Sunday, January 2, 2011

Pianist Spencer Myer deserves your applause




This is the translation of a German article of mine, originally published by Naxos, Germany. Even though the concert description relates to a dated event, I thought the article about pianist Spencer Myer, deserves an English audience.
Inbetween the article of 2009 and today, Spencer Myer was actively performing.Following a summer that included a return to the Bard Music Festival and debuts at the Colorado Music Festival and the Gina Bachauer International Piano Festival, Spencer Myer’s upcoming season is highlighted by performances with the Cleveland and Louisiana Philharmonic orchestras and the Baton Rouge, Glacier (MT), Richmond (IN) and San Juan symphony orchestras, as well as solo and collaborative recitals throughout the United States.
.... and here the article about his 2009 performance at New York's Merkin Hall:
The young pianist Spencer Myer has not gained world fame yet, but he definitely belongs to the select group of his generation, who is on its way to do so.
Astral, an organization founded in Philadelphia in order to support young musicians, featured his concert at Merkin Concert Hall in New York’s Upper Westside on Oct. 21. He confidently played a program that impressed by its unpretentious perfection.
When using the term ‘balance’ one would run the risk of being misunderstood. When used here ‘balance’ is not understood as a friendly way to describe boredom, but on the contrary – as an ideal quality.
Everything has to be seen in relation to each other when playing a piano: for example, what is loud and what is soft. Only the relatively slower pace of the whole piece determines the pace of a piano run. What matters is the relative progression within single nuances; it is only through these that the perfect sound is being produced. Technically perfect control of these nuances is the prerequisite for differentiated musical expressiveness.
But when does the musician’s temperament takes over the composers basic message, and, in spite of all complicated technical control challenges, to what degree is the musician able to concentrate solely on the music rather than on his efforts? Shouldn’t a musical performance keep certain effortlessness and inspire the audience? These are only a few of many possible questions and contradictions that Spencer Myer solved in his concert in an extremely harmonious way.
The program itself offered an eclectic selection of different styles and thus not only provided for diversity, but it also proved that Spencer Myers has the mastery of the most varied characteristics of individual musical styles.
For example, in Georg Friedrich Handel’s Suite No.2 in F-mayor (HWV 427), Myer expressed very effectively the constant interplay between the leading melody and the harmonious substance to give a full theatrical expression.
Leos Janacek’s 1905 sonata 1.X, a rather difficult work, was a further program highlight presented by him with haunting presence.
For me the absolute highlight of the concert was Myer’s interpretation of four Schubert – Imprompti (Op.90). So far Eva Maria Pires’ rendition of the work has been the yardstick for me. Now I have to give Myers version equal status. Masterfully calculated in keeping steady the tempi and wonderfully differentiated in term of the tonal palette he wholeheartedly gave justice to these melodic gems.
His stylistic adaptability is also showcased in his very different treatment of former Jazz rhythms - just as in Aaron Copland’s piano variations. El amor y la muerte (love and death) and Los requiebros (flattery), both from the Goyescas-cycle gave Spencer Myer enough opportunity to have free reign to his charm. Still the intimate and somewhat ‘wicked’ dance rhythms never lost their character.
An enthusiastic audience and standing ovations for Myer who thanked them by playing two encores: One piece, that is a must on any of his concerts – Debussy’s Possoin d’Or – and, as a very special treat, Gershwin’s’ Embraceable You, arranged by Earl Wilde, concluded the evening in the almost completely sold out venue.
Even before this wonderful evening I already had the opportunity to engage in a person-to-person conversation. In regards to his somewhat disappointing Van Cliburn ranking - still one of the most important international competitions - he had to say the following:
“Fortunately, I have closed this chapter of my life; nevertheless I would say, these competitions have given me performance and networking opportunities. Very often people approached me: ‘I like your way of playing, please give me your business card.’ Then in 2004 I won the UNISA Competition in South Africa, resulting in seven performances with orchestra and many long-time relationships. In 2010 further performances in South Africa are planned.“
I am very interested in how artists get into their art.
Are you waking up one day knowing that you have a vocation to become a pianist? Are you growing into this role or are overeager parents or a teacher pushing you into this career that you like and are able to pursue quite successfully, but that was never meant to support a livelihood?
In that regard each artist has his very own story to tell.
Myer remembers: “As a six year old I was standing in line with my mother in order to get into the baseball team. Suddenly I realized that I actually rather play the piano and broke the news to my mother. Fortunately, she was understanding and I was allowed to take piano lessons.“
And he continued: “I wouldn’t call myself a child prodigy. I had the talent and love for piano playing, but I also had a very balanced childhood in a good social setting.“
This might well explain Myers balanced attitude to the multiple challenges he faces continuously as a concert pianist: “you shouldn’t take things too seriously. You prepare as well as you can, also in order to evolve, and this is where you give your best. When you take disappointments too seriously, they can almost kill you.
Since 2003 Myers is in good hands. Like Simone Dinnerstein he became a member of Astral that presented his solo performance and orchestra – debut in Philadelphia in the same year.
For every prospective pianist it is quite crucial who could be the most suitable teachers. Of course, that is always a subjective decision and pragmatic considerations always play a major role here. Like many of his contemporaries Spencer Myer had a number of teachers whose methodologies varied quite substantially: sometimes starting with the fingers, sometimes with the arm in relaxed position - approaches of the respective teacher were very different depending on the specific school of thought and tradition which, of course, might easily lead to confusion.
Among Myer’s teachers were highly respected, partially quite well-known figures that enjoyed the reputation of great masters and were able to offer many wonderful insights. For example, there was Joseph Schwarz, associated by tradition to the legendary Rosina Lhevienne, or Peter Takacs, student of Leon Fleischer – both actively performing artists whose influence was certainly very inspiring.
While in college Myer noticed some discomfort while playing the piano and this discomfort was reflected in muscle tensions especially the muscles below the elbow. Myer heard then for the first time about the Taubman-technique from piano students of the Oberlin-Professor Robert Shannon, a technique that featured a video analysis of physical movements that are natural when playing the piano. The revolutionary concept already had its initial success. In her Brooklyn studio Dorothy Taubman succeeded in releasing Robert Shannon from pain while he was playing the piano – a cure that encouraged Shannon to further disseminate Taubman’s teachings.
After having been accepted at New York’s Julliard School Master program Myer finally met Julian Martin who became the most important and most decisive influence in his career. It was Martin, a student of Fleischer, who gave him an idea about an inspirational path to connect the analytical and technical thinking and musical structure.
In 2003 Myer participated - with the International Contemporary Ensemble - as a pianist in the recording of the premiere of Huang Ruo’s Chamber Concerto-cycle. His first own CD was recently released by Harmonia Mundi USA.
For Allan Kozinn of the New York Times, this concert was number 2 of the top 10 moments in classical music in 2003.
The generous support of his education by the American Pianist Association in 2006 was yet another milestone in Myer’s life.
In the meanwhile Spencer Myer completed his PhD; although he still sees himself primarily as an active performing artist, he nevertheless believes that this - by no means - has to rule out an academic career. In the forthcoming year he will fill in for his former teacher Peter Takacs at Oberlin College for the duration of one year.
His well-balanced personality is not only reflected in his piano playing, but permeates his whole attitude towards life: “I love my work and I feel good as a musician. My friends are mainly musicians and the shared lifestyle is something that connects. I hope to play many concerts with orchestras and to increase the number of my regular performances. But I also like to be flexible and love change. Myer says quite humbly: “I don’t feel like a loser if I don’t perform with the New York Philharmonic every year.”
It is my very belief that that exactly might soon become reality. Spencer Myer definitely deserves your applause.

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