Thursday, April 14, 2016

Concerts and the City - Urban storytelling with Daniel Libeskind

There is a deeply affecting quality about star architect Daniel Libeskind's simple, elegant elucidations, which possesses an air of truth that never fails to inspire. Perhaps most essentially, they offer a glimpse into the deeply enthusiastic and positive worldview so inherent in all of his endeavors. "You have to bring hope," Libeskind tells Listen. "without a positive sense of the future, you can't build architecture, because you are laying foundations." 

All architectural photos courtesy Studio Libeskind. 

left: Master plan for Ground Zero in New York City. Photo right: one of the voids of the Jewish Museum Berlin. Underneath: Sketch H 3 Chamber Works.
This article was  published by "Listen -  life with  music and culture" April, 2016.

This sense of hope occurs in all of his major architectural work. In Berlin, for instance, stands the Jewish Museum  the award-winning design of which was accepted in 1989  and brought Libeskind world fame. its jarring curves, bold shapes, and unexpected voids gave form and shapes to the violent and complicated history of Germans and Jews further explored in the collection. 
But Libeskind's design also included cracks of light which penetrate that intimidating space, providing  literally – a glimmer of hope. the same idea occurs in his master plan for New York City's Ground Zero, where hope and commemoration manifest themselves as wedge of light.
In a recent BBC radio interview, Libeskind – once an aspiring accordion player – revealed  his diverse musical taste in a list of works that included selections from Mozart's Requiem; Beethoven's String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op.133; ancient Greek music; Giacinto Scelsi's Pfhat; and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. This colorful array is indicative of both Libeskind's own broad palette, and of the love for music that inspires and impacts his sense of design: "Even though I have given up performing music" – Libeskind played classical music, which  he transcribed for accordion  "I never gave up music at all. I am always listening to the sound of a space and to its vibrations."
Indeed, Libeskind sees much resonance between the fields of music and architecture. "How we listen to music, the physical, visceral experience...can never be experienced in the same way [by two people], and while perhaps nothing brings people together like music, its experience is linked to each individual human soul...the same goes for architecture." 
This belief has prompted him to undertake many cross-disciplinary projects, including a series of drawings published by the Architectural Association School of Architecture. The loose-leaf sketches, collected in a record box, were titled Chamber Works, and Libeskind calls them "musical scores of performances of a civic space."

As CNN Style's first guest editor, Libeskind also recently commissioned and curated a series of features which link music and architecture through the common thread of their emotional impact and communicative capacities. "The audience becomes a vital component of the performance. it is not passively sitting down and removed from the show," he says. in May 2016, Libeskind will further explore these issues in a twenty-four hour extravaganza of site- specific concerts called One Day in Life. (sketch for the event)

Set in Frankfurt at the invitation of the city's Alte Oper, One Day in Life opens up Germany's commercial and cultural hub with an odyssey through different locations and musical eras. each site and program identified by one of eighteen basic themes of human experience. One such performance, hosted in the
massive Commerzbank-Arena, will feature concert violinist Caroline Widmann and DJ Spooky as a contribution to the theme of "will." The program notes describe the event as "...a confrontation of two  musical worlds for the benefit of a shared retaliation. In a location where, at other times, sporting events mesmerize large numbers of people,music will exert its evocative power by presenting virtuosic violin
pieces or contemporary electronic sounds - music whose strong will makes it irresistible to the audience."

Photo: Commerzbank-Arena, Wolfgang Miguletz (One Day in Life, Alte Oper)

At the German National Library, Star pianist and Steinway Artist Pierre-Laurent Aimard will participate in a performance of Schubert's Sonata No.18 in G Major, D.894 - a contribution to the theme of "translation," letting the music speak for itself.
Many locations used for the concerts are spaces most people would not even have known existed, while others have never seen performances of the kind One Day in Life presents. Accordingly, musical offerings will change with the scenery, ranging from soloists and small ensembles to a full symphony orchestra.
In a recent press conference in Frankfurt, Libeskind said: "My project is to put music where it's never been played in that way. The idea is to open up the city, and how people listen to music." 

photo left: Imperial War Museum in Manchester, United Kingdom. 

photo right: Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto

Libeskind explained to Listen some of the essential factors at play in his vision: "Music is constantly in our lives; it reveals the rhythm of our lives, we are just not always...aware of it. One Day in Life brings a special unity to the dialogue between the audience, the place, and the music, and reveals new connections. Music becomes recognizable as the force of life it is  think of its already biblical power, bringing down the walls of Jericho  and of course as a source of bringing pleasure into one's life. People will suddenly realize that they can enjoy being in a hospital or at the bunker while listening to a performance of a work by Schoenberg, or by Nono. 
The music changes how we experience the place and the place changes how we listen to music."
Ilona Oltuski

One Day in Life will occur May 21-22 in Frankfurt am Main. 

Daniel Libeskind plans to attend the extraordinary event. 

Daniel Libeskind, photo: Wonge Bergmann, Alte Oper Frankfurt am Main.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Violinist Stefan Jackiw – “music connects you with humanity”

I am reconnecting with the slender, young looking 31 years old violinist, Stefan Jackiw, who impressed me deeply when I had heard him perform several years ago, at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. Home of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players - just a block from Lincoln Center – less frequently performed repertoire is presented here in an accessible way, by musicians belonging to the former orchestral ensemble led by the late Jens Nygaard and upcoming talents of the New York classical music scene.
Already then, Jackiw came across as being an artist with an inimitably searching character and an utterly engaging musician with a maturity well beyond his years. He clearly dominated the stage in a literal sense, since there was not even a stage actually; Jupiter players just stand in front of their audience, which makes for a much simpler and more direct display of their skill. It also makes it more difficult for some performers to stand there in such proximity, rather intimately exposed, without the sanctification of the pedestal effect of a stage.
This was clearly not the case for Jackiw, who embraced the closeness with every one of his nimble movements and a soaring tone projection, pulling the audience into his music making with an almost uncanny optimism; not of the naively joyful kind, but rather a deep felt response of life affirming buoyancy with an emotional depth, only gained through some serious soul searching.
Since then, the highly accomplished violinist’s career has taken off to even new heights. When we meet at Indies, a café, often frequented by musicians thanks to its lighter fare and proximity to Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School, he had just made his debut at Carnegie Hall, performing Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with Mikhail Pletnev, kick starting a tour with the Russian National Orchestra. He also completed a tour, performing Ives Violin Sonatas with the brilliant pianist Jeremy Denk, which included a well received performance at the 92Y. The New York Times called their collaboration an arresting account and a model of how performers can both inform and entertain an audience with a challenging program (Anthony Tommasini) photo Shiro Yuki NY Times
Jackiw had first collaborated with Denk in 2007, at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, and they had “clicked” from the get go:”Besides being a greatly informed and learned pianist with immense insights into the historical context and how to make strikingly clear, how a piece is put together, for me his playing is so special because of its emotional generosity. When he plays, he is the opposite of academic; filled with spirit, life and joy, he makes you fall in love with music all over again,” says Jackiw. They continued their spirited affiliation, performing several times over the years and their relationship has deepened into a strong partnership, further evolving their similar musical values, personal temperaments and ideas on interpretation. When it came to Charles Ives, a project Denk had mentioned to Jackiw a while back, Jackiw started learning all four Sonatas at once, for their shared performance. While Denk had been closely involved with the composer’s work for quite some time, Jackiw had only been somewhat familiar with some of his chamber music already, while the Sonatas were rather new territory for him. That’s why he hopes to repeat their Ives tour in the near future:”I feel the first time around, after you learn new repertoire, you have to put it away for a while. The second time you perform it, there is a very different understanding, and that’s especially true with a composer you don’t perform all that often. It is different when you play, say Brahms, whom you play all your life. Even if it’s a new or lesser played piece, its informed by how you play Brahms’ other works…I already look forward to revisiting Ives.” While much admired by Jackiw, Denk, is also a prolific writer on his thoughts on music – he is currently writing a book, built on a selection of entries of his successful blog “Think Denk,” a consummate and often witty outlook from his perspective as a musician – Jackiw, who is an excellent communicator himself, says he is rather shy when it comes to writing about music; though he did write the program notes for his Carnegie Hall debut. “It is important for me, to write down my thoughts that go into building a certain program, and my thoughts about a performance. Writing forces me to articulate my thoughts about music, deepening my own understanding and informs my commitment to then crystallize my thoughts in my playing and vice versa, “he says.
Jackiw often attends others’ concerts and likes to think about the experience, but also about his own role, as a performer. Photo credit: Sophie Zhai
“I believe that we (as performers) are re-creating a composer’s work, like an actor re-creates Shakespeare… and in that sense we are servants to the composer’s score. But within that, one could argue if it is our job to guide the audience in a controlled way, pointing out the path through the piece; or rather go on the journey with the audience together, in real time. As a listener, I find it always more compelling, when the performer and the audience are “taking communion” together, when there is this togetherness of experiencing the music. While giving yourself up to the music may be risky, and the willingness to relinquish control may be dangerous, this is – for me – the place, where music takes flight. It sounds a little indulgent, but the great, late Hanoncourt expressed it so eloquent:”Beauty exists at the edge of catastrophe.” Pushing to that edge, being in the presence of all that is expressed in the score, the torment, the joy, the emotional extremes….being vulnerable to all that opens you up to an experience, bigger than oneself and that connects the performer with the audience. As a performer you cannot keep the audience at an arm length. It may be more comfortable, you would be less naked, but that’s not what it is about. An actor like Daniel Day Lewis, for example, is totally amerced into his characters. He becomes the character, he is portraying, every time. “
Jackiw is inspired by other performers, who radiate this total commitment and honesty in their playing; some of his all time idols includes violinist Christian Tetzlaff, whose concerts he always aims to attend. The other one is Gidon Kremer, with whom he performed chamber music in Korea, last year. “It would be a dream to play together with him again,” he says. “Already in the rehearsals, this is an artist who is so inspiring with utter commitment and always so different in each performance. “
“After all, why do we go to museums, read literature and want to get a perspective on history,” exclaims the former Harvard psychology major, if not to connect with beauty, but also with the emotions expressed by others. I find it deeply comforting to discover that others felt like I feel. “One of the major conventions in psychology is “normalization,” which means to show empathy to a patient, by showing that whatever mental ailment patients are plagued by, they are not alone; there are others that have suffered this before and are now. And music really shows that too, through the works of composers, who have lived and suffered and lived seeking joy and beauty. It is difficult to go on stage as a performer, it takes some self-reflection and thinking about what matters and why we are here, as a musician, dedicated to express all that, it forces you to look inward too, and that’s what keeps us grounded and in our most blissful moments, connected to humanity.
In the following months, Jackiw is looking forward to several orchestral performances in Europe, including his Berlin Konzerthaus debut, as well as reconnecting with his Korea based ensemble “Ditto.”
For more info about the artist: www.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust – shtetl buoyancy re-invented


Soulful violist and composer/arranger Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin was featured in Ljova and the Kontraband’s Sunday afternoon concert at Brooklyn’s new home for the all-inclusive new music scene, National Sawdust. Going by ‘Ljova,’ the kindred version of his traditional Russian-Hebrew name, Lev, the artist and his Kontraband filled the room, which had been arranged cabaret-style, with tuneful energy. Folksy tango tunes with virtuosic viola passages next to Yiddish folk songs performed with great gusto by Ljova’s wife, singer Inna Barmash, pulled young and old alike into ethnic rhythmic soundscapes.
Says Barmash: “If you’ve been here in Brooklyn long enough, you have certainly heard Yiddish spoken by many of its Jewish, Eastern European inhabitants.” But while songs were sung in Yiddish, and some of the tango arrangements, especially those for accordion (virtuosic accordionist Julian Labro was sitting in for the band’s member Patrick Farrell), were reminiscent of Piazzolla, there was also something very different present in the compositions, giving the music a unique artistic characteristic of its own. As the program promised: “You will think you have heard it, but didn’t…at least not quite like this.
Quite far removed from the repertoire of his traditional classical music training, Ljova’s music stays alive through its own magic, fostered by intense rhythms of klezmer, tango, jazz, gypsy music and soaring melodic structures, many of which seem to originate in the eastern shtetl, rather than in Schubert.
The son of Russian Jewish émigrés famed Moscow composer Alexander Zhurbin, most renowned for his 1975 rock opera “Orpheus and Eurydice,” and poet Irena Ginzburg, Ljova always managed to stay closely connected to the nurturing roots of his heritage without being stuck in the generational gap.
Born into a Russian musician’s home, violin lessons with the renowned Galina Turchaninova, teacher to talents like Maxim Vengerov and Vadim Repin, were part of Ljova’s Moscow routine from age four on. He left this part of his life behind when he immigrated in 1990 at age 11 to New York, along with his parents. It may have been the influence of his uncle, Yuri Gandelsman, former principal violist of the Moscow Virtuosi and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra that caused Ljova to choose to enroll at Juilliard, where he became a student of the eminent Samuel Rhodes, violist of the Juilliard String Quartet. Ljova might have continued to follow this road if it had not been for his curiosity and willingness to try on other musical hats. Making music within “the other” non-classical world of music, whether at jazz gigs at nightclubs, weddings, or folk festivals, taught Ljova to improvise and compose, and opened a different worldview for him to absorb, first reluctantly, then eagerly, eventually making it his own.
Ljova’s first solo recording, World on Four Strings, released in 2006 on his own Kapustnik label, features the viola dominantly, yet with atmospheric multi-tracked recorded viola parts, gracefully departs from the classical genre.
An array of musical arrangements for artists like Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, Brooklyn Rider, The Knights, the Kronos Quartet and artists as diverse as rapper Jay-Z and Alondra de la Parra, among others, added greatly to Ljova’s exposure and experience. Composing for his beloved viola or his Kontraband or an entire Orchestra, Ljova has developed a varied and consistently unique voice of deeply felt, personal perception of musical delight. He came to realize that there are only two kinds of music, good – and bad.
Ljova’s musical ideas are flowing from a space within his very “normal life.” His persona does not present extravagancy, or any romantic ideal of an artist that seeks the stardom of a celebrated idol; his Viola strapped on his back, Ljova travels mostly by bike from his Upper West Side neighborhood. On occasion, he will leave himself a message on his cell phone with a reminder of a new musical idea that just came to him in that moment. His warm, unpretentious personality comes across as genuine to a fault: whether on stage or a broadcasted talk show, of which he has done several, or as a family man, a good neighbor and friend, he manages to stay relevant, doing whatever it takes to live a life that includes music on a daily basis.
Ljova is in high demand as a film composer. Some of his recent credits include scores to “Finding Babel”, a documentary about the Russian-Ukrainian-Jewish writer Isaak Babel and “Datuna: Portrait of America”, about the Georgian artist David Datuna, which just won a prize at Raindance Film Festival. Ljova has also composed music for documentaries produced by the BBC, and contributed music to documentaries by NHK and HBO. He has also scored nearly three dozen short-subject films.
Ljova also collaborates extensively with choreographers, including two ballets with Aszure Barton & Artists, as well as commissions from Parsons Dance, Ballet Hispanico, New Dialect and others.
The connections that Ljova makes with people are lasting and meaningful; his relationship with Brooklyn Rider goes back to 2008, when he shared the bill with the group at Joe’s Pub. It was the highly successful string quartet’s first year in existence, with violinist Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords and the two Jacobsen brothers, Eric on cello and Colin on violin. It was Ljova’s second year performing with the Kontraband. The lines between Ljova’s collaboration and friendship with the Brooklyn-based quartet, inspired by the “Blue Rider,” were blurred from the beginning. At their first performance, Brooklyn Rider performed several of Ljova’s pieces, including “Plume,” “Crosstown” and “Budget Bulgar.” The quartet also went with Ljova’s arrangement for Silk Road Ensemble, “Brîu,” a tune form the repertoire of Taraf de Haïdouks, originally composed for the project. “Plume” and “Crosstown” also appeared on the group’s debut recording Passport.
Eric Jacobsen says: “I can’t help but be inspired by Ljova. His imagination is fascinating and endless. He is one of those people, that when I see an opportunity for collaboration, I immediately think of him. He is true to his nature and creative spirit, however incredibly able to adapt to all situations and relationships.” One of Ljova’s new works in the making is a commission by Eric Jacobsen, who is currently starting to serve as conductor for the Orlando Philharmonic and the Bridgeport Symphony.
It is unsurprising that the afternoon at Sawdust had the intimacy of a family affair. Ljova aims for personal connection, as he laments: “Everyone has moved on into different neighborhoods. Even when planning concerts, it has become difficult to find an era that works for everyone..." it was therefore an important gesture that children were admitted to Sunday's concert for free. Ljova's cousin, Johnny Gandelsman - violinist of Brooklyn Rider, which had just performed at Sawdust the previous week, was in attendance with his animated kids.
But beyond the literal family connections - Ljova is of course married to his "Kontraband"'s vocalist - the familiarity with which the performers demonstrated their instruments, percussionist Mathias Kűnzli most intricately, or talked about their music, held an informal objective, whcih created an intimate, family-friendly milieu.

The artists, belonging to a generation of New York musicians who are grown up with families of their own, look to swap the musician’s ideal of the hip nightlife performance venue into one that allows their friends and fans to bring their kids. “So many performances I give cannot be frequented by many of my colleagues and friends, since they don’t have babysitting available,” he says.
The practical answer for Ljova is to perform in spaces conducive to bringing people together, uniting young and old and making the community grow a little closer together. Remarkably, this is exactly what his performance proved to represent. If smaller performance venues typically fill with the artists’ following to begin with, why not make it possible to include all of them? This is a valid question to which Ljova answers with low-key performances with communal character. Already, Ljova’s shtick has gained traction with new audiences, and major concert venues like Lincoln Center seem to be following suit. While composer and Artistic Director of Sawdust, Paola Prestini, has, in her own words, aimed to create a forward-thinking laboratory to explore unknown artistic territory, she has in the process established a communal hub that satisfies a popular demand and community need.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pianist Steven Lin – focus on essential music making

What does it take these days for a young pianist to survive in a talent market saturated with more and more prolific contenders? Given the unusually high-ranking technical, as well as musical eloquence young artists are achieving through training at top educational breeding hothouses, a good portion of talent and practice alone – as important as may be, will hardly suffice.

And yet, while it seems harder than ever to distinguish the rays of true talent shining through a thick crust of adopted musical proficiency, the search for these pure nuggets of the golden gift forges forward as critics and connoisseurs pore over multiplying piano competitions and YouTube’s starred self-nominees – a pool ever widened by infectious viral views.

Meeting with 26-year-old Steven Lin after his captivating recital at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall this November illuminated some of the quintessentially important traits necessary to cultivate a long-lasting and impactful career.

(Photo Credit Ilona Oltuski)

My interviews with prodigies and hard working pianists has informed my opinion that there is one emerging determining factor common among these diverse artistic personalities – it’s all about the ability to focus with every fiber of one's being, which seems deeply ingrained in performers' DNA, but this must be augmented by powerful self-motivation. This kind of focus comes with a choice made out of one’s own conviction, and superceding trained facilities built to master the task at hand.

“I was so appreciative that the commitment of both, the Concert Artist Guild Viktor Elmaleh Competition and the newly established “American Friends” of the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society made my recital at Zankel Hall possible. Of course, the timing was right, but it also goes to showing, how invested both organizations are in their promised concert arrangements for their competition finalists,” says Lin.

(Photo Credit Nate Ryan)

Lin became a gold medalist at the 2012 New York-based Concert Artist Guild (CAG) competition, an increasingly important initial stepping stone towards building a career in New York's competitive classical music scene. He went on to win the silver medal at Israel’s Rubinstein competition in 2014, joining the ranks of finalists with the competition's coveted international calling card.

During these competitive proceedings, Lin worked especially close with CAG’s president Richard S. Weinert and Idith Zvi, longstanding artistic director of the Rubinstein competition’s society in Israel, who both attended his recent Zankel Hall recital. Lin seemed especially impressed that Idith Zvi was in attendance, travelling all the way from Israel; Zvi, Lin mentioned, “had such a big job in promoting the competition itself, but also devoted a lot of attention to help the finalists, and not just the first prize winners, with concerts.” After the 2014 Rubinstein competition, Zvi invited Lin to perform in Israel several times for audiences Lin felt were particularly warm and appreciative.

It was Lin himself who took matters into his own artistic hands though, when he approached both organizers with the suggestion to sync their coordinating efforts for this concert. “I was really lucky,” he comments: “their willingness to collaborate for me worked out so well; this also means a helpful step towards gaining personal management, which we (referring to his first round of management at CAG) are striving for at the moment.”

(Photo Credit Nate Ryan)

This strikes me as quite an entrepreneurial move, not uncommon within today’s young generation of aspiring performers, and perhaps a natural response to the highly competitive atmosphere in which they are working, which clearly establishes additional demands on young talent; artists are expected to show entrepreneurial initiative and self-investment tackling advancement and opportunity, yet must do so remaining decorously in tune with a traditional model of an artist’ s projected modesty.

This modesty, which Lin also personifies with his amicable demeanor, is still directed towards the music of the great composers which musicians endeavor to make their own. “Most of the great pianists of the 'golden age of the piano did leave their teachers rather early on to develop by themselves and explore the music on their own terms," Lin says. Rachmaninov himself, and also Joseph Hoffman, for example, received all their training until age 18, at which time they left their teachers to discover music independently. Of course, there were much fewer professional pianists at these artists' times, and so they were perhaps able to take more time with the music and with themselves. According to Lin, "today’s training is so intricate and extended, when really, perhaps the most important effort is to spend time alone with the music, and that is pushed out further and further…”

Also present at Zankel Hall was Lin’s teacher of many years at Juilliard and Curtis, Robert McDonald. They exchanged their impressions of the concert in a brief, intimate conversation as the pianist emerged from backstage after his performance, a little disheveled but gleaming with excitement.

The eminent professor with many highly gifted performers among his students observably bartered well-meaning comments with his former protégé, discussing details of the successful performance, and perhaps also the pianist’s little memory slip in his encore, one episode (Of Foreign Lands and Peoples) of Schumann’s Kinderszenen. I overheard McDonald comment on focus – surely something this pianist had brought to the stage en galore, except perhaps, when the emotional relief of having completed the mammoth program minutely marred the simple beauty of that encore.

“I have not played for him since last May,” says Lin, referring to McDonald, with whom he studied during four years at Juilliard and two additional years at Curtis, whom he also credits with a decisively important part of his musical journey. Now more than ever, though, Lin feels he must work on “finding his own voice, which is ultimately the most important thing in making music." He says, "You can only mature when analyzing your own playing. You have to be able to listen to yourself critically but also enthusiastically. You have to be able to inspire yourself first, otherwise you can’t inspire others.”

(Photo Credit Nate Ryan)

He affirms that each piece of music has different, subjective requirements. “Take for example the Ravel piece La Valse,” he suggests. The piece marked the finale of his grand program which spanned Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.18 in E-flat major, Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, Op.13 and Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E major, Op. 14, as well as a world premiere of David Hertzberg’s alha – work of a fellow CAG-supported artist. “La Valse, was originally created for orchestra, so playing the piano version, one has to re-create that soundscape. But that does not necessarily mean to only imitate the different instrument’s orchestral voices, rather one has to remake a certain pianistic coloration. Also rhythmically, the subtle shifts between the theme of the underlying typical Viennese valse, composed much earlier than Ravel’s interspersing melodic constructions, demand a really calibrated balance within all that freely expressed musical pandemonium. With Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, then, the really simplistic theme gets more and more complex and creative. It’s not at all easy to find one’s approach to the whole structure when each of his variations is such an unusual image, like an unfinished thought, each with its own, distinctive character. It’s a real favorite of mine, an invitation to dig deep emotionally and so original,” he explains.

Before starting each of his programmed pieces on stage, Lin took quite a long moment to concentrate before delving into the keys. He explained these as moments of distance that he uses to gain the right perspective to approach each work's uniquely engaging score.

Meeting with Lin, I wonder: at what point in time during his intense studies, did he “get it?"

“I started the piano relatively late, at age seven, with a very passionate teacher in Taiwan for two years before I entered Juilliard’s Pre-College division...I was attending Public School in New York, taking only weekly piano lessons with Yoheved Kaplinsky. I was a devoted basketball fan with only little interest in music, at the time. All my practicing while still at school, especially in the first years, did not really mean that I fully 'got it.' It’s easy to get a bit lost in New York City. I had moved from Taiwan when I was very young and had to adjust to a different kind of life.” He still managed to win two Juilliard Pre-College piano competitions, and made his debut with the New York Philharmonic, age 13. (Photo Credit Nate Ryan)

“As I matured, I also was able to take in more from my teacher, Robert McDonald. He taught me how to really listen, and hear myself. This probably was a turning point that made me truly interested in real piano playing."

The talented young piano player had many sources of inspiration for his musicality, especially the many teachers and performers he met during his studies who furthered his understanding of performance, including his teacher Matti Raekallio, and pianists Sergey Babjan and Murray Perahia. Lin also credits his friend and colleague, Andrew Tysson, with whom he studied at Julliard. Tysson familiarized Lin with old recordings of the golden age pianists, which Lin found impact-fully inspiring.

(Photo Credit Nate Ryan)

The moment Lin, "really got it," however, came much later. "Prior to partaking at the Rubinstein competition," Lin says, "I entered, and was accepted to enroll with the 2013 'almighty' Van Cliburn competition. Until then, this had been my biggest goal ever. I was very ambitious, and the fact that I did not made it into the finals, which – up to this point had been all I was looking for – was devastating,” he remembers.While still receiving the special jury award (John Giordano Jury Chairman Discretionary Award)), two months after “failing,” the disappointed pianist did not practice, in fact did not touch the piano, he tells me.

“But this devastating experience also gave me a lot to think about. For the first time I had a lot of time on my hands. I used to practice 6-8 hours a day, not thinking much about anything except succeeding. When people started telling me about the Rubinstein competition, I realized that my attitude had to change in order to continue to take part in competitions, in fact to continue doing the thing I most definitely wanted to continue doing: playing piano.

"I had to realize that my attitude was not reflecting what it was really about: the long journey in music, which does not end after the competition – even if it’s won. One is in it for the long haul, and with this renewed approach – and some encouragement from my mom - I entered into the Rubinstein competition. I was really not expecting anything; I was just there to make music. Somehow in the process, I understood how much there really is to the art of the piano, and that the most important thing was to keep on learning and growing. But it had to come all together, and to me that was after the Van Cliburn experience. I was never more passionate about the process of giving yourself to the music than I am now. For me, it finally happened when I did not feel I have to prove something to someone, as one tries to please the parents, the teacher, or someone all the time in school.”

Today, Lin feels lucky to have experienced some degree of defeat, to help him understand that it takes more than chops. “I realize more and more what a great gift music is, and how lucky I am to appreciate its full potential. It’s almost a bit dangerous, when success and a huge career come too fast,” he adds, “at least I need time and a bit of space to think and process.”

March 6th Lin will return to Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium performing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1, op.23 with the New York Youth Symphony .

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Interview: Pianist Yoonie Han on Interpreting New Compositions ‘Gloriously’ Dedicated to Her

Yoonie Han had been invited to perform some of her most recent repertoire in 2006 at a private house concert in New York when she first met Theodore Wiprud. Yoonie immediately observed his keen listening capacity and personal demeanor.
As the New York Philharmonic’s Vice President of Education, Wiprud wears many hats: educator, concert presenter and music executive. Through his own compositions, he further impacts the musical world with creative works that reflect his widespread interaction with listeners of all ages.
It wasn’t until a few years later, though, that the two reconnected over “the other keyboard,” as Han calls her widespread activities on social media’s still most dynamic resource, Facebook.
Through “friending” each other, Han won a supportive listener and advisor in Wiprud, for whom she started to play through her repertoire, and who became an able consultant to her. Wiprud gave Han advice on many musical themes, but also on how to develop her speaking skills, which are becoming increasingly important for performers who introduce works to new audiences.
After Han became a Steinway artist in 2012, Wiprud dedicated his composition “El Jaleo” to her. It also appears on Han’s 2014 debut recording on the Steinway label. The piece was written in 2012, sparked by the painting with the same title by John Singer Sargent, a work that depicts a Spanish woman about to launch into an impassioned flamenco song and dance, surrounded by an enthusiastic audience of musicians and spectators (“Jalear” in Spanish means to encourage a performer with cries and clapping.)
“Right before that, Ted heard me perform Spanish music, a musical genre I felt particularly close to, after I had been stranded in Spain for several months without [my] passport and experienced great, totally unexpected hospitality,” says Han. “I indulged in daily visits to the local museum and familiarized myself with Spanish culture, and upon my return to New York, I delved into my pianistic resolve and into Goyescas,” says Han.
“‘El Jaleo’ however was a work we debated about together, endlessly. I loved the fact that Ted was inspired by my playing of Enrique Granados’s Goyescas to write a Spanish-flavored piece for me. But I wondered how this is going to work: Where does the performer come into the composition process, with a living composer who writes the piece for me?”
Han had raised a valid concern: Wiprud is a pianist himself. But how easily was he going to negotiate technical difficulties with the particular performer in mind?
“Many times we discussed my comfort level with his writing for piano: ‘How far can you reach,’ he texted me, ‘can you comfortably cross…do you cross up or down…’ Sometimes I demanded a change of his sheer impossible seeming, pianistic demands.”
After working at Lincoln Center, Wiprud would often come over to Han’s apartment on the Upper West Side to discuss everything from fingerings to the general concept of the piece, which appears on her disc titled Love And Longing, and was premiered in concert at the Harvard Club.
Yoonie Han with Theodore Wiprud classical musicYoonie Han with Theodore Wiprud
This November, at Steinway’s new salon series at Symphony Space curated by music journalist and pianist Jed Distler, Han again included a piece written for her by Wiprud in her program of mostly Spanish music. Also inspired by a painting by Sargent, this one is titled ‘Fumée d’Ambre Gris.’
This tranquil composition’s trills and expanding chord progressions face up to the painting’s motionless female figure in its contemplative state, depicted in masterly shadings of white light and grays by the painter. Dressed in layers and adornments amid the work’s North African setting, the woman gazes into an empty space before her, somberly inhaling the intoxicating, earthy vapor of the ambergris fragrance emerging from an incense-burning vessel.
“For this piece, we did not labor together in the same way we did for the first one,” Han says. They already had established a working relationship, and for this piece, Wiprud just sent the score to Han electronically when it was completed.
A third composition is in the works, which will round out a cycle inspired by Sargent’s collection of female figure paintings, which Wiprud came across at an exhibition at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, MA.
Wiprud’s most recent work for Yoonie Han is not based on Sargent. It is a piece for Han’s Gloriosa Trio and is named for a flower found in her hometown, Jeju Island in Korea. “I composed ‘Vinea Gloriosa’ as a brief, brilliant signature work for the Gloriosa Trio,” says Wiprud in his description of the five-minute work for violin, cello and piano: “I was struck by the extravagant beauty of the flower from which the trio takes its name, an improbable lily that grows in wild profusion in some tropical climes. I set the opulence of its flower in counterpoint with the tenacity of its tendrils – snaking vines adorned with blossoms. The title – Latin for “glorious vine” – invokes not the actual name of the plant, but my two-fold inspiration.”
Yoonie Han with Karen LeFrak classical musicYoonie Han with Karen LeFrak
Another composer’s work for the trio, titled ‘Gloriosa,’ by philanthropist, educator and composer Karen LeFrak, adopts the trio’s name for a composition that expresses the flower’s vital power to rejoice in its blooming lifecycle. Han performed another miniature cycle by LeFrak at Symphony Space, her work ‘Ombres d’Éte.’ These shadows of summer show the composer’s heartfelt, lyrical and subdued approach to an untainted mood piece, with only slightly nuanced variations to its pure, innocent, sometimes nostalgic allure.
Wiprud’s ‘Vinea Gloriosa’ entails a completely different approach: The piano follows its main melodic path, while the lines of the trio’s cello and violin “vines” intertwine mysteriously, and at times threaten to mischievously envelop the melody into a dense and restrictive “sleeping beauty”-esque untamed growth, also reminding us of the possible poisonous effect of the flower’s medical attributes and its nickname, “firebird.”
It comes as no surprise that both composers’ pieces for Han’s lyrical, softly outspoken pianism recognize aspects of her personal, capable performance style and characteristic traits, recognizing also that every performer also displays a bit of him/herself in performance.
Wiprud had introduced Han to LeFrak, who has written another piece, ‘Going Latin,’ to go along with Han’s next project of Enrique Granados’ Goyescas.
Han is looking forward to premiere ‘Going Latin,’ and to further collaborations with LeFrak, who has impressed Han with her incredibly efficient and speedy delivery of new works: “I love working with Karen. If I need another movement to make a program run a little longer, I just tell Karen,” Han says. “A day later, the movement will be ready, and it’s perfect. She’s faster than Mozart!”
In her heartfelt, yet humorous account of coming to the U.S. by herself as a 15-year-old performer to fulfill the promise of a pianistic career, one can sense Han’s resolve, but also her gratitude towards the many people in her life who have embraced her; she embraces in return. Han is not one to forget close encounters easily, or dismiss those who have had such a positive impact on her evolving career and her life.
Over the years, Han has interacted with numerous host families that have taken her into their hearts, and she keeps in regular contact with all of them. They call her “Korean daughter.” Her loyalty to those who have showed her kindness explains the large following of her concerts by her friends and loved ones.
The Gloriosa Trio, founded by Han, violinist Jennifer Carsillo and cellist Kevin Bate, has turned out to be a remarkable artistic collaboration.
Since their debut in January 2014 on the Flagler Music Series in Palm Beach, Florida, their carefully integrated thematic programs have been received extremely well by audiences and critics alike.
More than anything, the trio has been struck by the way audiences have responded to the group’s great chemistry. Says Han: “Being a pianist can be such a solitary pursuit; chamber music, on the other hand, can broaden the ways in which one thinks about and express oneself as a musician. It also opens the door to more performance opportunities, rather than pursuing a career purely as a soloist.”
The Gloriosa Trio will include the above-mentioned pieces composed for the trio in its performance at GetClassical’s concert series at ZincBar on January 11, 2016.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Tehorah: Adrienne Haan Concerts Celebrate 50 Years of German-Israeli Relations

This article was featured as editor's pick on blogcritics.

May 12th, 2015 marked the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. Stark black-and-white press images of Ben Gurion and Adenauer facing each other may have long morphed into images of the present day leaders of Israel and Germany, but there are still as many reasons to remember the dark shadow of historic events as there are reasons for the two countries to complement each other in striving for a shared future. 
This is a relationship marked by strong sentiments, but never indifference - a very peculiar relationship, which, against all odds, has flourished into a friendship between two, for the most part like-minded countries, in a changing world.
Said Angela Merkel when addressing the Knesset in 2008: “Yes, our relations are special, indeed unique – marked by enduring responsibility for the past, shared values, mutual trust, abiding solidarity for one another and shared confidence.”
And then there are the people: German tourism in Israel is booming, while Israelis’ growing interest in Germany and - above all - Berlin, has been widely reported on.
Still, at a time when European anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise again, one remains sensitive and mindful of the German promise, “never again”.
Regardless, this year’s golden anniversary is being celebrated with a variety of events throughout Germany and Europe, as well as North America and Israel. Israeli culture and Jewish history are a visible theme on the German event calendar this year.
Berlin has just seen the 2015 European Maccabi games, an international Jewish multi-sport event often referred to as the Jewish Olympics.
On the musical end of the scale, The Berlin Philharmonic opened the cultural celebrations with a performance of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Symphony No. 4 in A- mayor.
In New York, the musical focus will be on German/Luxembourg chanteuse Adrienne Haan, an electrifying international cabaret star, whose Carnegie Hall debut at Weill Recital Hall on October 29th will feature music from Weimar Berlin, Yiddish klezmer and contemporary Hebrew songs. Equally at home in repertoire ranging from jazz, blues and klezmer to Broadway and pop, the music of the 20s and 30s, unthinkable without the contribution of Jewish talent, has a special place in Haan´s heart and career.
It is highly likely that Haan’s audience this fall will include many generations of holocaust survivors, and if Haan’s past concerts are anything to go by, she will again win her audience over with her sincerity and artistic honesty. It is these qualities, which, throughout her career, have made the many characters she portrays so believable - from pirate jenny to Lili Marlene. It will be fascinating to observe her delivery of Hebrew and klezmer material, which will include a medley of handpicked pieces, based on Haan´s love for expressive melodies. 
And one can, again, expect to witness her very special mélange of gloomy melancholy in memory of tragedy and loss, and the regret that the past remains unchangeable.  But her performances have always celebrated life, as well, and have honored the power of the human spirit embracing forgiveness in the hope for the new generation’s better future. 
The event will take place under the patronage of the UN ambassadors of Germany and Israel and the spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Park East synagogue and founder of the appeal of conscience foundation, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, who has recently been knighted by Pope Francis for his work in promoting peace and understanding.
The evening will feature music especially arranged for Haan by German music director, Heinz Walter Florin. The program will include works by Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht, Mischa Spoliansky, Kurt Schwachbach, Friedrich Hollaender, Norbert Schulze, Chava Alberstein, the Klezmatics, Sasha Argov, Moti Hamer and Naomi Shemer. Ms. Haan will perform in German, Yiddish and Hebrew; Israeli violinists Netanel Draiblate and Perry Tal, violist Shmuel Katz, cellist Yoni Draiblate, as well as Mr Florin on piano, will accompany her. 
The embassy series at the embassy of Austria in Washington, DC, will present an encore performance of tehorah on November 3rd.
Says Haan: ”I created this program to share the tragic experiences of war and loss and to add a sense of love, hope and forgiveness. It is my hope that tehorah, which means pure in Hebrew, will help build musical bridges and create sincere understanding.”
And while building on a traumatic history can never be easy, Haan’s approach of combining just the right amount of nostalgia with a gentle sense of humor and a dash of sexiness seems a worthy way to try. 
Haan does not make a secret of her appreciation for Israel and its people, and has already lined up several performances for 2016 in the country. “Next year in Jerusalem,” she says and smiles. 
Her recording Berlin Mon Amour, is available on Amazon. Watch her as Pirate Jenny here.
Click here, for tickets to her Carnegie Hall debut on October 29th at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Spirited Melancholy

The long bands that had tied her pointe shoes safely together, carrying her through elevated routines, are unraveling. Mia will never dance again, never again feel elated, losing herself in the moment, freed from gravity.
This scene is a peek into Galia Barkol’s new film Then What Happens, still simmering in its pre-production phase. Barkol dares to ask tough questions about our existential nature: who are we, really, when we are stripped of others' preconceived expectations of us and our own? How are we labeled by our chosen path, and how can we recover the true essence of our being independent of that course? Barkol’s film is a quest for answers to the question of what defines us - as artists and people - when the roles and circumstances that we identify with are taken from us.
Israeli born, New York based filmmaker, writer, and actress, Galia Barkol, is the film’s creator and star. Barkol deeply identifies with Mia, the lead character whom she plays, viewing her portrayal of Mia as a chance to uncover thought-provoking, deeper layers of their shared emotional state of being. Barkol saw an opportunity in the idea of the transitional artist to explore facets of her own identity as a multi-talented artist, and specifically as an actor. Barkol describes: "The film asks 'who am I without my story'...the magical thing which drew me to acting, and the theme, appealed to me for the film. As an actor you have to be many, diverse characters, but also none. In that way it’s a similar process, of stripping yourself bare, so your essence can still shine through under any circumstances." As a symbolic exercise to explore these ideas, Barkol created an Instagram for Mia, using it as a vehicle to develop her vision of the film and her discovery of Mia's character.
Barkol says: “While I am not a dancer, I admire that art form and chose it to communicate how an artistic career, meant to express your inner self, easily overtakes one’s whole identity. What we do becomes such an inseparable part of us, especially in a society that always encourages us to find purpose, to move on and recover swiftly; barging on to successfully and dutifully reach our goals, we often forget the getting there that really counts.”
The film aims to show Mia in this vulnerable state, feeling as though she has lost who she is by having lost what she is. The film is about the internal aspect of being 'in process:' starting with an empty space, and filling it with deeper meaning. Mia must discover the layers of her identity when she is no longer able to practice her art form.
“The choices we make are so often subconscious," says Barkol, yet her artistic voice carries tenacity throughout the nascent project's presentation. Barkol's “what if?” questions stir the imagination into an unconscious territory of melancholy, transporting her characters to an existential place from which true transformation can come to pass. 
With Mia, a dancer whose budding career is stopped abruptly in its tracks by injury, Barkol asks: "What happens if we have lost the hope of reaching what we have set out for? Do we just forge forward to the next best thing? How do we deal with this particular loss, how much of that feeling of loss is external to ourselves?" The film explores Mia’s coming to terms with the limbo of having to let go of an all-encompassing identity. Barkol seeks out opportunities for her character to examine deeply-rooted anxieties, social mores, and expectations in a milieu of random situations. Mia finds herself immersed in Origami, an art form she would have deemed trivial in her former life. With nothing to prove, nor any ambitions to improve herself, she finds inner calm and refuge in the minutae. Engrossed in an art form so arbitrary and markedly different from the dancer’s previous regimented and high-strung lifestyle, Mia experiences the calming impact of a peaceful resort – where she has nothing to prove or improve upon – and comes closer to her inner self in the process.
This subject of randomness is also accentuated in the relationships portrayed in the film. Often, as Barkol points out, our random relationships are the ones that let us experience an uninhibited possibility of connection with 'the other,' and ultimately with ourselves. Barkol speaks to the safe haven of anonymity, and its ability to allow us a unique chance at pure, honest intimacy. The other main character featured in Then What Happens is Justin West, a travelling businessman. Barkol observes his and Mia’s relationship under the magnifying glass in the film. It’s not a romantic relationship, but the pairing conveys one’s capacity to develop a deep connection to a stranger, that while often only temporary, can shift one’s perspective and enable one to see his or herself through another’s eyes. At its core, the film’s narrative circles around the susceptibility of our internal selves towards accepted clichés of who we believe we must be, and explores ways that we can carve out a space in our conscience that holds true to who – rather than what – we are.      
Gleefully taking risks and baring their souls, Barkol’s characters show, rather than tell, stories about the weight of seemingly inconsequential encounters and random choices during the process of finding one’s true self. Beyond the scope of time, they carry the message of a young generation forced by unlimited choices to look into a fragile place of the id in an attempt to identify what truly bears meaning and lasting joy. Watch a trailer for the movie here.

About Galia Barkol: NYC-based Israeli actress, writer and filmmaker, Galia Barkol has a multidisciplinary soul and international background. She is passionate about filmmaking, screenwriting, music, and mostly about bringing round, complex characters to life - characters that are often nudged to reconsider questions that had been answered too soon, too fast.
Galia founded Ring the Bells Productions in 2013 - an avenue for her to marry her passions for Cinema, Language and the Performing Arts, to express her voice fully and explore new territories. Read more.