Friday, August 19, 2011

A Name To Remember in the World of Music...

A few days ago, I was deep in the process of looking over recordings in my collection that I hadn't heard in quite some time, and I came across a CD I had forgotten about. It was a recital by the gifted Spanish violinist Ricardo Odriozola, and it included my Suite Baroque.
I can assure you that I tell you this, not because of his performance of one of my works, but because of the location of this recital.
It was done at the University of Kansas, during a tour Odriozola was undertaking in this country. What grabbed at me when I looked this CD over was that it was done in the Swarthout Recital Hall of the University, and suddenly realized that I had never written about the name Swarthout.
Gladys Swarthout was one of the eminent American singers of the 20th century, and pretty much in the historical shadows of the present day, sadly. I mention her now because of the great voice she had and the immense versatility she possessed.
She, for many years, was a member of the legendary Metropolitan Opera as one of the greater mezzo-sopranos of her time, but could also sing popular music as well, and appeared in a number of movies, being a strikingly beautiful woman.
I can remember her singing something out of the classical repertoire, then shortly thereafter a pop tune by a Gershwin or a Hoagy Carmichael, with her stylistic abilities wrapping wonderfully around the diverse forms of music she chose to perform. She was one of a few leading classical musicians who felt perfectly comfortable in both worlds - and, as a child, I was always struck by her ability to sing such diverse incarnations so well.
I remember, much later, at a concert at Tanglewood, the pop pianist Keith Jarrett playing the Mozart Concerto K. 488 quite wonderfully with the BSO.
And so there are musicians who can straddle quite elegantly both serious and popular music, and I have always been an inveterate follower of this unique talent.
Thought you should know of Swarthout, in the event you are not familiar with her rather unique place in the world of music.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Tatum Project - A Perspective...

During my education years, especially in the advanced aspects, there were innumerable conversations among both fellow students, let alone professors and various artists centering around the piano legend Art Tatum.
Even though Tatum was in the Pop field, his gigantic gifts have been a constant issue among musicians in the Classical field, and such giants as Rachmaninoff , Stokowski and Horowitz were inveterate admirers of this musician. And to this day, only a handful of pop pianists approach the level of performance that Art Tatum could reach. Blindness seemed to goad his gift to unparalleled playing levels, rather than deter.
At Tanglewood, a pianist appearing there happened to mention Tatum to me during a conversation, and I asked him if he would like to receive a copy of a project I had done a short time before. After I described what the project contained, he quite excitedly said "Please send it to me!"
I call it the Tatum Project, and it consists of a number of performances of both Art Tatum and great concert pianists of the past eighty years.
The first track would be Tatum, followed by a carefully selected performance by Gilels, or Rubinstein, or Rachmaninoff, or Horowitz, or Kissin, etc. What is meant as "carefully selected" is to have found a piece in the Classical sector that paralleled the character, speed, even the key(if possible) of the piece played by Tatum - this process took me many months, but was, for me, most assuredly worth the effort.
And so, the many tracks are, as an example: Tatum, followed by Rubinstein, followed by Tatum, followed by Gilels etc.
The results have, over a period of time, come back to me from those who have received the Tatum Project - expressions of incredulity by those who are in the field of music, including that pianist at Tanglewood, when they heard Tatum and the world-famous pianists back-to-back in quick but real time; a different way of finding out more of the profound effect that Tatum had, AND has, on the pianists of our day.
I'm quite confident that the overwhelming forces of the Tatum performances will continue to beguile and dazzle, past our time.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Concertos of Brahms and Vladimir Horowitz - Utter Confusion!

On more than one occasion the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz uttered his dislike of Brahms, and between the words one can sense the discomfort Horowitz underwent in the playing of the composer, especially in the two Piano Concertos. At times he actually expressed to people like Dubal his disdain for the way Brahms wrote for the piano, citing weaknesses in the composer's creative delivery; in the Concertos, as an example.
And yet when I hear the 1936 performance of the 1st concerto with Bruno Walter and the 1940 recording of the 2nd with his father-in-law Toscanini, I know of no other recordings that are more powerful and convincing than these, and there are many notable, truly great recordings of these two masterpieces.
There is a rather curious anachronism inherent in the Horowitz recordings, at least to me, by way of the word Integrity, as it applies automatically to the quest of the great artist; that is, an inherent seeking of a kind of truth about the fashioning of a great piece of music.
What confuses me is that "the truth" in the recordings of Horowitz; that is, in the case of Brahms, is infused by Horowitz in a matter that is utterly compelling - the words "lofty" and "regal" are core properties of Brahms, omnipresent, in my view, in his symphonies and concertos, let alone works for other instrumental combinations, and Horowitz gives us such transcendent messages in his monumental approach to the music - it makes me wonder at times as to whether the great pianist is innately led to the nucleus of the music without fully realizing it himself, simply because the monumental nature of the way he played virtually all composers sucked him into the vortex of "truth," whether or not he believed in the music he played?
I do not recall ever having been in a state of confusion such as this rather peculiar dilemma of Horowitz and his verbal attitude about a composer, versus the actual playing of that composer's music.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Eye on the Prize - In Genius, the Job MUST Be Done...

In mulling over some of the letters that Beethoven wrote, I am gripped by the level of determinism and the illimitable power of the core of the creative thrust that a Beethoven possesses.
For the great composer to have become totally deaf by way of a process that tortuously required years for consummation is Tragedy of the highest magnitude; however, be reminded that there were other issues in his life that must have been of great travail as well. His struggle with various lawyers to gain full support of his nephew Karl, after Beethoven's brother Carl died; a struggle born of the fear that the composer held about Karl's mother and her attendant social and moral weakness - well, letter after letter tells us of the struggle Beethoven experienced, the sad result being that the young Karl eventually threw his hands up, and enlisted in the army.
In addition, Beethoven had constant problems in the publication of many of his works, as in those days legal protection had many holes in its process that we no longer witness in today's legal systems in the West. More than once Beethoven rather despondently remarks about the "pock-marked" morality of many English publishers.
To be brief, deafness was only one of a clutch of monsters in his daily consciousness which, in the end, and as we well know, did not deter his gift that forms the miracle we can experience any day of our lives.