Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bruce Brubaker – Nico Muhly’s Communal Aspects of Music

This month at the Poisson Rouge, pianist Bruce Brubaker and violist Nadia Sirota performed music by Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. Both musicians are extremely versatile, and talented within their instruments’ traditional classical genre.  Additionally, both are strong proponents of some of the most intriguing music of today: the kind of music that is based on the classical concept of composition and music notation, but is less dependent on note-perfect execution for a positive outcome. Both musicians are great communicators. “The freedom that goes along with this music,” marvels Brubaker, “where the process is such an integral part of its formulation is also inspiring and encourages different acceptance of it. It has its pulse on the now -- a moment in time that’s very powerful, in a kind of formulation of Zeitgeist.” He continues: “Part of what gives Nico a perhaps unprecedented wide musical reach, gives him a unique standing in the music world.”  Possessing reach and versatility, Muhly’s arrangements for the Pop scene and movie soundtracks have brought his scores from Pop Icons like Bjork and Grizzly Bear, to the Metropolitan Opera, Alice Tully Hall, and beyond.
Brubaker just recorded Drones with Nico in Iceland on the Bedroom-Community label: a 2010 commission by the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival. The album includes Drones & piano, Drones & viola, and Drones & violin, performed by Brubaker, Sirota, and Pekka Kuusisto along with Nico Muhly and mixed by Valgeir Sigurðsson & Paul Evans, who is also the producer. In his liner notes to Drones, Muhly describes “developing harmonic ideas over a static structure,” indicating that, “the idea is something not unlike singing along with one’s vacuum cleaner.”
Sirota, a long time collaborator and close personal friend of Muhly’s, says: “Drones evolved around a series of pieces for Viola and electronics, me droning my phone number over and over which became the Etude No.2, the first of his drone pieces. Many drone pieces were packed together in pre-recorded sound that is deeply textured and shows, (this is according to Brubaker now) very clearly the great impact Valgeir had on Nico’s work. It exploded with texture and became really three-dimensional.”
Photo:copyright Stern Weber Studio / Bruce Brubaker and Nadia Sirota at lePoisson Rouge
Brubaker explains: “Nico made an original electronic backtrack, but what you hear on the recording is quite different. It sounded even more layered. But that’s the exciting process of working with a living composer like Nico – the recording is not anymore the definitive version, neither is the performance. Music becomes much more alive, in the moment. Perhaps best compared with the times of composers like Mozart, Bach, Monteverdi…who wrote a piece for orchestra, but different instruments performed it over time, so the piece became a different piece each time.”                                      

In the spirit of that spontaneity, Nico is the type of musician who does not give exact instructions. This could be because he knows his performers intimately; Nico is familiar with Brubaker from his Juilliard years when Brubaker, who currently teaches at NEC, was at the faculty at Juilliard and commissioned one of his works. Sirota is an old friend of Nico’s.  It could also, however, be due to a lack of perfectionism that accompanies an output of creative material that is sometimes considered to be ostentatiously large, by both Muhly himself as well as his critics. In his blog, Muhly laments: “I have written a lot of music, much of it long pieces for large ensembles. It gave me pause, because I haven’t really had a moment in maybe eighteen months to really survey what’s going on, and this list was a kind of zoomed out, powers-of-ten jolt to my system. My first feeling was one of total exhaustion; the closest analogy I can draw is to having just run for a long time — the actual tiredness arrives a little bit later, delayed, and sometimes is triggered by the sight of a mangled toenail or sweaty, dirty smudge on the forearm. The second wave of thoughts about this document was more alarming: is any of this music any good?”

Photo: copyright Stern Weber Studio - Bruce Brubaker at lePoisson Rouge

Photo: copyright Stern Weber Studio Nadia Sirota lePoisson Rouge
But Brubaker relates a more lighthearted, generous, and less critical attitude: “Nico himself always says: You have to eat every day, and not every meal is going to be the greatest,” elucidating Nico’s refusal to get overly critical or particular about the performance of his work by either Brubaker or Sirota.
“He is a most unusual, great collaborator, figuring out what’s amazing about people around you and that can bring out a great communal effect,” says Sirota. “I really like it and that’s why I am great at it. And he knows that and gives me card Blanche. He only developed gestures, no hard score for me, no indication- it’s just short hand, leaving a lot of room for interpretation.”
In February, Muhly attended a composers’ panel with Phillip Glass at New York’s Park Avenue Armory. Glass, for whom Muhly worked for over six years and who Muhly describes as a great mentor, said something remarkable about the creative musical process that he and Muhly continue to undergo:                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Photo: New York Times - Nico Muhly

"Music is a space."
If music is a space for Glass, it is my impression that Muhly looks to fill that space with community with his unique approach to composition and performance. Overlapping the composed and the improvisational creates a freestanding, independent structure, the range of whose possibilities gives the music a life of its own.
According to Brubaker: “…it all comes together and you end up seeing different perspectives.”  In the Drone pieces, one does not hear a single improvisation, but layers of invention create a set recording that embodies a live perspective.  When I asked Brubaker, if the performance is difficult he offers:”Some of it is pianistically challenging, like the repeated chords and arpeggiated figures over longer periods that require crossing hands and jumps over large distances. And then laughing it off, he throws in: “it’s kind of Rock ‘n Roll.”
Some of Muhly’s music seems truly fun to play and beautiful to listen to; certain textures and high pitches in his pieces seem almost frivolously lighthearted, but his work also has many serious elements. Brubaker is convinced that Muhly’s music conveys “elaborately thought-out structures, and in its references given, it acknowledges that music belongs to all of us – it is a community product.”
In his book Far From the Tree, Andrew Solomon devotes a chapter to child prodigies and their upbringing, emphasizing that their childhood develops remarkably different from the norm.  In this chapter, Muhly is cited as “a fabulist, for whom truth is an unshiny thing,” but the self-destructive behavior that entered Muhly’s life with “the development of OCD with a strong depressive undercurrent,” as both Solomon and Muhly himself describe, was always connected serving his musical composition. Furthering his art was always at the forefront of Muhly’s mind, and that drive often pulled him in different directions very rapidly.  He “entered a manic fugue,” as he enrolled for the double major at Juilliard and Columbia University. As he illustrates: “one day it was Messaiën the next I was like - I want to know everything about the Marimba…That music just made me so insane and happy like it was a narcotic.” Muhly’s curiosity for deciphering what’s behind the music--understanding and recreating musical meaning--is both a challenge and a gift.  He says of his struggle: “I have no ambition, I only have obsession.”
I mentioned to Sirota that after meeting Muhly personally at the premiere of his Far Away Songs at Alice Tully Hall, I had the feeling that his music was just like his persona. She almost hugged me, saying: “Well that’s exactly it, if you feel that and you get that, you love it.”

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Julian Rachlin on violin/viola – Itamar Golan on piano - fantastic teamwork delivered in Brahms’ complete sonata cycle for violin/viola.

Hear the second half, this Saturday, December 8th, when violinist/violist Julian Rachlinand pianist Itamar Golan will continue in their quest to explore the artistry of Johannes Brahms’ complete cycle of sonatas for violin and viola, at the 92Y.(concerts here start at 7.30)
The high-spirited team began their ambitious endeavor with great gusto yesterday evening (December 5th) during their first of two performances encompassing Brahms’ complete sonata cycle for violin/viola and piano.
“Julian is the kind of artist that’s truly spontaneous, and in that sense fabulously adventurous, yet at the same time a little unpredictable to the collaborator. So you always have to be on the lookout for surprises. That keeps you on your toes, but it is very exciting!” says Itamar Golan, who impressed me with his incredibly sensitive touch at the piano during yesterday’s performance. It often felt as if his piano playing was sustaining the ravishing sound of Rachlin’s violin (or viola, at times) with superb self-effacement, yet Golan’s decision to let the violin/viola shine was clearly an exercise in strength and control, not a weakness.
“Especially as a collaborator, there are moments when the music has to erupt in all its force from within you, and there are those moments when you have to sustain the music inside of you, bring out certain colors, holding back the full majestic weight of the piano, to not overshadow the collaborator(s). You have to be naturally able to adapt to the sound of each other. That’s the beautiful thing of what I do: as partners, we bring out different sides in each other. That’s an important ingredient of the magic in playing together, it’s not just about supporting each other or being on the same page or sound-wave rather, there is a bigger spiritual connection; something less visible but very viable: you bring out different forces in the person you are facing and vice versa, the person you are collaborating with brings out different qualities in you.”
As Golan indicated, with Julian, his collaborate performances are always special, as many aspects of their work remain unplanned and grow spontaneously out of their dynamic on stage , which makes their shows together unique and incredibly exciting. That spontaneity came especially to the forefront in their lighter minded but virtuosically performed encores: Kreisler’s Liebesleid und Liebesfreud.
Golan describes himself as a bit of a complicated character, in his modest, yet straight forward honesty, and explained to me that he reacts very emotionally to circumstances in his personal life, and has experienced a great deal of fluctuation within his personal relationships. Despite this, Golan points out that he and Rachlin have managed to preserve a remarkably close friendship and professional relationship for now almost fourteen years: “We had met at each other’s concert performances in Vienna and Paris and soon after decided to perform and record together and we are continuously planning a lot of projects together, in various settings.” The duo often performs alongside Misha Maisky, and Rachlin’s former girlfriend violinist/violist Janine Jansen, to name just a few from their famous roster. Today Golan concertizes around the world, and estimates an amount of circa ninety performances, per year.
Golan previously performed the Brahms sonata cycle for viola/violin with the eminent artist Shlomo Mintz, and recorded the set in 2003 on the Avie label. The two of them also formed a trio along with cellist Matt Heimovitz. Other formidable duo-partnerships included violinists Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov. Golan has made recordings for such esteemed labels as Deutsche Gramophone, Decca, Teldec, Sony Classical, EMI and Warner Classics.
Earlier in his career while growing up in Israel, Golan initially pursued a career as a concert pianist, performing at age 7 on Israel’s pianistic stages. He was accepted with a scholarship to NEC by famed pedagogue Robert Shure, who had heard him perform on a visit to Israel, but Golan opted out of his spot at the Conservatory, feeling inadequately equipped to deal with being part of a large institution given his many anxieties. Golan went through a rebellious phase. He spent his angst-ridden teenage years trying on different identities, exploring different countries and religions and “searching for himself.” Golan eventually found a way to come back to music: “I thought I would never play again, but for me, becoming a collaborative pianist seemed to have been my destiny. My teenage anxiety was necessary for me to separate my life from music for a while completely and made it possible for me to rediscover my love for it again, anew. When I started to play with a group of friends, I recognized that this was what I wanted the most.”
In 1991, Golan became the youngest teacher to serve on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, and since 1994 he has retained a position as professor of chamber music at the Paris Conservatory, where he resides with his wife Natsuko and their young son.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pianist Roman Rabinovich’s creative homage to artistic expression

(Self-Portrait of the artist)

On Saturday, December 15th, 2012 at 7 pm, The Arthur Rubinstein International Music Foundation will present their Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall recital, in honor of the greatest Golden Age pianists – Arthur Rubinstein.
Pianist Roman Rabinovich is one of the two pianists chosen to perform at the event, the other being Anna Fedorova. Each musician possesses special qualities within their craft, and together they will certainly present a memorial worthy of the great master pianist, Arthur Rubinstein.
The evening will also feature a short documentary film about Rubinstein’s historical concert in San Francisco in 1945, and an exhibition of portraits and photographs of Rubinstein, partially from his daughter Eva’s personal collection. The foundation’s music festival in Poland was started 2008 in Lodz, Rubinstein’s birthplace.
Rabinovich, who, as a winner of the 2008 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition (not related to the aforementioned hosting organization) has performed widely in Israel, but also in Europe and the US to much critical acclaim, was given the opportunity to choose a program he is especially fond of. He enthusiastically shared with me that Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (three pieces), and the Ravel/Rabinovich ‘Daphnis and Chloe,’ as well as Stravinsky’s ‘Petrushka’ that will follow his programmed Haydn Sonata in A-flat major, Hob.XVI/46, have captured his mind’s eye for quite some time now.
“Petrushka and Ballerina”
drawing by Roman Rabinovich
A recording of these ballet-related piano arrangements will be released on the Orchid Classic label in the spring of 2013. Rabinovich’s fascination with these pieces and recording them grew out of his admiration for this era and its unique artistic flavor: Paris in the early 20th century, saturated with vibrant artistic cross-fertilization, and radiating with a charismatically charged scent of creativity.
“The more I learned about this era, the more I wanted to create a personal homage to it,” says Rabinovich.
All three composers have worked closely with the Ballet Russes, albeit at slightly different times: ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ was written in 1910, ‘Petrushka’ in 1911, and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 1935. For all their aesthetic differences, Rabinovich sees their strong common thread: “They were inspired by the energy and charm of one man, a force of nature – Sergei Diaghilev! They belong to the era of the Ballets Russes, who had a profound influence on the artistic trends of the next few generations, fusing avant-garde music, dance, and style in a fresh and innovative way.” It was Rabinovich’s particular interest in the Russian artist Leon Bakst, famously remembered for his stage designs for many of Diaghilev’s productions that also brought him to other stars of Diaghilev, including Nijinsky, Pavlova, and Picasso, as well as Stravinsky, Ravel, and Prokofiev.
While not formally trained as an artist, Rabinovich clearly possesses artistic talent, as his many drawings, both in print and digitally drawn on his iPad, indicate. He started painting and drawing at age ten, and as he confesses: “I must have missed a whole lot of information during classes, doodling intensively while listening; it is a compulsion that I take seriously- it’s not a mere hobby of mine.”
To the question of if one art informs the other, he says: “There are many parallels with music, the obvious connections like colors, balance and structure, its symmetry, lows and highs, the transparencies of textures…. certainly correspond to the musical understanding. It somehow helps me to make sense of the other medium by giving it a different point of reference; music is a fleeting thing, ephemeral; art is permanent. You can come back to the paper, you can hold onto art. I never quite understood how with music, I prepare a piece I play and then, the next day, I have to start over, it’s never there forever in the same way.”
“However,” as he explains, “the nature of the piano is such that it can produce such a wide dynamic range of colors and effects, making it possible to play even such music meant to show the luscious and colorful timbres of a full orchestration, like in the ballet-arrangements and bring them to life, in a self-sufficient piano version.”
For Ravel’s ‘Daphnis,’ Rabinovich found out about the original reduction of the ballet for rehearsal purposes, which became the starting point for his own arrangement based on Ravel’s.
“Daphnis” drawing by Roman Rabinovich
The young Prokofiev had written three ballets for the Ballets Russes in the 1920s, whose performances of ‘Petrushka’ and ‘Daphnis’ he had seen on his first trips to Paris and London. His ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ composed in 1935 after his final return to Russia, was produced by the Kirov Theatre in 1940 presents a new, more abstract direction.

“Romeo and Juliet” drawing by Roman Rabinovich
To arc the connection to the program, Rabinovich mentions these interesting facts: firstly, that Prokofiev and Stravinsky played a four-hand version of ‘Petrushka’ in Rome together, and secondly that Stravinsky personally arranged the ‘Three Movements’ from ‘Petrushka’ for Arthur Rubinstein’s own performance.
Cross-references between art-forms, as well as the direct interaction between artists always create interesting symbioses during cultural climaxes. In the spirit of such interrelated impulses of creativity, Rabinovich shares three drawings he composed for this particular program of ballet arrangements.

“Wanting to express and to communicate is instilled into all artistic creation, wanting to capture that essence, is an artist’s as well as a performer’s goal.” Says Rabinovich, who recently got also fascinated in yet another musical direction, when trying out the conductor’s baton, taking lessons for two summers with violinist and conductor Joseph Swensen at the newly founded festival U-Hac in Vermont ( : “It opened up a lot of doors in my playing and thinking about music. It is definitely I want to explore further: Seeing the big picture and connecting it through different inputs is fascinating. As pianists, we are used to create sound, suddenly I have to be able to transfer my understanding of sound, this energy to other people, just through gestures and body language – it’s still a surreal experience.”

For more information about Roman Rabinovich and to view his artwork please visit his website:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CMS Master-Class With Pianist Jeremy Denk

Two sets of young performers had a chance to coach with pianist Jeremy Denk, at the Chamber Music Society’s sold out master-class program at the Rose Studio, today. The photo shows the more advanced group, Asi Matathias – an awesome young violinist; pianist Dominic Cheli and cellist Mark Yee. Mr. Denk, in the middle, shared his various opinions and his “baggage”, as he humorously called his own recollections and insights he gained when playing the two chamber-works, Dvořák’s Quintet in A minor, Op.81 and Brahms’ Trio in C minor, op. 101. Avoiding to come across as too authorative, Denk half jokingly admitted to “being a complete idiot, when it comes to the strings”, which did not keep him from going after the exact nuances of balanced sound he had in mind. He managed to give sound advice in the process and contagiously spread his enthusiasm for finding more of the morsels of musical beauties, hidden in the score, among the young players.
Denk photo:Fred R.Conrad for the New York Times
Apart from being a sought after pianist with a broad ranged repertoire, Denk is a sought after soloist, who has appeared with many major orchestras. He also is an avid chamber player and has collaborated with some of the finest string quartets. He has been part of "Musicians from Marlboro" national tours and regulary performs with cellist Stephen Isserlis and violinist Joshua Bell.
Denk, who will appear on the CMS Bach Keyboard Concertos program at Alice Tully Hall (December 2 and 4), gave an insightful outlook of his highly praised, deep grasp of musical context to the mostly CMS fan based audience. The master class has been streamed live at

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Revelations to inspire - Live from New York Public Library: Andrew Solomon in conversation with Paul Holdengräber.

In his remarkably affecting new book “Far from the Tree,” Andrew Solomon “…reminds us that nothing is more powerful in a child's development than the love of a parent" (Bill Clinton). In this book, Solomon explores the human condition underlining the uniqueness of the fascinating characters that tell their stories; his exploration goes beyond each of their specific challenges into universally connecting ground, much more so than one would think possible.

The book is divided into ten chapters, each of which highlights diverse cultures born in extreme conditions. Remarkably, the sections of the book flow through the characters’ potential for joyous revelation, which they ultimately find at the end of vast, painful struggles to construct their identities while coming to terms with extreme difficulty and difference.

Ranging from severe disability to the unique otherworldliness of prodigal talent with such examples as super star pianists Lang Lang and Evgeny Kissin, “Far From the Tree” includes explorations on dwarfism, criminal acts, and transgender identity conflicts. Solomon’s insightful examples and their lively descriptions help the reader realize the possibility of coming to grips with even the most extraordinary conditions, in the light of parental and communal love and acceptance. Rather prescribing the impossible, Solomon works to create awareness, constructing a positive vision of understanding and acceptance with ease and grace. He builds a world in which it becomes feasible to celebrate one’s differences rather than dwell on hardships that sometimes seem overwhelmingly impossible to hurdle.

At a motivating introduction at the New York Public Library this Sunday, both host Paul Holdengräber and the author agreed that one key ingredient to understanding this book is to acknowledge that it is about “maturity.”
Finding “strength in adversity” is the ultimate life-affirming message of the book, which the author based on his own personal struggles with homosexuality and depression. The book’s enriching, meaningful purpose becomes clear as Solomon’s ‘anti-heroes’ transform with the help of their inner strength, and unremitting love that bears the secrets of true catharsis.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics, and the arts; winner of the National Book Award; and an activist n LGBT rights, mental health, and the arts.

Victoria Mushkatkol – Piano Recital at Juilliard’s Paul Hall on Saturday, November 17th, 6 pm.

Concert pianist and teacher at Juilliard’s Pre-College division for piano and chamber music, Victoria Mushkatkol, will share her musical insights with an audience that will include, according to her, the most adoring, but tough audience members: “It is always important to play at Juilliard for audiences of your colleagues and students who you work with every day and they are the most loving {yet} the most severe judges.”

The program will include the two latest works of Schumann (Fantasy Pieces op.111) and Beethoven (Sonata op.109) – which will allow for comparison between these artists’ more mature works. “As for any program I decide on, this is music I love and I keep the listener in mind while I come up with a selection presenting music to be enjoyed in its diversities of parallels and contrasts. As for this program, which will also include Schumann’s Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, this will present a much more youthful work, so to speak from ‘the other side’ of the composer’s life,” says Mushkatkol, who is herself a youthful, energetic performer with authorative experience.

Having made her debut with the Kiev Philharmonic at age ten, Mushkatkol has established a reputation as a talented soloist; the press has described her as: “blazing, vibrant and world-class.” She has also received accolades for her chamber music; Mushkatol is a sensitive and avid chamber musician, and has collaborated with a wide array of international artists including violinists Evgeny Bushkov, Julia Bushkova, and Charles Casselman, as well as cellists Karen Buranskas and André Emelianoff.
A protégée of one of Russia’s eminent music educators, Vladimir Nielsen at the St.Petersburg Conservatory, Mushkatkol has made it a mission to continue her teacher’s legacy. In 2007, she became the founder and artistic director of the Vladimir Nielsen Piano Festival in Sag Harbor, New York.

In her teaching, Mushkatkol bases a great deal of her style on the inspiration she gained from Nielsen. “In his teaching, he inspired students to search reverently for the most truthful expression of the composer’s intentions by means of articulation, inflection, and sophisticated rhythmical, motivic, and harmonic relationships. His credo was: you must stand on your knees before the composer.”
Mushkatkol feels that this seemingly subordinate approach actually enhances the solid foundation for individual creativity. Nielsen’s credo: “Music comes first, Instrument- second” has brought many professional musicians to seek his tutelage, from prominent conductors to pianists. Nielsen promoted the human connection to musical performance: “When you play the piano, you have nowhere to hide. Musical talent is the ability to speak, so that people listen to you. WHAT you have to say is who you are.”
Mushkatkol has recently been invited to return to Russia for performances and master classes. She was also featured as a guest performer at the Festival International Conservatory week in St. Petersburg, and has expanded her artistic presence to Beijing and Shanghai.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Farewell to a great concert master

Photo: Glenn Dicterow's life talk at the Atrium
It isn’t actually until the end of the 2013-2014 season that Glenn Dicterow, current concert master of the New York Philharmonic will answer his call from LA’s USC Thornton faculty, but New Yorkers are already paying tribute to one of the New York Philharmonic’s most iconic figures who, after a run of now 32 consecutive years, will be sorely missed.

It was impossible not to acknowledge Dicterow’s friendly, well-tempered and round face, and his omnipresent fatherly authority. Always ready for a little joke, a kind comment, he seems to have been perpetually present on the first chair between the conductor’s podium and the rest of the string sections, maintaining peace for the ensemble, and keeping the communication flowing.

Dicterow will be the first artist to hold the newly dedicated Robert Mann Chair in Strings and Chamber Music, established by Alfred Mann to honor his brother’s achievements as founder and first violinist of the renowned Juilliard String Quartet.

Dicterow and his wife, violist Karen Dreyfus, with whom he and Cellist Inbal Segev perform as the Amerigo-Trio, will be joining the faculty at Thornton as well. The two will be a welcome addition to a host of exceptional artists including Midori Goto, who holds the Jascha Heifetz Chair in Violin at USC. Photo: Amerigo Trio

Heifetz was one of Dicterow’s influential teachers, who Dicterow was privileged to meet as a teenager growing up in Los Angeles. Dicterow’s father, Harold Dicterow, was principal player in the second violin section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for 52 years. At age 11, Glenn performed Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto under Zubin Mehta with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dicterow spent several years as an associate- and then concertmaster at the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, and later became concert master of the New York Philharmonic also under the direction of Zubin Mehta in 1980. The other great influence in his life was his teacher Ivan Galamian, whom he worked with at Juilliard in Galamian’s famous studio that included Yitzchak Perlman.
Dicterow made it a rule to always dedicate some of his time to external engagements apart from appearing as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and other orchestras, and playing chamber music. He has also been able to maintain a teaching position at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School, and he has been able to recruit some of the New York Philharmonic’s orchestral musicians from his talented group of students.

On November 5th,Dicterow gave a charming talk at the public Atrium Space (61 West 62 Street). It became quite obvious that his qualifications for the position he had held for so long did not exclusively lie with his extraordinary gift for playing the violin, but also included his personal and vivid understanding of the role of a concert master.
Glenn Dicterow and Ilona Oltuski

“When I received the proposal, it was at a moment in time when I could not refuse. After 34 great years, I will hopefully be leaving with my reputation fully intact,“ he beams gregariously. I suppose it was that sense of humor that brought him through the long chain of fluctuating directors, all with different characters and ego. From the flamboyant Bernstein, to Mehta “who was like a surgeon with his hands, so exact, you could not possibly misunderstand his downbeats…” to Masur, a “master of the old school,” who was perhaps personally controversially received, but changed the sound of the entire orchestra to a more German, darker sound, since he was not afraid to tone the brass players down.” Dicterow continued with times ‘served’ under the stern but “tremendously gifted Maazel” whom “you had to know how to take, but we got along great,” up to current, much younger Alan Gilbert. Dicterow has managed to get along with them all, creating professional relationships based on great mutual respect. His main objective is to be perceptive, and to be able to communicate between the conductor and the sections, almost as a second conductor.

“I have to play in a way the others see what I am doing.” In an orchestra, you can’t just rely on sound, or there will be delays. You have to exist in the moment – the movement of the sections must come simultaneously and that effort depends as much on the eyes as it does the ears, perhaps even more so. I had the pleasure to interview Dicterow in 2010, at which time he explained even more about the role of the concert master, including the need to arrange bowing marks in the musical scores of the entire orchestra according to certain decisions made in rehearsals and seating arrangements. Dicterow’s responsibilities also include sitting in on various committees responsible for admissions, artistic direction, and planning. The hardest part for him, though, was an element of performance, specifically when he was required to suddenly play challenging solo sections within large orchestral works like in the New York Philharmonic’s recent performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. These moments are the most personal: “Alan said lately sometimes to me, ‘oh Glenn, this is the last time you will be playing this and this is the last time you will be playing that, just relish the moment!’ …and I do, indeed.”

Dicterow will be performing as a soloist with Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, Brahms ‘ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Director Emeritus Kurt Masur November 8th – 10th and 13th.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pianist Nikolai Lugansky weathers the storm of Rachmaninoff's 3rd.Piano Concerto

If one listens to some of the Piano Mavens in attendance at Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky’s recent performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 at Avery Fisher Hall, it would seem that he did not show enough feeling.
Although Lugansky played the concerto alongside the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Charles Dutoit with utmost technical perfection, some critics complained. “He was too fast!” “It was too cold, too mechanic,” and “not luscious enough – and Rachmaninoff can be soo luscious!” were some comments within New York’s community of concert attendees, most of whom play piano at different levels themselves.
Critique from one’s ‘own rows’ is certainly not to be taken lightly, though I wonder why I experienced the concert so differently from many of these critics. After the piece, the applause of the general audience seemed overwhelmingly devoted.
The concert took place on November 2nd in the aftermath of Sandy, a storm that had devastated many regions of the Tri- State area, leaving half of Manhattan without electricity and subway connections, yet many concert-goers braved the turbulent moods of nature out of respect to Dutoit’s legacy, and that of Lugansky, for whom this performance marked a New York debut; was it perhaps because of this psychologically fragile situation, New Yorkers demanded a more emotionally affecting response?
The hall was not at all filled to capacity, perhaps adding to the performance’s somewhat “cold” acoustics , dampening the piano’s ability to project lusciously, a situation on which Lugansky himself commented, at our meeting the next morning.
Complex delays in getting to the city due to limited access to transit and electricity required that some of the orchestra players be replaced. Charles Dutoit, who had lost some rehearsal time in addition to some of his personnel, felt it necessary to change the program. Instead of Claude Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien followed by Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini for Piano and Orchestra, Op 43, the audience was greeted with the well-rehearsed, stormy Overture to Glinka’s Rusian and Ludmila (1842). Lugansky and Dutoit had worked together several times on this concerto, so it was a natural choice given the circumstances. Lugansky himself would not have made it in time had it not been for his friend, who both made the effort to find an open airport in Hartford, Connecticut for a connection and rushed the performer to the airport in Florida so that he would not be stranded in the Sunshine State. Lugansky luckily was able to attend the only rehearsal on Thursday. “I had just practiced the Paganini when a message came from Dutoit – we’ll play the concerto,” Lugansky explains, pleasantly calm like the pro he is, playing close to 100 concerts a year. “We had just performed it 2 weeks earlier in Boston.”
To me it was quite clear, especially in Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto, that Luganksy takes great pain to study recordings from the master himself, which he believes to be quite impossible to duplicate. He certainly takes cues from Rachmaninoff’s noted tempi, “which were always rapid,” as Lugansky remarks. Lugansky also admires Argerich’s and Kissin’s interpretations of the same concerto, which of course every pianist interprets very personally.
The concerto, composed in 1909 for celebrated pianist Josef Hofmann, is known to be extraordinary, even “technically monstrously“difficult, as the program notes suggest. Lugansky, who made his American debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 1996 as Valery Gergiev’s soloist during his Kirov tour, is certainly no stranger to Rachmaninoff’s pianism, having won the Russian All-Union Rachmaninoff Competition in 1990 among many others. Lugansky was also awarded the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik and the Echo Klassik 2005 award, for his recordings of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 and 3. This September Lugansky released Rachmaninoff’s two Piano Sonatas on the Naïve –Ambroise label, to which the artist was recently signed.
The concerto was originally premiered in New York, with the then New York Symphony before it procured and merged with the New York Philharmonic in 1928. It was of course premiered by the composer himself, as Rachmaninoff always insisted. Historic benchmarks like this remain relevant today; we measure even the most extravagant contemporary performances by how they relate to the originals.
To Lugansky, the character of the music is everything; to be able to portray a work’s emotional meaning is what ultimately counts. He feels that this concerto in particular “is one of the most beautifully written piano concertos. It’s full of imagery, like in a Chekhov-novel. Especially the finale is like the heavens open, the dark forces disappear, almost immediately after the attack, bells announce the life affirming joy-Its God-given revelation. It’s a great joy to play this very pianistically written, wonderful piece.” There are, of course, many different ways one performs effectively: Rachmanioff will be always Rachmaninoff: double genius; as the composer, conceiving and putting his wonderful message to paper, he was Godly, and as the performer, he was always true to himself. There are some performers who will always possess qualities that make them unmistakably unique; they excel at certain techniques and aspects of performance, and they will always have a particular style, no matter which composers’ music they play. Glenn Gould was great when playing Bach, Scriabin, Schoenberg; one could always recognize Gould when he played these composers’ works, and his audience loved him for it. I aspire to be more like the other, more intellectually driven kind of performer. I see Michelangeli as one of these, who constantly attempt to re-invent the wheel with their performance of every composer’s work. In his performances, there was less of himself and more of the composer, and he was stylistically different every time. Perhaps that is why he performed fewer repertoires than his contemporaries, but each performance was inherently unique to his understanding of the particular composer.
Lugansky tells me he always was an extremely quick study:”The first time I played Rachmaninoff’s 3rd concerto, I played it for my teacher [Maria Udinah] at the Central Music School.” Lugansky was 19 years old at that time, and he learned it in three days. “I was obsessed with it,” he says. To me, he certainly succeeded in giving Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 his own, stylistically precise and unique interpretation. I felt his performance managed to deeply convey emotion with an accomplished technical ease. I relished in the effect of Lugansky’s understated minimalism, even if it was different from some of that sweet lusciousness that others had expected to hear.

Friday, October 26, 2012

IPO and Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall

                On October 25th, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra gave a sold out concert at Carnegie Hall, performing under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta, a program of some of Judaism’s most spiritual works, demonstrating their undyingly righteous, cultural eminence.
Despite a small group of Anti-Israel protesters that had accumulated across the 57th Street entrance, rallied by
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel through various press releases, spirits were high inside the hall as the orchestra opened with the Star-Spangled Banner, followed by Hatikva.

The Benefit event, organized by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will support the orchestra’s touring and educational programming, as well as the renovation of its home at Tel Aviv’s Heichal Ha’Tarbut, to be inaugurated in May of 2013.

The program of Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre and Noam Sheriff’s Mechaye Hametim (Revival of the Dead) had already gained broad recognition at the 2012 Salzburger Festspiele, especially with baritone Thomas Hampson’s leading presence, which had been described by New York Times’ James R.Oestreich, as: “virtually embodying an Old Testament Prophet.”Out of the two works, Kol Nidre is the better known one, yet Sheriff’s symphonic work(NY premiere), commissioned in  remembrance of the Holocaust and at the same time a tribute to Jewish culture and national pride proved to be a very organic structure. It incorporated and built upon many different musical motives.  Joining Hampson and the Collegiate Chorale were the Manhattan Girls Chorus and Israeli tenor Carl Hieger, all of whom performed in the Hebrew and Yiddish production, with the composer present.
The original program had been adjusted to include these pieces for the New York event due to their great acclaim in Salzburg and partially because the Collegiate Chorale, founded by Robert Shaw in 1941 and currently directed by James Bagwell, was already present.
In the midst of both Judaic spiritual works, the 25 year old Yuja Wang poured her stupendous virtuosity into Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, op.25. Trumping her first Encore, Rossini-Ginsburg Figaros Aria with an even wilder, magnificently Horowitz- inspired Carmen; she had a gasping audience in her hands.   Dressed in red, the audience was able to marvel at her whirlwind arm-and finger movements, emanating from her lean and muscular back. As with the choreography of an Olympian swimmer her moves were small, controlled and superfast.
Though always charming, Zubin Mehta, who has guided the greatest of performers during his now more than 50 years as conductor (he is music director for life with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), seemed genuinely impressed with his phenomenally skilled, season’s star debutante.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pianist Klara Min - Intimate Mazurkas And More

Klara Min does not seem to get nervous easily. I learned this while sitting in on an interview / conversation with recording producer Leszek Wojcik for the release of her Chopin Mazurkas disk, which Delos will put out next spring. Wojcik had been guiding Min since 2011, when she made her very first recording of Korean composers for the Naxos label. Both disks were recorded at the same studio at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


When comparing both recordings, which indeed find themselves at juxtaposed ends of the repertoire, Wojcik shares his surprise at how “Western” the previously recorded Korean compositions actually sound. “I was expecting a big pentatonic thing, some feelings of folk tunes. Instead there was rather an affinity to the Second Viennese School, Schoenberg and Webern… yet the Mazurkas could not be more contrasting to their rather academic, complex and almost Germanic structure …. here is a complete change of temperament,” he says and adds, speaking to Min,  ”You were very brave to tackle such an undertaking. The Mazurkas are such known pieces, dear to everyone’s heart and they are so often recorded, and yet they can be interpreted in so many different ways.”


Min made her own choices in her recording and seems confident about them. “I was immediately drawn to the Mazurkas,” she shares, “when I was still a child, reading through the entire volume. Only later I listened to many different recordings. The music sounds so simple, but it is the most complicated music to perform. Its rhythm has to come sort of naturally; it can’t be really studied too much”.  Each mazurka is so individual, idiosyncratic, each with its own polyphony and complex harmonies, yet you can’t practice endlessly- you somehow have to preserve the freshness and spontaneity for the deliverance of its true characteristics.”


Photo: Wojcik and Min
Wojcik, who has clearly enjoyed recording Min’s playing, agrees with her and adds: ”Yes, exactly, this is the key. They are highly abstract, even though of course they have the nationalist thematic and are based on the dance’s three main forms: the mazur, oberek and the kujawiak from Poland, from different geographic regions in Poland. They’re not inspired by folk music, as often thought, really. Despite some rhythmic resemblances and perhaps the repetitiveness of motives kept by Chopin, his Mazurkas are highly stylized – salon versions- with complex compositional elements. And you are absolutely right; their simplicity demands a certain natural gusto. And balance of playing straight forward and the use of rubato. And there are so many choices to make by the performer, according to his/her personal tastes.”

But Min does not seem to have hesitations here. “I enjoy the use of Rubato since it creates the elasticity in the music…” and then Wojcik chimes in, ”The mazurkas are certainly full of invitations to use Rubato.”

Min finds balance in “her” Mazurka’s version of Rubato, as I find her able to balance many things, having witnessed her in action, wearing many different hats – often at the same time.


For one, she is the founder of NYCA – New York Concert Artists which has given many performance opportunities to young artists since its inauguration in 2008.  In the city that never misses beat, music performances of the classical repertoire that Min has championed so far at NYCA are not hard to find. Yet she has managed to put out yet another series, successfully, in which she herself performs. To perform concertos with orchestra is what NYCA offers its pianist – soloists. In addition to orchestral performances NYCA presents their winner’s Carnegie Hall Debut Recital. The auditions are taking place in London, Paris, New York and Seoul.

“Indeed I sometimes feel like I am multiple personalities. In 2006 I organized many concerts in collaboration with Yamaha Artists Services, held at their showroom and at the Shepherd Church.  NYCA grew out of my experiences in 2008. It was a way to take it to the next level. I think of it as an artist’s collaboration – a la “Davidsbuendler” the artistic choices have to be made by the artists, not by corporations. Pianists are used to mostly working alone. There is a real need for building trust and relationships, in order to collaborate and help each other. I had a vision, to do just that on a more continual basis and once that goal crystallized, the ideas how to make that happen, developed”, says Min.


And because she is a risk taker and not shy when she needs to ask for support for her many challenges, she has succeeded in establishing a real following. “I always knock at the door of cultural foundations, consulates and individuals who appreciate the importance of art for society. As artists, we do clearly have an important role; we are the hope of society.” She explains. ”When it comes to fundraising, people like to reach out to the furthest corners on earth to help – I however want to do something in my city, my community, where I am.”


And I have seen her in action – she knows everyone and reaches out her hand – genuinely to help others to reach their goals in the world of music, a world she deeply loves and feels she has a lot to give to.


Growing up as a Korean in Japan and then moving back to South Korea in 1989, where she studied at the very competitive “Seoul Arts High School”, Min is familiar with adapting herself to new situations, different people and mentalities. “I had to learn to be sensitive and assimilate to a very different culture at an early age. The strong influence of my mother’s supportive role has always encouraged me in all endeavors. Unlike many young pianists who were pushed by their parents to succeed, nobody ever pushed me,” she remembers. Her parents’ recognition of her independence early on made her confident about taking on responsibilities on her own.

“Unlike many other Koreans, my parents did not control me and I had a lot of freedom growing up.” She especially describes her mother as a kindred spirit who, as a musician herself, knew how hard it is to become a performing artist. Her mother asked her, “Is this really what you want?” but has always encouraged her to follow her dream.


From Seoul she then came to New York City and continued her piano studies with Solomon Mikowsky at the Manhattan School of Music.

Her independence became an even more acute reality for Min, after a financial crisis at home forced her to rely on her own resourcefulness.

“I had just finished my bachelor’s and went back to Korea for a short while to save money and get back on my feet, financially, by performing and teaching. This enabled me to finish my master’s degree speedily, after I had enrolled with Sara Davis Buechner and Byron Janis,” continues Min. “I always like teachers who perform themselves. I was so inspired that I finished all my course work within a year and by the third semester was able to extensively concentrate on the lessons.” Min continued studying in Luebeck, with James Tocco, whom she adored both, for his teaching and personality.


In 2002 she had her Weill Recital at Carnegie Hall debut, giving a World Premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Piano Etudes, marking a time when she started broadening her repertoire to champion contemporary classical music.  She performed John Corigiliano’s music at that recital and then in 2008 she performed his Piano Concerto with NYCA, with the composer being present at the performance. Photo: Min with John Corigliano
Min recently commissioned and will soon be recording American composer Henry Martin’s character pieces based on songs by American songwriter Steven Foster.


Her first recording called “Ripples on Water” (released by Naxos), which featured works of five Korean contemporary composers, got her many fine reviews for her performance.  New York Concert Review wrote that Klara Min has: ”a lovely, nuanced tone, genuine expressiveness…excellent technique exuberance and vitality.”


Min will premiere a prelude, composed for her by Uzong Choe, the youngest one of the Korean composers collectively presented on the disc, at her upcoming recital at Alice Tully Hall, November 8th. The concert will also feature works by Schumann, Chopin, Messiaen and will of course include some of these cherished Mazurkas.




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pianist Yael Weiss – The Creative Link Between the Written Score and the Listener.

Yael Weiss possesses a rare commitment that compels her to recognize her responsibility as a performer in her daily existence. “Even if I am by myself, it is absolutely essential that I always try my best to be precise in uncovering the intention of the composer, to find the meaning behind the notes,” she says. “There is thinking about music happening at every moment during practicing and of course on stage, a never ending search for the truth in the music – the reason why a particular piece was conceived as is.”
In music, the exchange of the written score between the artist and the listener happens in real time, unlike in other arts. “It’s the realization through performance in that moment, that makes the performer such an integral part of the equation - the other part being the listener,” Weiss marvels. “A score, sitting in a library is not music yet; those black specs sitting on paper are not yet realized. They are just pointers to multiple layers that indicate the ideas about a specific sound, and beyond that, to a certain message that needs to be conveyed to the listener. So it is this realization of the actual notes into sound and the interpretation of the meaning behind those notes that I do every day when I am at the keyboard.”
As in real life, there should be a give and take in a musical experience. Weiss does not hesitate to put some of the responsibility for the success of a performance on the listener, an approach that should not be taken for granted, given the passive role audiences are generally accustomed to. Weiss, however, sees the interaction of performer and listener as a true dialogue: “I believe every performer will tell you that the performer’s music making grows and benefits from being on stage in front of people. The level of concentration, openness and attentiveness on the listener’s part affects the end result tremendously. It’s a shared experience, the realization of a joint purpose, the realization of the written score.”
When she teaches, Weiss finds that students often are concerned with their own nervousness on stage, and feel overly exposed to personal judgment and critique. She tries to remind them that their focus should be on positive energy and on communicating with the audience through the music, as opposed to worrying about what the audience thinks of them. The stage can be a very lonely place if the performer lets isolation overtake the thrilling sensation of connecting with his or her audience, which is nourished by the shared experience that is a musical performance.
In an attempt to create a more engaged and aware audience, Weiss has begun posting a series of podcasts on iTunes called Classical Minutes, providing many different informative musical agendas and addressing a wide range of music enthusiasts, professionals, and students. The topics are not instrument-specific, but rather their prime purpose is to inspire and motivate musicians on different levels, and give a personal outlook on performers’ lives: their struggles, daily practice concerns, thoughts from before, during, and after performances, and other everyday details from the performer’s world. Weiss says that, “because of the solitary nature of a big part of one’s life as a performer, the podcasts provide on a daily basis little bits and tips to move forward, when one is alone and getting stuck.” She says, “when I started to think about doing these podcasts, who they would appeal to and who I wanted to reach, I found myself thinking of a couple of my past students who were very receptive. Sometimes I imagine addressing them, in my mind, and sometimes I also think of conversations with my teachers Richard Goode or Leon Fleisher. At times I comment on specific questions that have come up from people sending emails about the podcasts.”
Some of Weiss’s daily-streamed podcasts entitled "CM61Giving and Receiving", “CM16 Truth or Beauty", CM57 Do You Have a "Rainy Day List"?" and "CM14 Are you feeling stuck? “, received a great deal of attention after they aired.
“Often, when you get ready for a big project and are totally consumed by it, it’s easy to lose perspective. People end up feeling overwhelmed. So what do you do if you are not improving, in terms of your physical comfort or interpretative insights? Here’s one of the simplest techniques, one that is much underrated: You take two days off from that particular piece and practice with a shift: Let’s say you’re studying a late Beethoven Sonata, you take another work of the composer of that same time period, which you have not previously worked on, another Sonata, a chamber work, a symphony. Without feeling any constraint from anything you may have been told about this music …but most of all without incorporating any rules you had set for yourself, you practice this work ‘without limitations.’ Returning to your main piece, you will have gained the original excitement of fresh discovery, something a performer must always bring to the stage.”
You can access the podcasts or subscribe to them through iTunes, or directly at this link: The Classical Minutes Daily Podcasts on iTunes. Classical Minutes also has its own new website: Weiss is an animated educator who has presented master classes for several leading international institutions. She has served on the faculties of Indiana University and UCSB.

A serious and intense performer, Weiss, who recently also once played a run-through in my living room before embarking on a concert tour, is in high demand as performer and mentor. With her strong musical presence, she is able to draw attention away from her personal stage persona and guide the listener into the realm of the music. Weiss has appeared on many international concert stages and music festivals, including the Marlboro, Ravinia, Banff, and Caramoor festivals. The competition- and award-winning pianist, who has been lauded by the New York Times for her “fine technique and musicianship in the service of an arresting array of music,” also champions chamber music alongside violinist Mark Kaplan and cellist Clancy Newman, with her trio that records on the Bridge label.
Weiss’s recent projects include the release of Robert Schumann: Piano Works, which presents infrequently recorded material with great insight, sparkling technique, and sensitive rendition, on the Koch label. At the moment, Weiss plans to delve into more Schumann – a composer who is close to her heart. She is fascinated by Schumann’s more obscure side, which comes out in some of his more difficult pieces – works that artists have often been reluctant to learn and program, even such champions of Schumann’s music as Clara Schumann or Brahms. Of the Ghost Variations for example, Clara would only publish the theme, not the variations. Schumann composed this work in his later stages, after he had already begun to be consumed by mental illness, as Weiss explains. She is only aware of one old LP recording of Ghost Variations by Austrian pianist Joerg Demus, which makes her recording of the piece the first on CD.
Weiss is also concentrating on a project that juxtaposes the 32 Beethoven Sonatas with contemporary works inspired by Beethoven. She says that her mission with this performance is, “bringing Beethoven into our time, providing a context for Beethoven and showing why he is as relevant and essential today as he was when he was writing more than 200 years ago.” On this topic, Weiss says, “While there are many wonderful musicians who specialize in new music, I always like to combine current scores with historic ones. The new works I play are usually by composers I have had the privilege of working with directly. I feel the relationship between the performer and contemporary composer is such an interesting cooperation, a relationship that of course is not possible with the old master composers. To look at the score with the composer present is a fascinating experience, providing more flexibility with the notes on the stage.”
Weiss takes great pleasure in collaborating with composers while she prepares to perform their works. She has had such experiences with composers Lera Auerbach and Paul Schonefeld, among others. Weiss recalls an incident where something on Lera’s notation was not playable, and she improvised another chord instead with a similar effect. Lera agreed that this was a fine idea, and instructed her to go ahead with the suggested solution. “There is a lot of back and forth,” Weiss explains, remembering a situation when she was rehearsing a piano concerto written for her by Joel Feigin. “On the day of its world premiere, the composer was attending the orchestral rehearsal and there was something off with the voicing of the piano trills. I suggested re-organizing some of the chords, and as I demonstrated, he made notations on a plain sheet of music paper and said: ‘Ok, this is how we are going to play it in tonight’s performance.’ It is through moments like this that one learns to understand the impact of the performer on the music, and how flexible a composer can be when trying to make a piece sound its very best. It is important to keep this in mind while listening to historic composers who went through the same struggles in their lifetimes. The score is a living organism. It is not written in stone.”
Armed with a thorough understanding of this message and an acute sensibility, Weiss’s powerful piano performances turn her listeners into her accomplices. As Weiss says, nothing is written in stone. Perhaps it is the recognition of this flexibility and uncertainty that brings us closer to the truth of what Schumann meant to share, even in his most tormented creations.
The artist's website is: please check for upcoming sceduled performances.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Alex Ross' epic Wagner pursuit

Photo: The New Yorker's music critic Alex Ross at the New Yorker Festival (SVA) (Oct.5-7 2012)
The New Yorker's maestro of the word is here presenting a brilliant Prelude (The Wagner Vortex) to his forthcoming book on Wagnerian ways and cultural influx.

It turns out he has already received wild admiration by those, who have tried and failed - to get access to the so far famously private Wagner- Family - Archives at Bayreuth where he is going to conduct further research, not necessarily focused on the political agenda! Looking forward to Ross' revelations to come!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Learning from the masters

Murray Perahia Photo: Felix Broede
Classes, given by the most admired masters in their field, are considered one of the most direct and effective way to inspire students – and fans alike. As a result of Yoheved Kaplinsky’s (chair of the piano faculty at Juilliard) initiative in this regard, this week the venerable pianist Murray Perahia took up a taped mini-residency. Ara Guzelimian (provost and dean) has shaped the series to consist of a lecture/presentation and three master classes, one of them open to public attendance. Other such residencies this season will include Richard Goode (public master class October 24th) and Leon Fleischer (public master class February 24, 2013) at Juilliard’s Paul Hall.

As I was approaching the newly constructed bridge that connects Juilliard to the larger Lincoln Center complex, I reflected upon Juilliard’s many efforts to reach out beyond its select community with such diverse programs as their social outreach performances, in addition to their own pre-college and evening division classes, and publication.

These master classes are a wonderful addition to their programs. Besides the opportunity to listen to the world-renowned performer up close and personal, the dream of every aspiring pianist of course is to unlock the secrets (are there any?) of each great performer. In these master classes, the artist can demonstrate what makes his performances so unique and successful by sharing his hands-on experiences and insightful explanations of why he endorses this implementation, and not another.

The question, for any artist, is not so much which approach may be arguably valued as the best one – there are many valid ones that are based on sheer endless variables found within the performer’s facility, technique and personality. As many discrepancies as there are in methodic pursuit of the ultimate musical result, what matters alone is that the performance is congruently convincing.

So how does then a masterful musician and generous human being, as Perahia most certainly is, convey his wisdom? What advice can he specifically give to the well-prepared musical students who play for him?

Interestingly enough, the advice that seemed to hold up as most genuine and as the fruit of his deepest love and serious labor were the universal remarks given to the meaning of music itself, coming straight from his heart. These turned out to be more relevant than an explanation of any particular detail: “Music Is narrative. If you don’t tell a story, it’s dry. The story is not necessarily to be taken literally – it sometimes tells you less then the notes themselves- even though in some cases there is nothing wrong with a thematic idea. Some people go into great detail of concrete association, what does the music depict?... I don’t think that helps that much, even though it is possible to evoke moods. I don’t think music is about action- it’s about emotions. Expression of emotions!”

Murray Perahia with Karl Schechter
Together with his former venerable teacher at the Mannes School of Music, Karl Schechter, Perahia discussed the approach of Schenkerian Theoretical Analysis, a staple at Juilliard’s curriculum, as a valid approach for exploring the music not just from the gut, but with a concept and tool in hand:” We don’t just play our own personality; the performer has an obligation to get to the bottom of the score. Schenker is one way of approaching the organic whole of a composition.”

Being about the bigger picture, this approach of analyzing the harmonic structures underlying the music:”facilitates the recognition of the propelling elements in music.” However, as Perahia admits himself, it’s known to be quite “intricate” and even though he learned about Schenker early on in his student years, he only immersed himself deeply into it when forced by his hand injury to off and on spend more time away from the piano.

While demonstrating generously at the piano during the master classes, which was heaven for his fans, he insisted:”Don’t do what I am doing- be free!” He also gave good, solid advice, as in: “Always think musically when you practice technically otherwise it becomes technical in performance- etude like. The musical expression always finds its way into the gesture; you need to express it at the piano.” He supports being open-minded: “…and here you may pedal through the rests”, he tells one of his master students.” Despite my teacher, who always said:”You can never pedal through the rests” – do pedal through, here!”

The Juilliard students and alumni had some enthusiastic reactions. One of them, Alexandra Joan, impressed me particularly in her wholehearted response to the program. A kindred spirit, the young pianist confided in me that events like this one made her stay in New York worthwhile. She said,” His teaching is incredibly inspiring. I loved the fact that he always asked the student first a question about the piece, as to inspire independent thought, almost in a father-like way…it is no coincidence that he is such a great interpreter, as he really goes so deep with his thoughts, trying to find meaningful connections within the music.”
Murray Perahia with inspired fan Alexandra Joan

As a performer who had studied at the Paris Conservatory before coming to New York to continue her studies at Juilliard, she is fascinated with such an inquisitive approach, but interestingly finds:”Schenker is not librarian-like dry; his writing is very romantic and idealistic. In fact he first published his book anonymously under the title:”New Musical Theories and Fantasies-by an Artist.” When I am starting a piece, I am looking for its DNA and Schenker helps to recognize the hidden structure within those notes. Even if you do it intuitively, knowing why makes it very different, accessible yet as a unique harmonic structure. It also elevates it into something – well, I know I am an idealist – but yes, divine.”

How wonderful to inspire such fervor! Ultimately that’s what learning from the masters is about: To transmit the insights gained through their own work and accomplishments and through that, as Perahia says, change our perspective: ”Schenker greatly informed my own work, it stimulated me and I wanted to share that with you; it will greatly change you – by being more aware. Analyzing a score with this approach will tell you something about its performance – its inherent tempo (apart from markings) and the presupposed direction the score takes; an understanding you would not necessarily gain without it. And because it’s less arbitrary, what it is you are supposed to be doing at the piano, you gain greater confidence.”