Thursday, March 21, 2013

Music Minus One - A Musical Tool...

In realization that a group out of New York state has passed  its first half century of existence, I though that I should mention its name  to you, especially those of you who may not know of this interesting endeavor in the world of music:
I believe the town in New York is Elmsford, and it is the home of Music Minus One, and still run by its founder. What this organization does is produce recordings of music in two forms, generally.The first form is the music as heard in normalcy; the second form, however, omits the instrument of primary interest. For instance, in the piano concertos they have recorded, one will first hear the concerto in its original form. What follows is the orchestral part of the concerto WITHOUT the piano, allowing the pianist first to learn the piano part and then learn to play it with the orchestra whenever he or she decides to do just that. For the price of the Music Minus One(they are called MMO)recording and score, one will always have a complete orchestra ready and waiting to do the bidding of the pianist; a much less expensive way of playing a piano concerto, it seems to me, rather than hiring or organizing  said orchestra.
In the classical aspect MMO has violin concertos, let alone concertos for other instruments. Chamber music without certain members heard can also be obtained. Why not look for a list, which is now huge, of what is available?
MMO also does popular music in this format, for those of you interested in that particular pursuance.
During my years at the Longy School, I was the only teacher of piano utilizing MMO, which gave students the  opportunity to play a piano concerto before an audience without having to hire or organize an orchestra for such an occasion. From my view, by way of MMO,  my students were able to procure a more intelligent view of performance by being forced to LISTEN to the elements outside of his instrument that made up the whole, the result being that they became more intelligent about listening to their own playing in solo incarnations. The concertos I used mostly were the Schumann concerto, the Mozart  concerto K 488,
the Bach in "D,"  the Bach for two pianos and orchestra, and one or two of the Haydn.
The students absolutely loved the experience - all that was needed in performance besides the piano was an audio system of good quality, which, luckily, the school had available.
I would invite those of you who play well and have never tried MMO at home -well, I cannot tell you how many compositions I learned with full orchestra right in my own living room. It is a very entertaining(and edifying!)way of dealing with music that normally requires many people; both performers and technicians to put together, and before MMO came into existence, available only to the few.
Look up MMO, and see(and hear) for yourself!


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Precocity in Composers and Performers - Some Examples...

It is indeed a venerable tradition to relate examples of  brilliance at an early age in performers; for example, Heifetz, or Rubinstein, or Hoffman, or Du Pres, let alone many others playing their respective instruments at such dizzying levels of attainment before reaching the age of ten, spending the remainder of their careers dealing with what to do with the notes they could so easily play.
However, with composers, it is a far smaller number that demonstrate a form of precocity before age ten that compares with what can be witnessed in performance, simply because of the difference in the nature of what we call "process."
We can perceive child precocity in the likes of Mozart, of course - after all, how many composers could write music before they were able to write their own name? Or, Mendelssohn, who also demonstrated sensational powers in composition as a child? But we are witness to very few of these wonders in the field of writing, of course.
However, a form of precocity in the composer is available to us by way of an exceedingly early jelling of style in some of the great composers-to-be; for instance, in  the first piano concertos of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, the stylistic strength in their melodies and "ways" of developing these melodies are already incredibly etched in the music. In other words, even though both works were created in their teens, one can easily identify these works as those of Chopin and Rachmaninoff by way of thematic projection. We know that Rachmaninoff did return to his first concerto later on in order to infuse it with the results of greater knowledge, but it should be noted that many of those singular themes that were first written down from around his 17th year do remain. I cite these two composers as great examples of a kind of "precocity" that one does not very often consider in the same manner as that attached to the world of performance,


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Van Cliburn - Some Thoughts...

Van Cliburn was both a Power and an Enigma, it seems to me.  We have known him since his 23rd year, when  he achieved celebrity in Russia, and indeed the world, by coming out, in competition, on top of a group of brilliant young  pianists, which happened to include a little fellow by the name of Vladimir  Ashkenazy.
The  Power of this pianist is given to us by way of his performances  of the Barber Sonata and the Second Sonata by Rachmaninoff, both  of which come to mind as readings that rise to the levels of the Horowitz recordings of these two works. These two readings come from his strongest period; that is, the 60's  and 70's.
And then comes the Enigma, from around 1978 to 1987, where rumors of "burn-out' abounded. We hear almost nothing of the piano of Cliburn during this period. He then re-appears as a performer, but, in my view, those magical days of the earlier Cliburn remain the most striking and memorable.
His singular form of empathy for and support of young pianists of promise will be as well remembered, it seems to me, as the gift he left in so many of his recordings.