Friday, April 22, 2011

Pianists Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax: Sharing their lives at the piano


I am enjoying a cappuccino, that borders perfection, at pianists’ Lucille Chung’s and Alessio Bax’ tasteful, un- cluttered and brand new

address on New York’s Upper-Upper West side.Lu

cille’s organizational skills translate into the modernstreamlined, yet comfortable chic atmosphere, echoing Alessio’s Italian classy design heritage that takes a decisively leading voice when it comes to the

kitchen as well as, to my delight, handling the professional grade cappuccino maker.

This generous space that the attractive young couple calls home, when in New York, holds two grand pianos. One in their study that for now doubles as a guestroom, for practicing and teaching; the other one in the living room, for practicing simultaneously or to entertain each other and guests who typically are music lovers or musicians as well.

Playing the piano is what both regard as central to their lives. That’s why they might as well spend time doing it together. Two young, successful musicians in their own right, they share the rest of their time together, between juggling the piano faculty at Dallas’ SMU and their increasingly busy performance and recording schedules. In great demand as soloists, they have found themselves increasingly performing as a duo as well.Not that they necessarily planned it that way. Even though it always seemed like a great idea and it had happened on occasion, their duo performances have only recently gained in volume, taking up about 20 percent of their time, which was previously engaged with their professional solo performances. And, the truth is, they enjoy spending this ‘quality time’ at the piano together.

Playing as a duo creates endless opportunities of preparing and performing wide ranging and well-rehearsed programs and finally offers them variety, by taking the music on the road to different venues they like to travel to, together. How much more romantic could it get?

“It takes a lot of coordination,” says Lucille, who is in charge of all organizational details for the team. Alessio smiles happily, while claiming no interest in that domain, confirming: “We just decided this year to block out increased time for our collaborative performances. We have always played together sporadically, but never had made the effort to plan for it formerly in advance.”

Lucille describes the psychology of playing together: “It just needs to be at the right time, then we love to say yes, since we are a great team. There is total trust and…we think so much alike, we don’t even have to talk while rehearsing. We just know after a halt, where to come in again and how to communicate what we would like to happen. We think as a unit and that is advantageous for improving one’s security level within the repertoire. We feel free to take risks during performance and still are aware of the safety net, the complete support at the same time.”

Alessio, who also performs in his second year of artist’s residency with the prestigious Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and enjoys different colors and textures provided by the different instruments within Chamber Music, feels strongly about their two piano situation as well: “In a way it is an ideal situation in-between Chamber Music and Solo performances. It feels closer to a piano recital, in that there is greater freedom, yet there is also the sense of a strong partnership and a satisfying musical dialogue. The repertoire is wonderful and we can easily coordinate rehearsals.”

And then there is of course the social aspect of traveling together, which the couple enjoys anyway. They always like to accompany the other en route to performances, now as a duo, that extends to the stage. Lucille explains, “This year we have already an extra thirty duo concerts and right now we just came back from a whole Chicago tour that consisted of four different programs, including an exciting two-hour long perspective; live streamed from WFMT.com ,“ with solo, as well as duo performances, introducing both of their new recordings. This broadcasted show was followed by a program in Madison, Wisconsin, that included Brahms Waltzes Op. 39., as well as their own arrangements of Piazzolla Tangos.

Brahms will be performed as well this summer at the prestigious Music@Menlo’s festival.

Alessio’s CD is just in the process of being released on theSignum Classicslabel, entitled: Rachmaninov Preludes and Melodies and will be, I am sure, a further stunning example of Alessio’s virtuoso technique, which connects to a refined musical understanding and brings out the most expressive nuances within the music. Alessio pays homage to Rachmaninov, an artist he calls “the last of the Romantics.” And if one knows Alessio, one can feel a sincere kinship. But no matter whose music it is, he always devotes his serious exploration, and, in performance, it sounds so … incredibly right – in the best sense of right, as in finding beauty and truth in the music. On Alessio as a solo performer, please also compare my article http://english.getclassical.org/2010/11/05/pianist-alessio-bax-new-york-debut-recital-at-the-metropolitan-museum/ and on some earlier duo performances of Lucille and Alessio at Poisson Rouge also see my articlehttp://english.getclassical.org/2009/10/25/new-venues-open-their-doors-for-classical-music-in-new-york/

Lucille’s CD, is called Mozart and Me. Recorded last summer, at the Conservatoire de musique in Montreal, and just released by Disques XXI Universal, it touches on an important musical place for her. Mozart was the reason Lucille became a musician. She explains, “…His music was so joyful yet innately accessible, so simple and yet so deep. I immediately felt drawn in and was forever hooked. I remember vividly on one occasion while rehearsing the concerto with a second piano, I had a vision of performing in a brightly lit big hall with orchestra. I could “feel” the energy and the audience surrounding me. Little did I know that this would soon become a reality and my life…”

And she is a musician with every fiber of her tiny frame that could have just as easily belonged to a dancer. A bundle of focus, she gives every performance the full range of its emotional message. Since her debut performance, aged 10, with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, and subsequently touring Asia with the Orchestra, music became the natural habitat for the Canadian born Chung, of Korean origin. At the piano she is herself, with complete ease and natural gestures, whether giving a private lesson or in a grand recital hall.

Her Mozart Disc renders a most vivid account of her intimate pianism full of playful imagination – a perfect match for Mozart.

And then it gets personal: Was it thanks to the music that this couple met? Could they have imagined being married to a non – musician and does it not sometimes become too much of a good thing?

Alessio sees it this way: “It would be too different, if we would not both deeply care for music. Almost every single hour of the day we are involved with music. It becomes almost impossible to find a moment that is not musically related. So I cannot imagine being with a person whose life centered on totally different agendas. It would disconnect on so many levels. Every person, every couple is different, but my reaction is: How could it work otherwise?” And yet Lucille comes up with another, yet equally convincing point of view: “If you would have told me that I would marry another pianist before I met Alessio I would have said, I don’t think so. Rivalry, egos… every thought in my head would have answered it can’t work well and playing together on top of it? It would never have crossed my mind. And yet it has turned out to be quite a blessing. I love and respect his playing so much; it makes me want to play with him.”

Alessio adds,” As pianists we do not have to play with each other, there is no real interdependence as with a violinist and pianist for example and that could get tricky, if you chose someone else you’d rather play with. For us it’s a bonus, not a necessity.”

What about if the mood is not that great, you just had a fight and have to perform together on stage? “First of all, we are not very confrontational,” says Alessio with this expression that makes me believe every word he says. “We ultimately look for harmony and that translates into the music as well.” “And we never have gone to sleep without having resolved a problem,” says Lucille. “On stage we perform as one, focused as in a solo performance. I have played concerts when I was sick and the audience would not have picked up on it.” And, with a little bit of a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, “I don’t mean to sound corny, but I do feel that people get drawn into it when we play together, our romantic relation comes through in our playing in a positive, harmonious way.”

The couple met during the Hamamatsu competition in Japan in 1997, where Alessio was awarded first prize. At the time, Lucille was studying in Italy and was hanging out with the ‘Italian clique’ at the competition. Alessio was studying in Dallas, but since he was Italian, he joined the same group of friends. Their names happened to be in the first part of the alphabetical order that divided the groups for practice room assignments and scheduled performing time. So Baglini, Bannister, Bax and Chung spent time together while waiting to concertize, ate together and formed friendships. Yet after the initial contact, everybody went his or her own way. Until about a year later, Lucille sent out her new email address with a Christmas card greeting, which started an intense email- exchange.

It was not that easy at the time to keep up with the slow Internet connection and time constricted plans.

“The movie: You’ve Got Mail comes to mind,” says Alessio when thinking back to those times of waiting at the computer. Yet, while the relationship became more and more important to them, it was still limited to friendship, both of them were still invested in other relationships at the time. Alessio came to Florence to perform a recital and they even went out together, with their respective others, for dinner. And then Lucille came to Dallas. Alessio had just broken up with his former girlfriend and Lucille, who had accompanied her boyfriend, a violinist, who was performing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra…well, to make a long story short: Lucille left her heart in Dallas and Alessio, who was a bit clueless about Lucille’s affection, came back to Florence to have dinner at “Dante,” the same restaurant in which they had begun their friendship.

The rest is history. Lucille moved to Dallas and enrolled as student of pianist and educator Joaquín Achúcarro, who already was Alessio’s great artistic inspiration. Now they both contribute as artistic directors of the Achúcarro – Foundation that has recently partnered with the Phillips Collection in Washington DC., as well as with the Bravissimo- Festival in Guatemala, presenting young artists. Lucille and Alessio have performed at Bravissimoyearly and one of this year’s highlights there will be a production that involves Stravinsky’sPetrushka ballet score, performed by. …Puppets. Incorporating a special childhood memory of Alessio, this will provide an interesting performance motif, produced by a puppet company based in Miami. The puppets will work with a video of a previous duo -piano performance of that score, by Lucille and Alessio.

When Alessio was invited to perform for the recorded Master class of Daniel Barenboim in 2005, he was impressed how well the Maestro understood how music relates to life and how extraordinary well he could explain that connection, making music the ultimate medium of human experience.

While still relatively young, the musical couple already has collected remarkable experiences throughout their melodic life, its travels and wide-ranging performances. Alessio draws on some of them in his blog: Alessio Bax…have piano, will travel (http://alessiobax.blogspot.com/)

“If there is something I've learnt from these various self-imposed musical "expeditions" of the last few years (two Trans-Siberian tours and three Canadian Prairies tours), this is precisely it. An invaluable lesson of what is REALLY important, in music, or life for that matter, and what at the end of the day our ultimate goal should be in music making. Beauty, simplicity, immediacy is what makes music so universal. I've been lucky to experience that feeling in some of the most remote corners of the globe and see first hand the amazing effect that music has on people. No matter how long we work on every single minuscule detail, we should never forget that gut feeling, that visceral emotion that inhabits great music and is able to touch every soul in the exact same way, regardless of geographical, religious or cultural differences.”

The key to their extraordinary partnership may just lay in the distinctiveness of their own individuality. Whether as solo performer or as a duo team, classical performance seldom gets more attractive.

Their websites are: http://www.lucillechung.com/ and

http://www.alessiobax.com/

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Niggunim" Hebrew for soulful melodies













Gil Shaham and Avner Dorman






To re-claim one’s cultural heritage has always been an agenda for the Jewish people, who were and are ethnically dispersed in the Diaspora. Saturday night’s program at the 92nd Street Y, just before the Passover holidays, was presented by virtuoso violinist Gil Shaham in a duo recital with his sister, the fine concert pianist Orly Shaham. Their performance was devoted to that purpose: celebrating Jewish heritage in music and, beyond that, in Gil Shaham’s own words: “placing it firmly into the 21stcentury.”Photo: Gil Shaham and Avner Dorman




Both Shahams charmingly and nonchalantly offered accounts about the program’s essence related to the question: what makes Jewish music Jewish? How does non-Jewish composer, John Williams’ quintessentially “Jewish” musical theme, associated with Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List‘s soundtrack, fit in?




The accompanying notes to the program by scholar Eric Wen, about the connection of Russian Jewish folksongs and the Yiddish language, explained thoroughly what Hannah Arie-Greifman, Director of Concert and Literary Programming at the 92nd Street Y, summed up as follows: “Music is the bone marrow of Jewish Culture, through the strong musicality of its language…” She described the program going beyond preserving its heritage but rather furthering it, thanks to the 92nd Street Y’s two commissions from two young Jewish composers: Jonathan Leshnoff and Avner Dorman.




The outstanding musical delivery of the program, made with utmost devotion to the emotional context of these soaring melodies, performed affectionately and with a tenderness seldom expressed in that manner, profoundly transformed the audience in the process. Recipient of the Avery Fisher Grant in 2008, Gil Shaham, who records on his own record label Canary Classics, has a wide range of internationally ranked “Bestsellers” recordings, and received multiple Grammys and Gramophone Editor’s choice acknowledgements.
















Composer Avner Dorman(left) with Orly Shaham and Gil Shaham






Photo Gil Shaham, Orly Shaham, Avner Dorman




Both, Gil Shaham and Orly Shaham, have received scholarships from the America-Cultural Foundation, as their prodigal talents became obvious. Orly became a student of Herbert Stessin at the Juilliard School, who just recently passed away and to whom she dedicated a meaningful obituary published in the Juilliard – circulated newspaper. A recipient of the Gilmore Young Artist award and the Avery Fisher Career Grant, she communicates through her radiant musical skills, concertizing internationally as well as a broadcaster and music lecturer. She also taught music literature at Columbia University and has served as artist in residence on National Public Radio’s Performance today.




The compositions presented at the 92 y performances, spanned a range of mostly Russian Jewish composer’s works of the earlier 20th century, except for Swiss born Ernest Bloch’sBa’al Shem and the two new commissions. One of these compositions, Der Rebbes Tanz from Yiddish Dance Suite for Violin and Piano, was offered to Gil Shaham by American composer Jonathan Leshnoff, composer in Residence with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, who recently made a name for himself with his Violin Concerto, recorded on the Naxos label.




The 92 Y’s commission, Niggunim, by Israeli composer Avner Dorman was enthusiastically received by the audience. There was something refreshingly new about the work, yet given the evening’s context concerning Jewish identity, by the Israeli composer, it seemed like a fulfilled promise.
















Hanna Arie-Gaifman and Avner Dorman






Funnily enough though, composing “Jewish music” seemed to be the furthest thing from Dorman’s mind, as the recent Allan Kozinn’s New York Times interview with Dorman suggests, “…Once Mr. Dorman got over his doubts - that writing self-consciously Jewish music ‘is not exactly what I do’- he hit on an idea for a piece that would …relate to elements of {a variety of Jewish local traditions}… (then) I also became interested in niggunim, this idea of universal melody.’”




Photo: Hanna Arie-Gaifman and Avner Dorman.




By trying to express something about Jewish identity, the young Israeli composer clearly found his own language – again. The many different influences apparent in his compositions including, but by no means limited to Middle Eastern ones, find their way to new musical life, merging with gestures that are full of surprises.




That was already clear with his composition of “Spices,” which conductor Zubin Mehta heard on Israeli television in 2005, and commissioned as a full score for an orchestral version and premiered with the Israel Philharmonic that same year. (See also my article http://getclassical.blogspot.com/2010/09/avner-dormans-compositions-percussive.html)
















Orly Shaham and Avner Dorman






Dorman was approached by Orly Shaham, who was familiar with his work, through her husband, conductor Robertson, who proposed the commission, as Kozinn points out. “It had to be substantial,” said Dorman about the Shahams’ expectations, after completing the successful premiere at the 92nd Street Y. And that sentiment describes his Niggunim well, as well as the entire evening’s program. Dorman, who joyfully admitted to little sleep, since he recently became a new father, was accompanied by his parents to the 92nd Street Y premiere and received a standing ovation while flanked on stage by the Shaham brother and sister performer team.




Photo: Orly Shaham and Avner Dorman“




The niggun is a fundamental music concept of traditional Jewish music”, says Dorman…”according to Habbad literature, the niggun serves a universal language: it ascends beyond words and conveys a deeper spiritual message than words can…”




What better way to celebrate one’s cultural heritage, than by opening up the conversation with the world? In the best sense of its artistic high level, the evening’s audience at the 92 Y had the opportunity to listen to this special universal language, delivered with musical beauty and dignity.: Avner Dorman with his Parents Mr.and Mrs. Zeev Dorman visitng from Israel.












Friday, April 15, 2011

Presenting: Pianist Alexej Gorwatch, Winner of the 2009 Dublin International Piano Competition. Zankel Hall Recital on April 14th. 2011.





It certainly took some of the proverbial practice, practice, practice…. to get to Carnegie Hall, on the part of the 23 years old Alexej Gorlatch, who is continuing his studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany; but it almost certainly took a lot more than that. All that practice, as well as his immensely abundant natural pianistic technique and musical talent, still does not usually lead directly from Hannover to Carnegie Hall, or does it? There is no doubt that the international piano competition circuit has become extremely important to fostering and rewarding young artists with the opportunities of performance experiences, and launching their professional careers in the process. Tonight’s recital was part of the first prize, awarded to Gorlatch as the winner of the Dublin International Piano Competition, in 2009. Gorlatch winning First Prize in Dublin (pictured at award ceremony with Mary Macaleese, President of the Competition) Founded in 1988 and sponsored by a private benefactor, the competition joined the Alink-Argerich Foundation in 2004 and is recognized as one of the finest International piano competitions worldwide. A member of the World Federation of International Music Competitions, it attracts a wide consortium of international competitors during its triennial events. Chaired by Irish pianist and piano pedagogue John O’Conor (Photo), who is also the competition’s artistic director, the competition relies heavily on its distinguished and reputable, international jury. In 2009, when Gorlatch competed successfully, Veda Kaplinsky, Piano Chair of the Juilliard School, whom I spotted in the audience tonight as well, was part of the Jury that awarded him the winning prize in Dublin. While competitions are often criticized for their demanding training grounds, taking young and impressionable students out of more nurturing hubs to expose their creative talents to rigorous rivalry and struggle for the medal, some of the competitors seem to develop positively during these taxing times. And the profit can be great for the ones who flourish naturally, even under the strain of competing. Of course once entered successfully, competitors usually begin making the rounds at various competitions. Different competitions enjoy different reputations, depending on who you ask. Some are known to be harder to win, some have an aura of being more artistically rewarding… but all have one thing in common. They support the unknown young artist on his road to becoming a performing artist, creating a name known to a jury, critics and an audience; and introducing these young artists to their first public appearances. Born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1988, Gorlatch has been rewarded with numerous honors since age 11 because of his early detected talent. He won another first prize at the prestigious Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan, as early as 2006. As a pupil of renowned piano pedagogue Professor Karl-Heinz Kämmerling in Hannover, he also particpated in the International Chopin Festvial in Duszniki-Zdroj, and the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival and has performed as soloist with numerous orchestras in Japan, the Ukraine and Germany. In New York he performed (in February of 2010) at the People’s Symphony Concerts . (Photo: Professor K.H. Kämmerling in 2007) Gorlatch, who had no problem also impressing his New York audience with his solid winning program, especially through his subtleness of tone and velvet like quality of touch in its second half, which included Chopin’s Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op.60 and Four Mazurkas from Op. 67 and Op. 68. One felt put at ease by his relaxed stage manner and secure sovereignty at the keyboard, garnering him two standing ovations. The evening’s successful and well attended recital was presented for the Dublin competition by the prestigious management of Kirshbaum, Demler&Associates Inc. Even though Gorlatch was accompanied by the Executive Director of the competition’s board's executive committee, Adrianne Carolan, as well as artistic director John O’Conor himself, Gorlatch had a bit of regret that his father was not able to join him and his mother for this special evening in New York. The good news is, there will be many more chances to hear this up and coming artist, I am sure.

On May 18th, 2011 he will give his solo recital debut, in London’s Wigmore Hall.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A concert experience beyond the score





Creatively showing the music in context and adding visual texture to its genesis seems to be the hot ticket when it comes to efforts to increase its appeal for today’s music audiences. That goes for new music’s live performances set in alternative settings, as well as for some motivating approaches within traditional venues, namely the concert hall.This multi-faceted approach reaches a zenith when seeing and listening to the Chicago Symphony’s outreach program “Beyond the Score”.Geared to educate newcomers and enhance their curiosity as well as to engage the regular audience, “Beyond the Score” has proven to be an attractive and efficient attention getter for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and others are following suit. The resourcefulness of its “sexy” productions, as well as its artistically high standard, has gained “Beyond the Score” a reputation reaching way beyond its educational value.In its 6th year now, each multimedia production of a “Beyond the Score” program selects a particular work of music, presenting aspects of that work integrating live musical examples with a narrator following a theatrical storyline, images projected onto a screen over the stage, and/or different sound effects, correlating to its historic background and aesthetic content. After the intense and creative examination of the selected work, the audience returns after intermission to hear the work performed in its entirety, bringing a new outlook and level of understanding along to the concert hall experience.Coined as “edutainment”, by Playbillarts,(http://www.playbillarts.com/features/article/8173.html “Beyond the Score” was brought to the Philadelphia Orchestra by its chief conductor Charles Dutoit in 2009, after he had conducted some of these types of presentations in Chicago.“I love this way of presenting music with historical and political contexts,” Dutoit was quoted saying. “This is the way I would teach myself and this particular series is at a much higher level than anything I have ever seen before… this isn’t one of those ‘blahblahs’ about music. Adding the theatrical element is what makes the series so fun and convincing.”Pierre Boulez, on the http://beyondthescore.org , addresses such questions as, is it really necessary to re-invent the music’s score, to analyze its zeitgeist and spell it out for an audience? Is the music not enough? He offers that a work of art is never born out of nothing:”It speaks more in depth, if you know more about the language of the composer, what he wants to express and how he wants to express it.”The series got started officially in Chicago in 2005, as the brainchild of English native Gerard Mcburney and it was taken up by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under its vice president for artistic planning and audience development and executive director of Beyond the Score, Martha Gilmer.I had the opportunity to meet Gilmer on her turf, in between rehearsals of the orchestra with celebrated Ricardo Muti, Chicago’s Symphony Hall’s recently welcomed conductor. Gilmer explained:”There are hundreds of orchestras reaching out to their audiences but our way to communicate with audiences is unique. The opportunity to experience a variety of cultural art forms, history, literature, poetry, visual arts, posters, graphics, film…written word, spoken word, dramatic presentations integrated into the realm of a live performance of a musical work, makes for a completely new experience and our audiences really leaped for that. When I saw Mcburney’s presentation of ‘Strange Poetry’ in 2004 for the opening of Walt Disney Hall, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and music director Esa-Pekka Salonen at the time, I knew I had found my partner to help bring classical music to a larger audience. I had seen something that had changed my understanding of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, into an entirely new experience.”That production was a collaboration of Gerard McBurney with Mcburney’s brother, theater director Simon Mcburney, with whom he had already created the very successful production of Lincoln Center’s “Noise of Time,” a multimedia presentation for the Emerson Quartet’s Shostakovich performance in 2000.Gilmer describes seeing the strong emotional response the audience had as being part of the attraction. She remembers a particular affecting reaction to a Shostakovich presentation, which evoked the political repression of the Stalin era, disallowing his 4th Symphony to be performed at the time of its composition. The scenery was supported by typical propaganda posters of the communist era that read:”Is music dangerous?”A man in the audience stood up during Mcburney’s narrative and shouted:”Long live the 3rd International!” which people thought to be part of the scripted performance. “This outburst showed me that yes, music is potentially dangerous. It’s emotionally affecting,” according to Gilmer’s account.Eventually, in 2009, Gerard Mcburney joined the staff of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as artistic advisor and artistic director of “Beyond the Score.”He definitely possesses the gift of communicating his enthusiasm for “Beyond the Score,” which came out even during our brief chat. In his creative hands, the score becomes a blueprint with many possibilities. The challenge lies in finding what speaks most about the essence of the work of music and then to present these essential elements within a bigger context. In the process he is de-fragmenting the score into all its facets, immersing himself into each detail which will make for a convincing re-creation.”…and for each work that will be something different…and it depends on the availability of artists as well as some lucky coincident.”As an example he describes the production of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, for which he, instead of depicting its historically known scandalous ballet production, rather chose another inherent musical component. The melodies, used by Stravinsky, were based on folksongs and, upon further explorations, rooted in Ukrainian traditional wedding songs. A specialist in this dying out art form was located in the Ukraine – thanks to the Chicago connection, and using a local choir within the Chicago area, broadcasted for the event. “It created an astounding effect,” recalls Mcburney, who, beyond the detailed orientation has a fascinating outlook on the bigger picture.”I never quite know exactly what the final creation will add up to, until it’s being performed. Every piece of art is individual, has its own language and needs to be re-created in a different way and with different means.” For Vivaldi’s Vier Jahreszeiten, Mcburney was looking for a visual means to associate the different species of birds evoked in the musical score. Available bird prints did not match the 18th century style of the music, until he retrieved Bird Illuminations, part of an original 18th century collection of Venetian prints. Copies had to be made and sent from the Italian collection the following day, just in time for the performance.”Things like this just work through the friendships built during the last 35 years of my collected experiences, in the many different fields I have worked in as writer, composer, producer….I consider myself a gypsy in the world of music, and this is where all the threads are coming together for me,” says Mcburney, as we leave Symphony Hall on his way to another appointment.The learning experience as an art form in itself may even bring back the community factor to the concert hall. Something that’s missing most of all.

Article first published as A Concert Hall Experiences Beyond the Score on Blogcritics.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Leif Ove Andsnes – A disparate program held together by stylistic elegance and sovereignty of each piece’s characteristics.



While visiting Chicago (Photo), I heard that the personable and very handsome Andsnes, one of Europe’s finest pianistic exports, who has acquired seven Grammy Award nominations and many international awards, was in town for a concert program. He also is performing the same program tonight at Carnegie Hall. This was the perfect opportunity for me to assess Chicago’s stylish Symphony Hall. Located at the premier address, Michigan Avenue, the entire experience of the program fit in with the city’s mixed architectural skyline, a bit of old and a bit of new. While that mix exerts a certain charm in Chicago’s architectural landscape, at first glance, the concert’s program appeared a bit lacking in coherence. However, Andsnes’ great effortless style and elegance, which was constantly present in his playing, gave the program’s an overall seamless quality without taking away from the essential expressivity of each individual piece. The two Beethoven Sonatas that flanked the Brahms and the Schoenberg pieces in the April 3rd. program told a lot about Andsnes’ technical prowess, as well as his great sense for architectural structure in music. Beethoven’s Waldstein, which the program noted as a groundbreaking work, “revealing a previous unknown sound”, was performed with great sonority and alluring explorations of the composition’s core, yet fulfilled its main promise; namely to reveal. Perhaps there was even a nod to the last Beethoven Sonata No.32 in C Minor, Op.111, as a “Farewell to the Sonata form” as Thomas Mann in his Doctor Faustus coined it; and Andsnes’ dynamic range within the Brahm’s Opus 10 Ballades brought out – well, the endearing quirkiness of Brahms, with just the right amount of unassuming drama. The most electrifying playing though was heard in Andsnes projection of all the fine nuances in Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19. Here Andsnes expressed a sheer limitless array of color. One of the Encores, a Kurtag flourish of a piece called Scraps of a colinda melody- faintly recollected, was rendered with a most pianistic pianissimo, a Chopin Waltz in A-flat Major op.42 and Schumann’s Romance in F-sharp Major, No.2, Op. 28 gave a romantically infused introspective farewell. Andsnes’ (Photo)celebrated status as a performer has already afforded him a sizeable EMI and Virgin discography and just last month he signed a new contract as a Sony artist. They plan to feature the forty year old Andsnes playing Beethoven’s five piano concertos with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, both performing and directing from the keyboard. I was taken by surprise to hear of Andsnes’ just recent decision to step down from the post of music director of the 2012 Ojai Music Festival; a post previously held by some major interpreters of classical music with a cutting edge. I suspect, as he showed backstage visiting fans baby pictures of his now 10 month old daughter on his I-phone, there may be a time constraint reason. As he admitted smilingly: “On nights before concert performances, I get to sleep through the night in a separate room from the baby.” Thank god for connecting, yet clearly separate rooms in hotels, as well as for permitting the music to speak for itself, even without a binding contextual program.