Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Violinist and Bach - Where, When and How Does the Term "Great" Fit In?...

Do  pick up a copy of a double CD, produced by Amethyst Records; then, wrestle with me about one of the truly ubiquitous  terms extant in the arts; namely GREAT.
During the past century-plus of recordings of the music for solo violin, countless listeners have been exposed to a plethora of performers giving them their views of these matchless pieces by the Baroque giant.
From Heifetz, Kreisler,  Milstein,  etc., the power of communication of a language without words has enhanced the nature of human experience by way of  a little instrument suspended  by a thumb and the  four fingers which conduct the listener along that magical path.
The performer in this particular incarnation of these pieces is an associate professor  at the Grieg Academy of the University of Bergen. His name is Ricardo Odriozola. The  music: Sonatas and Partitas by Bach.
Before listening to his performances, do read the little booklet, written by Odriozola, that is included.  For me, his main tactic in writing about the playing of this music, both in the view of the ultra-known aspects of these pieces and his intellectual and spiritual view  of same may well aid you in  particularizing the core meaning  of his recording you are about to hear.
What struck me was his statement on page two:
"Also, may I cast aside all modesty and say that I believe that my views on this music are as valid as anyone elses."
Which, for me, brought into lurid focus the word 'great.'
How many times, in my experience, have I heard a performance that made the atmosphere eddy and writhe in a manner that tells me "this is a great performance" - by an individual either not known, or, perhaps, lesser known?
Does 'great'  apply only to those artists we customarily refer to as great?
In a conversation I once had with the distinguished pianist Ansdnes (be assured that the following observation was made by me only after we had gotten to know one another!), I, with a smile, offered
"the only difference between you and me is that you can 'be up there' all of the time, and I can  'be up there' only occasionally " . Andsnes laughed, as I recall. I immediately pointed out that 'genius' helps.
But  as I listened to this recording by Odriozola, the statement I projected to Andsnes came roaring back to me.
I can distinctly  recall that countless times, during my performing years, there were seconds, or perhaps minutes during which I intrinsically felt that I was eliciting as much meaning to the notes I had just played as any one I have ever heard play those same notes.
The  greater number of the statements of Odriozola in this particular view of these works by Bach are etched by and infused with every bit of the power and thrust of linguistic  meaning by the composer as any I have ever heard - the name Odriozola disappears and the  music, nothing else, hangs in front of me in the same manner of  empirical reality attached to my lifelong connection with this music.
The very same reaction I have when these same pieces are played by Heifetz, Kreisler, Milstein and the rest.
From my perch, Odriozola needs to be heard. He belongs to the coterie established by the history of the recorded performances of these transcendent jewels.


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Most "Seasoned" Disc Jockey? Read On...

Some months back, I was invited to do a series of radio programs out of Tufts University; and, unexpectedly, it seems that the reactions to my approach have  been positive.
And so; even though I thought I would do it for a few times and then disappear into the mist, I am continuing with this  little diversion at the rate of approximately one  every four or five weeks.
My approach is simple - it deals with either musicians who may not be quite as familiar to the radio audience; or, events or performances which should be better known about.
Some examples:
Diane Schuur, a superb pop vocalist, in a couple of wonderful duets with trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, during which  she becomes the trumpet and he becomes the voice.
The vocal "force" from England, Lady Cleo Laine, doing incredible 'scat' singing with her musician husband, in their incarnation of the Turkish Rondo of Mozart, which they titled "Turkish Delight."
The legendary pop violinist, Stephane Grappelli, paired with one of the world's great classical violinists, Yehudi Menuhin, in their flowing version of Richard Rogers' "My Funny Valentine."
A 1906 recording of one of the great pianists of that period, Josef Lhevinne, totally overwhelming the Octave Study of Carl Czerny.
George Shearing and his vision of Fusion, in a  1980's  delight of the same "My Funny Valentine" in the styles of  composers ranging from Bach through Rachmaninoff and Delius.
Art Tatum doing the version of "Tea for Two" which positively ensnared no less than Vladimir Horowitz, who insisted upon  meeting with and establishing a friendship with the blind titan of pop piano. Horowitz actually attempted to create a transcription, believe it or not, of "Tea for Two," but did not get very far. A few seconds of his attempt can be found on video. Honestly!
Bernie Krause, one of the founding members of the Weavers over a generation ago, earned a PHD in bioacoustics, and has a recording of an orchestra, with no humans in the group - talk about a unique example of music-making...
And so on.
It's been fun, and I plan on going on with this particular pursuit.

Labels: ,

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Return of a Stradivarius - Now, Finally... a Performance On That Instrument -

In a blog some years ago, I recounted the experience of the theft of  a rare Stradivarius  violin in the school I taught in for twenty seven years.
To reminisce:
The place - the Longy School of  Music, Cambridge, Ma.
The year  - 1980.  If I recall correctly, it was a Thursday in late spring or early summer.
I was teaching there on this day, and suddenly catapulted into a time of chaos and confusion, when it quickly became known that the rare Ames Stradivarius violin, owned by the director of the school, Roman Totenberg, had disappeared from his office.
Sadly,  Totenberg passed away  just a few years before this wonderful instrument was recovered and returned to the Totenberg family.
And; finally - on March 13, a private concert will be held somewhere in New York, I believe. The Totenberg Stradivarius will, at long last,  be  the instrument of performance, by a former student of  Totenberg, who had come from China to study with him many years ago.
I am full of happiness about this coming event. I found Roman Totenberg to be not only that wonderful violinist the world had known of for many years, but also the warmest and most  quietly  gracious  man I have ever worked with and for. The youngest little performer in his own private orchestra at the school was precisely as important to him as any professional he ever worked with during his illustrious career.
I can only wish that, somehow, Roman Totenberg knows that his beloved Strad is back...

Labels: ,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Triumph of the Will" - Pianists and a Mysterious Disorder...

In my two most recent blogs, I had cited examples of the human will that prevailed over physical  or  emotional accidents altering  the lives of great musicians. This entry will, I think, be the final of this particular issue...
Schumann, Scriabin, Horowitz, Wittgenstein have already been discussed. How about more recent examples of  personal travail affecting musicians?
Two American pianists come to mind; namely, Gary Graffman and Leon Fleischer.
Both  were,  in their youth, headed for fame by way of their performances in  live recitals, concerts and recordings. I recall, as a high school student,. having in my possession a recording of Graffman playing the 3rd Beethoven Concerto. I was absolutely riveted to and by his engrossing understanding of the text by one in his early twenties. And the recordings made by Fleischer of Brahms were considered by many experts in the field of criticism to be at the the top of the heap, performed by a young man barely out of his teen years.
Then, while pursuing fruition of their careers, tragedy struck while in their youth; both strangely in similar fashion:
The right hands of both Graffman and Fleischer rather suddenly lost the sense of power and articulation to a point where these two  could no longer pursue their performance careers.
I will not go into detail(you can pursue the minutiae, of course). Fingers curled up in spams;  there was pain involved at times, etc., etc.
Both were deeply involved, to be sure, with the medical profession, through various actions having been  taken. In short, Graffman did not return primarily as a performer, but as a distinguished pedagogue and administrator. Fleischer, after over a generation of struggle, has  returned as a virtuoso with only slight diminution in his playing  - the chemical Botox, seemingly, was a factor in his recovery.
The mysterious neurological disorder Dystonia, has appeared as a possible cause of  these pianists' experiences.
Other theories also exist; however, Dystonia, which has no cure that I am aware of,  keeps popping up whenever  these pianists are discussed . It also seems, just as mysteriously, that an aspect called Focal Dystonia and pianists ARE connected - do not ask me why...
About a dozen years  ago, while at home, I suddenly experienced a stabbing, sharp pain coursing up and down my right arm. Although my family has never had  any major problems dealing with the heart, I was rushed to hospital and went through an exhaustive coronary examination which took two days. No trace of a heart condition appeared, and while being examined, the arm pain disappeared in the flash of a  second .After a period of head-scratching, I was sent off to Neurology, whereupon a neurologist, after scratching HIS head, sent me off to a fellow neurologist, who, after much examination, called it  "a form of  plexitis". She said that the tingling in my right hand, which had appeared, would disappear, but could not tell me when.
After returning home, the articulation in my right hand, along with general strength,  slowly but surely exited my physical factory - I could no longer play anything above middle difficulty with that hand - no one could give me an answer...Was it, after all, Focal Dystonia?
Shall I? (After a week or two of absolute torment - will I be able to play again??) -  Shall I pull out the Philipp exercises I had done in Europe? They are so very stringent! Shall I give it a try?
And so, in a mode of desperation, I chose some of the genius teacher's most logical(I thought) exercises.
About six months later, I was able to perform publicly  once again.
I do not recall, during that period, thinking of the word 'will'.
What else could it have been?
Believe me; this happened...