Monday, October 18, 2010

"THAT'S Using Your Head!" - Conductors at the Piano...

In my young years,I remember that the noted Spanish pianist Jose Iturbi, with whom I had some lessons (I have already written about that), upon his becoming conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic for a period of time, seemed to enjoy the double role of conducting from the piano during various piano concerto performances, as I saw him doing just that several times during his tenure. One does not witness that double role very often, as not all conductors are piano virtuosi; however, be reminded that just a few hundred years ago, keyboard artists would direct from the instrument, in the days before the baton.
As an example, a few years ago, I saw the great Norwegian pianist Andsnes, at Tanglewood, do two or three Haydn piano concerti in the manner being done during that period; that is, Andsnes sat at the piano, with his back toward the audience, playing and conducting his wonderful Norwegian orchestra, and bringing back the way it was done in the 18th century and a bit beyond.
However, as one moves through the ensuing periods, and the technology of music demanded a conductor and his magic stick, usually on a podium, we do not see a conductor at the piano as much.
One really memorable example of the "exception to the rule" was a performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" done by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, done during the 1980's. Bernstein had such control over the total needs of the music that, whenever he was actually playing sections, he would conduct with his head, with the orchestra knowing precisely what each head-nod meant. Bernstein, of course, was a brilliant pianist, and this performance is worth seeing. Yes, it must be available from some source, as I have a copy of that performance on video.
I would strongly suggest to those of you who have not seen a conductor pianist doing a relatively modern work in this format, that you pursue ownership of this performance - it is truly memorable, in terms of total endeavor.

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