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.