Friday, June 26, 2015

A New Piano - The Jury Is Out...

About a month ago, the acclaimed Argentinian pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim announced the creation of  a newly designed piano, which will bear his name.
To my knowledge, there are two Barenboim pianos extant; one which the pianist will use in future recitals and concerts, the other in  the possession of the Belgian piano maker Chris Maene, who built it for Barenboim.
The little I know of its design:  there is a different positional involvement with the strings, which are in a separated  vertical or horizontal relation to one another, rather than in diagonal opposition positionally, which has been the 'norm'  essentially  from the beginning.  That must mean that the ' blending' created by sympathetic vibration and other aural aspects engendered  by diagonalizing string groups are either gone or altered. Additionally, bridge design and the grain disposition in the sounding board have been redesigned.
All I can gather at this early point is that either hand can now develop its own 'blending,' as opposed to the  overall  simultaneity in blending that is and has been germane  to the piano since the 19th century.
As I know   so little  about the palpable tactics available on the Barenboim piano, my above observations can be classified only, at best, as tentative or suppositional. There is a tiny segment  of Barenboim playing this instrument on YouTube, which gives no clue as to differentiation,  as You Tube cannot pick up the results of design change.
I  can only presume  that Barenboim will now call out to pianists of renown to try the instrument out, in order  for   Maene and  Barenboim  to garner reaction to what supposedly is a piano of  a distinctive lyricism not  heretofore available. As Steinway  itself is a supporter of the Barenboim initiative, the presumption must be that it is not a quest to make a "better piano" than Steinway; rather, to create a different experience  for the coming pianist.
My first and only truly significant  question:
If this new design takes hold, will it mean a change of direction  in the interpretive process? Will the spiritual/intellectual fiber of the pianist (especially the more important performers among us) create a new tactic as reaction to what they now hear, regardless of 'tradition' or the  generally incorporated Expected?
What is of interest to me is that Barenboim, it seems,  received his need to redesign the piano about four years ago,  after playing on a  recently redone  piano, owned and played by one Franz Liszt.


Monday, June 22, 2015

The Art of War - The "What If" Game... Some Great Historians Play It -

This date, in 1941; an event that, arguably, has done more to fashion the shape and function of our times  than any other happening, took place:
On that fateful day, the nearly 3000 mile border into the Soviet Union was ripped asunder by about three million men in the greatest land invasion in War's history - this decision by Adolf Hitler, in the face of a two-front war Hitler earlier declared he would never  enter into, certified his ultimate defeat, and the elimination of   an abyss  of a  "New Dark Age" (words of dire warning by Winston Churchill}.
I remember Steven Ambrose, one of the great historians, hypothesizing about Hitler's  possibly  seeking to make a second(!) alliance with Stalin  later in the conflict(- remember the Ribbentrop -  Molotov Pact of 1939, less than two weeks before Hitler invaded Poland, setting the entire world afire?). The issue with Ambrose was the ultimate control of the port of  Antwerp, and Ambrose, in fact indeed speculated, which kind of surprised me - I have that speculation of Ambrose on tape. It can be found.
MY speculation (in question form, of course, and however miniscule it may be)-what if Hitler had  indeed beaten the Soviet Union;  over approximately one sixth of the land surface on our planet, for his vaunted Lebensraum??
What if there hadn't been the "Arsenal of Democracy" available?
What if the Impossible had happened?


Friday, June 19, 2015

More on One of Music's Greater Enigmas- Charles Valentin Alkan...

Before going into this blog, may I suggest that you  go back to my January, 2009 blog,  for base reference in the event  that you are not terribly familiar with this rather unique figure in music?

I suppose that, arguably, the most enrapturing facet of  the life of  Charles Valentin Alkan may be his demise; after all, being done in by a section of one's own library smacks of  the Unusual.
Whether or not he was killed by a falling section  of his   personal Talmudic library, or a clothes or umbrella holder (History continues to debate the exact conditions surrounding his final day), I  am in a continuum of consternation whenever I think of, or listen to the music of this gifted musician.
For instance; to be admitted to conservatoire at age six is not an every day affair in human history - or, say, to have Chopin, Delacroix, Liszt, Dumas and  Sand as admirers, and yet  remain nothing more than a name  in rather constant obscurity for much of the time between  the period of his life span, and  today.
Additionally, to be  father of an illegitimate son who also played magnificently, but disappeared into the shadows, taking with him an image of the owner of such pets as cockatoos and apes.
Charles Valentin was an integral member of the Circle listed above; at the same time, he preferred living in more than one location during any particular  period, so that he would be more effectively unavailable to those in search of him.
To enrapture not only those luminaries he knew so well, with his reportedly fantastic piano prowess, but also audiences for whom he performed (he became really well-known in the Parisian arena); and disappear for a generation or so, then reappear  as that ravishing player of  the piano and YES, the pedal piano, followed by, seemingly, that strange death -
And what about the music that he wrote?
He is the ONLY composer I have ever heard that leaves me with the following reaction:
His music has an aura of no, or little elemental originality, and is music which is most decidedly  unique; all at the same time.
Go figure.
The mathematics embedded in his compositions are hugely impressive, and a number of his works  fall into the category of being among the most difficult ever written for the piano  in sheer physical technique - every bit the equal, in so many ways, to the pyrotechniqes of his friend Liszt.
Listen to Raymond Lewenthal, a superb  player of the piano, no longer with us, who recorded a goodly number of the works of Alkan.
Do listen; and let's see if confusion reigns among your thoughts, like me...


Friday, June 12, 2015

Tidbits of Humor Among Renown Artists...

Thought I'd digress from  my usual  modes of impertinent information by sharing a number of moments of humor which are, indeed, embedded among the more important aspects of the world's leading musicians.  Some of you may already know a portion of what I am about to relate to you:
One of my teachers  had played under the baton of Fabian Sevitzky, a nephew of the fabled Serge Koussevitzky of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Founder of Tanglewood.  Now, according to this teacher of mine, Fabian Sevitsky was known as a kind of martinet (you know, the kind of strutting rooster who would make sure that his wife walked three steps behind him wherever they went). And, periodically,  our martinet would berate various members of his orchestra for  the purported infractions the orchestra member of the moment might have created. Well, on a particular day, Sevitzky lit into the tuba player for  whatever the issue might have been. My teacher then told me that Sevitsky and the tuba player  had never formed  a magically bucolic chemistry, and there was a history of clashes between the two of them over a period of time. On this occasion, the tuba player had, evidently, "had it," and after the rehearsal was over, knowing that the next rehearsal would be the day AFTER tomorrow,  he visited a fish market near the  rehearsal hall, bought a moderately sized fish, went back to his tuba, placed the fish in the tuba, making sure that it had been shoved far enough into the instrument to evade discovery; then left.
On the Day After Tomorrow, my teacher was part of a saga initiated by a rehearsal that never took place, because of the consternation caused by an odor so powerful that it utterly dessicated any artistic desires of anyone in that hall. My teacher said that it was a day never forgotten. He then proceeded (I cannot know if the following is apocryphal), to describe  the roiling color of red suffusing the face of Sevitsky...

Jesus Maria Sanroma, the brilliant pianist from Puerto Rico, was the first pianist, I believe, to become the official pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was associated with that vaunted group for 20 odd years.
Sanroma  was also  the owner of  a decided and, at times, an unpredictable sense of humor - an example:
This was told to me by a musician a generation or so older than I was, who was a witness to the following incident involving this pianist: On a hot day during the off-season of concerts (July or August of that particular year), Sanroma, in town for a reason I  have no knowledge of,  gave an informal recital in a small hall. There was no printed program. Sanroma appeared, lugging a large floor fan, which upon  his placing it near the piano, was plugged into  an electrical connection by an individual who appeared just long enough to do the plugging in. Sanroma  turned the fan on at top speed setting, then sat down and commenced playing something that was so soft that nothing could be heard except the roaring of the fan. He continued to play for a minute or so, while the heads of the audience were wagging in bewilderment  and consternation.
He then stopped, turned the fan off, and announced  that the recital would continue along with his announcing the title of each piece he was to play. He then 'broke the ice' by emitting a roar of laughter, followed by a rather brief recital; brief, possibly, because of the heat of the day.
I could not elicit from the teller of this incident whether the hall had an air conditioner; and if so, was it then turned on?

Arturo Toscanini has been called by many the greatest conductor of the 20th century, and his recordings are certainly certification of his towering position among the greats. He was also feared as a tyrant,  proven countless times,  during periods of  lashing into musicians of his orchestra that didn't meet with his expectations. Breaking his baton in a fit and heaving the fragments  at the nearest musician; cursing in both Italian and English; storming off his podium and disappearing - just some of the methods of his form of totalitarianism that he utilized in order  for his demands to be met.
On one occasion, he altered his usual form of fear production by stopping the orchestra after an apparent misstep taken by an orchestral member;  by putting down his baton gently(!), pausing a few seconds, and quietly(!)  uttering a few words to the orchestra, all of whom at this period, were  men:
"in my second life, I shall return as the owner of a bordello, and  will make sure that not ONE of you will ever gain entrance into this place."...

What about Victor Borge, whose humor can never be replicated?
He was about to conduct the orchestra in a performance of a tune from "The Bartered Bride" by  Bedrich Smetana, the  nationalist Czech composer, when he stopped, went over to the concertmaster, and asked how he should pronounce the composer's name, which  the violinist did. Borge listened, then asked to hear the name once again; then after a few seconds he leaned down, put his hand on the concertmaster's shoulder, and asked in a worried tone. "you don't feel well??"
On another occasion, he had both hands poised above the keyboard as if the first crashing chords were about to be played, but after a pregnant second or two, put his hands down, looking absolutely atrabilious, and  muttered   "I don't know that one..."
Just a few of my favorites in Humor among the Honored - 


Friday, June 5, 2015

"The Art Of" and the term "Imagery" - One and the Same...

When I hear music of the greats, I almost always 'see' shapes and movements forming before my mind's eyes.
I often think  of the fragment of a melody or rhythm, or a harmonic continuum, any one of which can build into the larger forms which comprise to give us the final masterpiece(we  in music call the process "Motive Structure"), as kinds of cornerstones that are metamorphic elements connecting to form the finalized composition that we hear and/or perform. And I constantly 'see' that edifice being built as I listen and/or play.
I form images of design when I witness Ballet. I am in awe of the 'imagery' that forms in the 'mind's eye' of any creative entity I encounter. I 'see' the immediate world surrounding the character I am reading about; from an Agatha Christie  Miss Marple to an Oscar Wilde Dorian Gray.  I  am immersed in the pictures painted by the words of  Sun Tzu in "The Art of War"; pictures so powerful that they continue to affect military thinking  in our times.As an example, military giants such as Douglas MacArthur and George Patton continued to go to this work, written  a half millennium before Christ. And many of the leading military figures throughout the ages firmly believed that they donned  the uniform to avert, not wage War, which stems from the words of this fabled Chinese visionary.
Today; June 5th in 1944, was the interregnum period between two historic events that occurred  during that period. On 4 June of that year, Rome was occupied by the Allies - a Rome that was declared an Open City by Adolf Hitler and spared, therefore, from  pillaging and final destruction. Hitler declaring an Open City was a rare event. Keep in mind that he ordered the destruction of Paris (which, thankfully was averted) as the Allies approached from the west.
And, of course, on June 6th  of that year began the liberation of Western Europe - D-Day.
One of the most illuminating examples of "The Art of War" is given us during this period.  In  1942, Winston Churchill wrote a letter to Louis Mountbatten citing a need for " a floating port, made of concrete, needed in the event that a strategically placed natural port might  be impossible to occupy in order to disgorge invading troops from the sea."
The result was the design and construction of two gigantic concrete ports, each slightly larger than the port of Dover, which were floated across the English Channel on D-Day, so that both the thousands of  troops and the tons of materials accompanying them could be unloaded. This operation was called "Mulberry," and one of the ports was named "Winston" in honor of the Prime Minister.
An example of 'imagery' endemic to the process we call War? I think so.
Human genius can appear in the most surprising form...
As I have stated before; that image I see in the mirror while shaving continues, for me, to be the greatest Mystery I know.