recital, lasting around an hour, with the crowning achievement being, at least for me, piano works of Ginasteras, whom he loved playing. The audience, upon his completion of the final piece, got to its feet (mostly his fellow student-friends, of course), with various faculty members as well, and cheered him in a manner I will always remember.
This turned out to be one of my proudest moments as an educator - Claude was absolutely unflagging in his quest to do what he felt he must do, as I was unflagging in my fear of the Unknown. Claude received his degree , returned to his native Canada, and I continued to hear from him for a considerable length of time; years, as I recall.
Talk about a learning experience! And NOT for the student!


Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Project in the Arts Well-Remembered...

In the 60's and 70's, interdisciplinary education at high school level was still rather new and not utilized widely. I thought about developing a course in the arts wielding this particular method, and went about doing so:
To make this as brief as possible; my course was called "Sights and Sounds," and I was one of two teachers who conducted this project. As a matter of fact, my partner came out of retirement in order to be the second half of the "team," as she found the concept rather fascinating - she had been an art teacher all of her career; actually, this elegant lady was a descendant of the eminent American artist Winslow Homer, and I felt truly privileged to have her as my artistic partner.
She and I would always be present at all classes, she dealing with a subject in art, and my following with a parallel view in music; for instance, one session might be dealing with great paintings of oceans or other forms of bodies of water, and I would follow with examples in, say, Impressionism, of composers and their musical views of the seas, in music form; or, perhaps Smetana's "At the Sea."
Or, my partner might show and discuss various paintings of great cathedrals, and I might follow by playing, say, Debussy's "Engulfed Cathedral."
But I went one step further - I decided to inculcate other subjects and follow with parallel issues in music; for example, on one occasion I might invite the head of the English department to spend a couple of days on Shakespeare and his work and times, after which I might spend a couple of days either playing or putting on recordings of Elizabethan music, in order to deepen the projecting of a deeper 'taste' of those times.
I might invite a teacher of history to discuss the Enlightenment for about a week, then follow with the musical giants of that period, such as Mozart or Beethoven, in order to better demonstrate the coming of the freeing of human spirituality in aspects outside of the church.
On one day, I would invite a teacher of physics to discuss, say, sympathetic vibration; then play, perhaps, Siloti's transcription of an organ prelude by Bach, which would utilize the pianist's depressing notes without sounding them, so that they would 'come alive' by way of playing other notes of the same alphabetical name.
Only the upper ten percent of the upper classes could take this elective course, and it became so popular that we eventually taught this course every day, rather than two days a week.
As I recall, I ran this course for about three years - then my wonderful partner decided that it was TRULY time to TRULY retire.
And so, regretfully, I decided to terminate the course, as I did not feel comfortable about substituting any educator of art to replace the terrific lady I had chosen to be my other half , and who was one of a kind, be assured.
For a couple of years, I formed the same type of course at college level, but then decided that high school level for this kind of investigation of our world was a far more important endeavor at a more formative age - and so I never returned to my teaching of this kind of course.
I did, however, continue to teach at high school level until the '90's, each course having been strictly at college level (the college I taught at during the same period was not too happy with me!).
I have always believed that there are students out there who have never been truly tested for their own potential, and I always sought these students out in whatever I taught.
At one time, I chose four students interested in music, and for their intellectual curiosity - these four were between twelve and fourteen, and we went through the Hindemith harmony course, which Hindemith developed at Yale for his students there.
These four students averaged "A" in virtually all of their exams.
What an adventure education can be!