Wednesday, May 31, 2017

"A Beethoven Journey" - Some Thoughts and Reaction...

During a  golden period of some fifteen years, I was given the opportunity to experience countless conversations by traditional mail, E-mail, and a number of meetings with the esteemed Norwegian pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes.
Of these golden moments, besides the genuine warmth and grace that this man always projected, the most singular aspect that I gleaned from him was the experience of "hearing for the first time" music I had been familiar with for much of my professional life.
After his release of  an album of Liszt piano music, I wrote to him about the unique experience of receiving a message from the composer I had never contemplated (and  be assured that I find this really quite impossible to convey in words); that is, with the traditional reminders of the enormous technique always in attendance in the playing of Liszt, I became aware that Andsnes was able to make the music appear veritably separated from the physicality which one would normally attach to the Liszt experience - it was if the music simply appeared in a mode of purity somehow removed from the technique which is and always has been  the means of carrying the message. It, for me, simply appeared for the sake of its own existence, without any trace of the visceral thrills one associates with Liszt - the music simply was a form suspended in front of my consciousness.
And this occurs every time I listen to this album.
What comes to mind is a moment when I remarked to him that when I hear his playing of music of the Romantic period, I hear a kind of beauty linked, at the same time, with almost no sentiment attached to the idea promulgated - how can this be? I brought this up to him during one of our times together -  I recall that he said nothing - he only smiled, and we went on to another subject.
Was his smile a certification of "yes, that's exactly how I look at this kind of music. I'm so happy that you too experience my particular imagery" - or was his smile simply the only way he could react to my statement, as it was as much a mystery to him as well as to his listener?
In his recent project  "A Beethoven Journey"  the first thing that came to me was a question I had which I never did ask; namely,  why Beethoven was not in attendance in his performances, so far as I can remember, when I first met him when he was about 28.
Well, now the world knows, as he states that he just "wasn't ready" - and now, in his mid-forties, he gives us his stance on the music of the man who once uttered "it is they who should  bow to us" - perhaps as powerful a statement that any Child of the Enlightenment, especially an artist,  could project about a view of the prevailing powers of royalty and wealth/power.
For me, Andsnes might well have been searching for a way to better focus on the core values of Beethoven, usually described in terms of 'victory over travail' which have been written about since  the middle of the 19th century, as it pertains to the composer.
What I perceive from  Andsnes, in his performances we now are given, is an aura, for me, of a kind of positivism that moves one step beyond the personal victory over the travail of total deafness and  a kind of isolation that was so much a part of Beethoven's last quarter century. For me, this is the appearance of  an indescribable form of personal victory that puts a stamp on the kind of 'victory'
that we have understood for almost two centuries.
Andsnes, for me, has found a way of  placing  a positivistic umbrella over that Final Victory.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Violin? Piano? Fits and Starts - The Genesis of a Career in the Arts...

When I was about six or seven, my parents decided upon an introduction to the violin; first, with a presentation of a diminutive form of the instrument  - then, with an introduction to a young lady whose name was Miss Smith.
From that point forward for a period of about a year and a half, I became involved with the unraveling of the mysteries germane to that instrument; then...
a piano, suddenly and without fanfare, appeared in the living room.
And Miss Smith never again appeared.
Enter a middle-aged gentleman, equipped with both a warm smile and very hairy ears(amazing what one remembers!) named Mr. Falkoff, my first piano teacher.
I simply cannot recall one second of my year and a half with Miss Smith, or any of the material for the violin that I must have had to encounter - that memory is simply in another world somewhere.
Her impact upon me, I can only suppose, never emerged into a recognizable form.
And so, for the next five years or so, a really loving and singularly important relationship was formed between Mr.  Falkoff and me. And the piano remains my oldest friend.
Again; for reasons I cannot either fathom or recognize, I returned to the violin; developed a pretty fair level of performance through"self-teaching;" became a member of the orchestra at high school as a first desk violinist, with the apotheosis of my remembrances being the  playing the violin part of the Brahms 2nd Symphony in a concert during my senior year.
All this while joining the Prep Department at Eastman on the piano after a tearful 'goodbye' to Mr. Falkoff and  saying a 'hello' to one of the most important people in this life; namely, Jerome Diamond of the Eastman piano faculty.
I'll never really be able to correctly weigh or appraise the true role of the violin in my development years - for me, it has been and continues to play a rather arcane role  - it simply fits into the whole experience..
And a wonderful example of poesy, in the form of the violinist Ricardo Odriozola, whom I have written music for this past third of a century, finally certifying  the reason as to why the violin was my introduction to the world of music?  And virtually the only instrument I have written for these past years, even though the piano has been my most faithful companion?
Questions that remain unanswered...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Piano Reconfigured into the size of a Pea - a Formal Welcome to Our New Century...

I have been aware of the piano playing of this graduate of the Curtis Institute for some years, and have throughout this period been drawn to her level of performance.
And now; at this particular point in time, I  have become aware of  a reality which informs me that this  wisp of a woman is capable of playing any piece of music written for the instrument.
She is now the darling of the keyboard all over the world, seducing audiences wherever she appears.
Some have called her the most overwhelming performer alive, and cults bearing her name are popping up in the wake of   the locations she has performed in.
She is Yuja Wang.
Picture a  young woman (she is now in her 30th year) bearing a figure of delicacy, dressed  in a form-fitting gown or dress, mostly either red or black, tripping onto the stage on high heels, bowing deeply from the waist, and wriggling onto the bench, sometimes with a  right thigh bared  almost to the hips.
She dispatches the "Hammerklavier" as if it were a fraction of its size, simply due to the gargantuan technical dimension she attaches to whatever she does.
Her veritably nonchalant physical attitude one witnesses during the Prokofiev Third Concerto, or seventh sonata bears  the appearance of a perfect form of denial  in the face of the traditional realities of the massive difficulties connected with these compositions.
And yet there is an aura of some form of substance emanating from her playing that I have yet to identify, in terms of  any form of description I can give myself.
Her playing of the Mozart concerto for two pianos with none other than Menahem Pressler is filled with a message every bit as relevant as that which the the revered artist Pressler, about three times her age, gives us.
The Schubert or Schumann compositions in her repertoire are as ubiquitous as the Horowitz or Volodos transcriptions included in her personal larder.
The principal issue that I am assailed by at this time about this wisp of a woman is a kind of consternation caused by the question "how do I listen to this  musician?"
At this point in time, I am so dissuaded by her Brobdingnagian powers, physically, over the piano, that I have yet to find a source of concentration available, in order to be intelligently capable of listening to the core of her message and specific projection of true language - more specifically; is she a great artist?
Is there a treasure trove , THAT unmistakable, totally non-describable  treasure trove that so few possess, in   her playing of either the absolute or descriptive music that she chooses to perform?
Or is it just a protracted mannerism at a high level that fails to move the atmosphere around me?
Right now, I cannot resolve these questions.