Monday, December 30, 2013

Hilan Warshaw's documentary - Wagner's Jews - Screening at: Museum of Tolerance New York

If you missed the previous screenings of Hilan Warshaw's documentary, 'Wagner's Jews' see my article, you have another chance to catch this screening, at the Museum of Tolerance New York:

please klick on the poster for details

Monday, December 16, 2013

In Perfect Harmony – Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax put four hands together for Stravinsky and Piazzolla

The players execute fast-paced passages across each other’s bodies, seemingly unfazed by close contact and coquettish reaching-over that one would think would interfere with the poise of most pianists’ controlled efforts at the keyboard.  Cued by rhythmic bows of twirling arms and flying hair, the performers carry onward, all with a discreet demeanor that only comes from really knowing the other’s every thought and move.  Such is the essence of their close proximity: every motion counts – and it sounds great.
What could come across as an awkward intermingling of extremities in a less-expertly executed encounter was a joyful and artistically-sound endeavor coming from the loving and experienced hands of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung at their piano four-hand performance at Lincoln Center. 
The audience that made its way to the Walter Reade Theater on a cold Sunday morning at 10.30 a.m. was in for a real treat.
Their four-handed account of Stravinsky’s own transcription of his ballet Pétroushka exemplifies the kind of intense collaboration in which the musical couple engages constantly. It is a project Bax had been enamored with since childhood. He and Lucille first began to work on it together in 2004 for a Chamber Music Festival performance in Ottawa. It’s not only a very challenging score, but turned out to be a constant source of inspiration, allowing the pair to find new angles of expression in their practice and performance. It also accompanied both pianists on their later tours through Russia and Canada. While both are accomplished pianists in their own right, this Sunday’s recital represented their Lincoln Center debut as a piano duo. The performance accompanies their CD, titled BAX & CHUNG, which was released this November on the Signum Classics label.
“To complete the disc, Lucille and I have chosen repertoire that, like Pétrouchka, has been at the center of our recent recital programs and exemplifies the special intimacy needed when sharing the same instrument,” Bax writes in his self-penned disc notes, “…we have arranged four tangos for our own four hands, using a basic version of the works and improvising on the go.  Every new performance of these tangos is different from the previous one, and to us this is a very unique and exciting experience.” Bax and Chung performed three of the four tangos that appear on their album at Sunday’s concert. 
Alessio Bax’s description captures perfectly the sense of excitement and intimacy that the duo projected throughout their recital. I would like to add that the two of them, who are expecting their first child in the New Year, managed to truly engage the audience through their ability to compliment each other’s pianistic personalities – which is perhaps one of the highlights of four-hand performance in general.
Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax play Astor Piazzolla's Libertango

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Huang Ruo’s Opera ‘Dr.Sun Yat-Sen’ – a contemporary masterpiece re-evaluates Asian Fusion

 photo: Huang Ruo at Asia Society (GetClassical)

As a preview to its upcoming American premiere, composer Huang Ruo and the creative team of the Santa Fe Opera introduced excerpts of the strikingly lyrical, modernist opera sung in Mandarin and Cantonese dialects at the Asia Society on December 2nd.
In a panel discussion moderated by journalist Ken Smith and featured composer Huang Ruo, stage director James Robinson, costume designer James Schuette, choreographer Sean Curran, and conductor Carolyn Kuan discussed the inherent challenges of production; creative solutions to these struggles were touched on from the varying perspectives of all the collaborative artists involved.
“The opera creates a metaphor for the historic figure Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, founding father of modern China…” explains Ken Smith.
Most of the opera’s content is based on actual historical material, such as Yat-sen’s political speeches, letters, and photographs. Yet his politically revolutionary status serves only as the colorful background of an unfolding personal drama, set in three acts each of which depicts differing locations: “It is rather the personal story of his life I wanted to show, which is rather unknown,” says Ruo, “his passionate and revolutionary personality.” And it is the deeply gripping artistic expressiveness of such delicate arias, like Lu Muzhen’s (Yat-Sen’s abandoned first wife) lament, that portray a perception of the human truism, personal faith, sorrow, and fulfillment that characterize Yat-sen’s personal story. “These bound feet cannot keep up with the times,” sings Lu Muzhen, bringing the compelling essence of the impact of historic change within Chinese civilization into direct contact with the story of her own personal transformation, sensitively universalized through the heroes and victims of the saga.
In traditional Chinese opera – and there is a variety of opera styles – characters are symbolized explicitly by their outward appearance; Ruo explains how through this unambiguous illustration, one need not know the story to recognize the personality of the participants on stage. Ruo connects a musical introduction to the appearance of each character, comparable to Wagner’s ‘leitmotifs,’ using these musical phrases to establish an aesthetic association between musical theme and the characters’ dramatic portrayals. “You will hear the character before you see him or her on stage,” he concludes. Photo: Zhou Yi, pipa and gu quin (GetClassical)

The production of the opera has an interesting angle. Commissioned by the Opera Hong Kong in 2011, it was premiered at the Hong Kong Culture Centre Theatre in October of 2011 with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, establishing the first ever Western-style opera accompanied by an entire orchestra of Chinese, traditional instruments. There are two versions of the score in existence, which are wittily distinguished by Ruo: “These are not two entirely different scores, but different instrumental versions of the same. One for exclusively Chinese instrumentation, the other adapted for Western ones, in addition with Chinese traditional instruments. I would describe this as a mirrored transcription: You hold up a mirror and one can recognize its own reflection.” Photo: Huang Ruo (GetClassical)

Additionally the score underwent textual revision, eliminating portions of spoken lines in order to provide a more accomplished display of Ruo’s Dimensionalism, his applied method of composition. Certainly the production also heeded the patience of a Western audience, not fluent in Cantonese dialects. Ruo describes this way of creating and perceiving music as allowing for multiple layers of musical and textual meaning: “I was not intentionally trying to create a stylistic fusion. I just looked at the libretto and considered what it should sound like and how each line should be interpreted. Looking back, I do not see it as presenting neither a strictly Western operatic nor a Chinese folk style. Even though I wrote for Western-style voice types, singing Chinese words makes it a unique combination.”
The opera’s westernized version’s first act received a preview in 2011 at New York City Opera.
In January 2012, Ruo conducted an ensemble he founded called FIRE in a concert version of excerpts at Le Poisson Rouge, followed by a performance at Asia Society in May 2012.
This December’s sneak peek of Santa Fe’s planned full production of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen made clear what an extraordinary undertaking Ruo’s masterpiece represents in both the US and China. The concert in Hong Kong marked the first performance of a contemporary opera by a full orchestra of traditional Chinese instruments. “I was motivated to write this opera, hoping to add to a small body of contemporary opera written in Chinese to date. After all, Chinese is a very rhythmic and musical language. Although China has a long, rich history of traditional operas, this tradition is becoming endangered with diminishing audiences and lack of new repertoire,” says Ruo, expressing a concern that is certainly reflected internationally.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen will be performed in its entirety at the Santa Fe Opera on July 26th, 2014.
Ilona Oltuski

Excerpts from ' Dr. Sun Yat-Sen' 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Joshua Bell rings in the holiday season with a live-streamed concert – from his house to yours

Photo: Joshua Bell and Renée  Fleming - Courtesy of Clint Spaulding/Patrick
To provide a uniquely joyful musical experience and to celebrate the October release of Joshua Bell’s new album, Musical Gifts, WFYI Public Media and Adrienne Arsht sponsored a special event at violinist Bell’s private New York residence. This extraordinary evening took place November 26th, and featured the amazingly gifted violinist performing a diverse assortment of festive Christmas (and Chanukah!) melodies with some of his collaborators on the album. The august presenters included: Renée Fleming, Michael Feinstein and Frankie Moreno, Rob Moose, and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. This was the first ever broadcast of its kind: “Musical Gifts: Joshua Bell and Friends – Live from Joshua’s New York Home.” The webcast of the event will be available for streaming until January 31st, 2014 on
The eminent group of performers casually gathered around an antique Steinway grand piano in the center of Bell’s large, elongated living room, while the children of the Young People’s chorus sat decoratively along a candlelit staircase, leading to the rooftop terrace.
The heartwarming performances included singers, pianists, and even a harpist, who all took turns partnering with Bell, who humorously referred to the slight hint of inherent exhibitionism that accompanies being a lifelong, prodigal performer. “After all,” he remarked on his place as the center of attention and the fact that he was participating in every number, “…this is my house.” 
                                                                                                                                                                  Photo: Courtesy of Clint Spaulding/Patrick
While my coat was being checked at Joshua Bell’s remarkable home in New York’s Flatiron district, I couldn’t help but admire his personal autograph collection that includes iconic figures such as Albert Einstein posing with Bronislaw Huberman, the founder of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, precursor to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Huberman also happens to be the previous owner of the 300 year-old Stradivarius that Bell now plays, and lovingly acknowledges as his most prized and precious possession.
Heidi, Bell’s personal assistant of ten years, gave a grand tour of the two floors and rooftop of Bell’s luxurious penthouse, in which he has lived for the past decade. She explains: “It’s designed by the great architect Charles Rose and it was deliberately laid out for evenings like this in mind. The space can host around 150 people.” As I passed a sparingly decorated media room on the lower level, where the crew had put up their wildly cabled domain, I espied another obsession of Bell’s.  When not involved with performing, travelling or rehearsing for performances, Bell, who is turning 45 on December 9th, “is also a huge football fanatic who records every game so as to not miss a single one. He is an especially hardcore fan of his home team: The Indianapolis Colts,” according to Heidi.
Fundraisers and other musical house soirées, which serve up both great music and culinary treats to a mixed host of guests including celebrities, press, musicians, friends, and colleagues, are not a rarity at Bell’s home.
Evidently, this Grammy award-winning artist, who started to play violin at age 4, doesn’t leave his love for sharing music behind on the world’s stages, but rather feels inclined to transform his private space into his own, personal performance venue, reminiscent of the style of the great salons.
Bell’s enthusiasm for the up-close experience of making and presenting music within the familiar surroundings of smaller-sized spaces to achieve a more direct, intense, and intimate emotional exchange, represents a current trend within the classical music world.
Even the New York Philharmonic has realized the potential of new interest in smaller, eclectic presentations, scheduling concerts at New York’s downtown venue SUBCULTURE, which has joined the onrush of classical music events at downtown music hubs like Le Poisson Rouge and Joe’s Pub.
Classical Salon events like GetClassical are also being featured in aesthetically sophisticated, yet prominently ‘cool’ New York night-life lounges like the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar. These new venues promote classical music to new audiences and enhance the experience through the element of a relaxed environment; they also add the enticing prospect of enjoying a glass of wine during the performance, not just during intermission.
                                                                                                                                                                                                         photo: Alex Federov,  GetClassical - Salon held at the Rose Bar, guest: pianist Evgeny Kissin
The personal element of these new presentations of classical music is something in the air that was without a doubt picked up on by the charming Frenchman Hervé Boissière, founder of, inspiring him and Joshua to plan this event. This program represented’s first broadcast of Bell in New York, and the channel’s first broadcast directly from a private home: “I had previously broadcasted Joshua’s performances at the Verbier Festival and on several other occasions. The decision to make this happen took place in May, when we last broadcast him while concertizing in Germany,” says Hervé. launched in 2008, but was already renowned in Europe before becoming a household name in the U.S. as well.  The innovative team brought in remote-controlled cameras to enable a direct focus on the performers, and a close-up perspective of instrumental details during the live stream. Bringing together a worldwide community of music lovers via subscription-based, technologically advanced, live concert streaming, and a diverse on-demand video library, now features client universities including Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia, the Juilliard School, and the Manhattan School of Music.

Photo: Hervé's Facebook Page
Hervé works closely with his teammates, the majority of whom, including the production’s director, are part of his French crew; his team usually consists mostly of individuals from’s French staff, even when they are shooting in the US. But things are changing slowly: “In the beginning, we brought the entire crew over from France, but in the meantime, we also worked in collaboration. This time, in partnership with WFYI Public Media, five of the crewmembers and producers are American-based, and we merely brought ten members of our original set along.”
Granting public access to the closeness of a private concert performance such as “Musical Gifts” seems like the ultimate remedy for sleepy crowds, and a magical tonic for energetic concert attendants.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yuja: “Doing my own thing”


There are great performers who take you on a personal journey into the depths of a composer’s world, and then there is Yuja, who makes them come alive with her signature force-of-nature drive, both on and off stage. Her last Carnegie Hall recital in October 2013 was a perfect example; the concert was a feat of virtuosic repertoire, which she mastered with grandiose control. But beyond her sweeping performance style, there was something evanescent connecting her to the audience, a vitality that conveyed her very own truth through music.

Following up with the 26 year-old piano superstar for an interview, we met at ‘Indies,’ a small lounge we both frequent not far from her New York apartment near Lincoln Center. 

“I react a lot to the audience and feed off the energy I feel in the hall”, Yuja says. “I have always performed, from early on, and I get to know my repertoire through performance, by doing - and that has not really changed. I need to perform to feel alive. Every time it’s different, it’s organic. When I perform with different artists, they all bring out a particular side in me. Even with different friends, I can be a different person.”

There have been many comments about some of her outfits, and her unabashed, sexy appearance at her Hollywood Bowl performance has drawn a good amount of criticism. Yuja’s response to that? ” “I am like a chameleon, reacting and adapting to my surroundings.”  And: “Their criticism says much more about them than it says about my choice of dress.”

Her candor may have something to do with the fact that she does not really dwell on reviews: “I never read them - once it’s done, it’s done,” she says with the sunniest of smiles. She also displays an astounding indifference to the vast amount of publicity around her. Untainted by ‘all that jazz’, her self-assured personality conveys a fierce independence and an eccentric authenticity that might help to keep her vulnerable self hidden and protected.  “I don’t really like to reveal too much of myself in an interview,” she adds, “and somehow I am never really quoted correctly, anyhow.”

For Yuja, truth lies in music. “I play my best when I am sincere,” she explains. “That’s when I am able to move people. But the perception changes easily: for example, when I started recording, what I thought I was doing was very different from what I heard in the recording. Sometimes it had nothing to do with what I felt – it’s a whole butterfly effect.” She goes on to describe the process of finding the honesty she aims for in her playing, here for example during a recording session: “I play, then I go listen, I hate it. I think to myself, I can play so much better. Then I try three times, four times, five times and listen again and compare… only to find that the first time was the best.”

Another of her critics’ bones of contention is what they call the ‘flashy’ rather than ‘serious’ style of her interpretations, to which she answers: “I have learned Beethoven, I have learned Bach, but I just do not feel the same excitement that I feel when playing Rachmaninov.” Nevertheless, Yuja will perform Beethoven’s Concerto No.3 with the London Symphony Orchestra during her residency at the orchestra’s Artist Portrait series in February of 2014.

“Virtuosic scores are not necessarily about a flashy style”, she explains. “My presenters schedule all these romantic and post-romantic works two years in advance, and I want to bring my best to the stage. However, when I am excited about a piece, and the more it connects to my personality, the better I can play it and grip the audience. That does not mean I don’t sometimes tire of that much fire either; I do. And there is a lot to learn.”

In summer 2014, Yuja will collaborate again with violinist Leonidas Kavakos, this time featuring Brahms's sonatas for violin and piano. Through Kavakos, she also connected to the legendary Hungarian pedagogue Ferenc Rados (Andràs Schiff’s teacher) who she considers to be a genius. “He can change your musical insight of a piece, how to structure it best, based on its inherent harmony.”

Travelling all over the globe for over 80 concerts and recording engagements each year, Yuja doesn’t really get to spend much time in one place. “Someone asked me recently, ’Where are you at home?’ and I answered: ‘My living room is in New York, my studio is in Paris, and I record in Germany,’ but then, it isn’t really as much about the place as it is about the people.”

She enjoys being a citizen of the world, and there are lots of adventures away from the piano she would like to experience, like going to India and living there for a while without Internet. At the same time, she knows that it would take a lot of courage to detach herself from her rigorous performance schedule. “Separation anxiety,” she calls it. Which is very much what the 14 years old Yuja might have felt when she left her Beijing family 12 years ago.

Back then, her teacher at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing had recommended that she continue her studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, hoping Yuja would be able to study with the eminent pedagogue, Claude Frank. But when Yuja finally arrived for an audition at Curtis, it was Gary Graffman who took her under his wings.         

“He loves Chinese culture, and he is a big collector of Chinese art”, she says about Graffman who also mentored superstar pianist Lang Lang. “He taught me a lot about Chinese history and culture. Even though he belongs to a very different generation, we had this wonderful relationship.” And about his style of teaching she says: “Artistically he would leave me lots of freedom and just loved it when I found something unexpected in the music. His face would light up and I loved getting that reaction. I ‘worked’ that, and it inspired me to surprise him again.”  Graffman, at whose 85th birthday celebration in March 2014 Yuja will play, retired as President of Curtis after Yuja’s graduation in 2008. “Without him, my career would be nothing,” she says. “He inspired me deeply and through him I was connected to the whole of the European classical music culture. … When I was young, I dreamed of studying in Europe. But at Curtis, I got to play for everyone who connected me indirectly to the great tradition; finally I also played for Claude Frank, Pamela Frank and Leon Fleisher, among many other artists.”


Yuja also values the emphasis Curtis places on developing friendships over competition between students. “Curtis is an amazing environment altogether; it is a small school and super welcoming. It’s all about the discovery of music and about igniting curiosity. And they treat everybody like they are an exception. It has a special place in my heart.”  

What is it like not being part of a group of students anymore? Yuja smiles, and a little lost in thought she says: ”I am often lonely. But I am used to this. Even as a kid I did not really play with other children. I was not very social but not unhappy about it. I was practicing and doing my own thing.”
Which is what she is still doing. And very successfully so.

All photos courtesy of Yuja Wang.

Yuja’s fifth recording with Deutsche Grammophon: Piano Concertos/Rachmaninov, Prokofiev consists of recordings of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 op. 30 and Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2, Op. 16 with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela will be released in January 2014.





Friday, November 15, 2013

Concert announcement with a twist – Pianist Jonathan Levin’s take on PR-trivial pursuits

“He is so versatile, he will mow your lawn,” hails this hilarious concert announcement, created by the very talented pianist Jonathan Levin, whom I just had to meet after seeing this. Regrettably, I could not make it to his “very important concert,” but I checked out his playing via internet and definitely think this Manhattan School of Music alumnus warrants more attention than he claims to get!

Even though he has so far escaped discovery by record labels and management, he has – beyond a fine pianism – something quite viable to offer: humility and a self-effacing humor that keeps him down to earth, sporting an utmost unaffected air while steadfastly pursuing his dreams: And that is playing the piano, composing, teaching… and approaching its third season, he produces a piano festival in his hometown Clayton, in North Carolina.

To help his festival gain momentum he just finished a documentary which describes Jonathan’s vision and the festival’s goal: to make classical music approachable and accessible to all audiences.

“I think most people, regardless whether they are regular concert goers or not, approach ‘classical’ performances with something akin to apprehension,” explains Jonathan.” There’s a feeling that they may not understand or they may feel uncomfortably out of place. My goal is to relieve their fears a bit and let them feel they are ‘in on it’.”

Each of the performances of the two week long piano fest have specific themes and incorporate a narrative by the performers, giving insight about the composer’s life and his work. They also share their own feelings about performing these works, engaging the audience and enhancing the entire experience.

“There is no pressure to know a lot about the music in advance…and the audience can discover a new favorite piece or composer along the way. Live performance is a vital part of this art form …the shared experience can be nothing short of magical.”

For more information about the Clayton Piano Festival and Jonathan Levin    watch the documentary

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Esa-Pekka Salonen at SUBCULTURE's CONTACT! series

Monday night's event at SUBCULTURE featured the eminent Esa-Pekka Salonen, whose compositions were performed by musicians of the New York Philarmonic as part of their new-music series CONTACT!. In co-production with the 92nd Street Y, Salonen, worldwide renowned as a conductor, vividly emceed his own chamber works to an intrigued audience that evening.

all photo credits for this article: Chris Lee

The relatively new venue, (read article) which is quickly establishing its own identity within a small colective of 'to go to' downtown music hubs, offfered a great backdrop for Salonen's nonchalant yet highly charged, energetic and innovative personality that is reflected in his work.

Just that week, Salonen conducted the new York premiere of his Violin concerto with soloist Leila Josepfowitz performing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Avery Fisher Hall.
At his 92nd Street Y debut at SUBCULTURE now, the smaller ensemble groups performed a selection of his not-that-short pieces and made them shine and sound as if they were meant to be played in an environment as this one.

The athmosphere was totally friendly and welcoming; the lighting and sound adapted adequately to the changing formations of musicians on stage. Despite the close quaters, Salonen, who seemed genuinely in his element, as he tenaciously kept sweeping his strands of hair away from his
forehead, managed to have a drink at the bar almost unbothered by admirers.

Except for the fact that the room was a bit too warm for people sitting with their coats on their laps, it was a captivating production, which surely won over some new fans for Salonen's work as well as some future collaboration opportunities for SUBCULTURE.

The next CONTACT! event planned at this venue is taking place on January 13, 2014. Pianist Yefim Bronfman, new York Philharmonic's Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in -Residence, will perform with musicians from the Philharmonic.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jerome Rose – A Man with a Pianistic Vision

This article has been published in its German version by the author, Ilona Oltuski, in PianoNews' November issue
Jerome Rose at home
For 15 years now, Jerome Rose’s piano recital has opened the annual International Keyboard Institute and Festival (IKIF), which he founded in 1999. Taking place at Mannes College The New School for Music, one of Rose’s alma maters, the intensive, two week-long celebration of the piano features lectures, master classes, and faculty recitals, as well as two guest artist performance series. That’s a lot of piano - even for New York City. The festival shines by its musical diversity and vast variety of different approaches to the instrument, and so promotes an open-minded and low-key atmosphere. It also sponsors a competition whose winner is honored with the Dorothy MacKenzie Competition prize ($10,000) and a recital at the next festival (this year’s first place prize winner was Kho Woon Kim). “With the sheer volume in organizational tasks, such an undertaking needs to be driven by two equally important entities: a fountainhead that creates the concept, and the person who executes the event,” says Rose, whose wife, Julie Kedersha, serves as the festival’s executive director.
During each of his opening concerts, which have been recorded by WFMT Chicago and NPR for worldwide radio broadcasts, Rose immerses himself in a selection of works by a single composer.  He records this repertoire on his own Medici Classics label at Yamaha’s Artists Services New York, which for seven years has featured a compilation of DVDs that reflect his concert programs and the composers he features in the “Jerome Rose plays: [featured composer] live in concert.” This year’s selection is devoted to Beethoven sonatas. In addition to his personable, verbal introduction on the DVD, in which he explains his own place within the pianistic tradition, he delivers a “Waldstein” live in concert that attests to his pianistic patina, gained through mature musicianship and fervent radiance at the piano.
A conversation with the now seventy-five year-old entrepreneurial pianist and educator reveals a consuming, highly energetic man with a vision that demands relentless pursuit, no matter how much effort, or how high the stakes.

Presenter Jerome Rose at IKIF
If it is true that pianists “play who they are,” which is Rose’s famous maxim, his reputation as “one of the last true romantics” fits the depiction perfectly. Rose understands romanticism as “playing on the edge…as if your life depends on it.”
‘The Romantics’ also happens to be the title of London’s First International Festival of the Romantic Movement in the Arts at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1981, under Rose’s artistic direction and the auspices of H.R.H. Princess Alexandra. Combining scholarship and the performing arts, Rose was an early adapter to interdisciplinary arts festivals. An animated raconteur, he recalls how he managed to delve into this extraordinary undertaking: “I was challenged by the fact that I was told it could not be done,” says Rose, who refused to give up on his vision of bringing a broader perspective to the close connection he felt for the composers whose art he had studied and lived with intensely throughout his pianistic career.
While curating the festival, Rose never abandoned his attempts to convince the director of the UK’s Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges, James Platt, of his concept. Finally, Platt responded to Rose’s vision, ultimately even becoming the festival’s chairman. “In my heart I knew it could be done” he says about his decision to support the pianist’s project. What also helped to make it happen was that Rose had come prepared with an airtight budget that did not leave any wiggle room. He wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes he had made pursuing another great vision of his almost a decade earlier: In 1973, Rose had initiated a concept for a national festival of American symphony orchestras for international broadcast. With Emmy award-winning producer Curtis Davis and Channel 13 interested, Rose had already received acceptance letters from major symphony orchestras, yet finally saw his high-flying proposal shattered by politics and conflicting interests. “Who was I to tell everyone what to do?” he asks with a pinch of irony.
Emerging almost unfazed by this experience and still feeling the need to present music culture in an interrelated manner, he remained true to his powerful convictions. “You realize that all great composers were generally cultured individuals; it just transcends, being a pianist,” he says, and includes his own life experience in this statement. Undeterred, Rose went on to curate the Schubert and Brahms Festival at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and a comprehensive Liszt celebration in 1986.

Rose with Rudolf Serkin at Marlboro (courtesy of the artist)
Rose readily acknowledges that it was Marlboro Music and its annual Vermont-based festival, which is devoted to artistic excellence, and development of new talent that gave him a true understanding of what music can do. Marlboro pioneered the concept of having master artists play together with exceptional young professionals. Says Rose: “My whole view of what it is to be an artist and a musician, a spokesman for the arts, was transformed when I came to Marlboro in 1956, under Rudolf Serkin and Leonard Shure. I have never been exposed to a richer way of inspiration.”
It is exactly this idea of learning and performing together that Rose has always intended to embed into his lifelong pianistic career. The high standard of musicianship and the diverse and immensely cultured personalities of his fellow artists at Marlboro made Rose want to carry the flame: “Being placed in a setting with many of the greatest talents of our time - James Levine, Van Cliburn, Claude Frank, Alexander Schneider of the Budapest Quartet, and so many others … and then the production of ‘Cosi fan Tutte’ in the cafeteria … the camaraderie … it was exhilarating,” he recalls. It was at Marlboro where he had the cathartic experience of how the love for music can become eternally transcendent, something he also aspired to impart onto the younger generation. Beyond the cultural impact of his festivals, Rose certainly achieved this through his influence as a pedagogue.
Among the students the 1961 International Busoni Competition Gold Medalist ever took on is Polish pianist Magdalena Stern-Baczeswska who he first met at a 1996 master class in Warsaw. Stern-Baczeswska describes Rose as an invaluable mentor and father figure: “The moments spent with Mr. Rose at the piano are among my most vivid memories. Above all he has helped me find my identity as an artist, and expanded my personality and emotional range.”
And about his methodology as a teacher she says: “No two lessons were the same; Mr. Rose always knew what was on our minds, just by listening how we played. Sometimes a long discussion on a seemingly unrelated theme was the best approach; another time he would sit at the piano and break into a passage without saying a word. It was then when I understood another message of his: ‘the music will be only as important to your audience as it is to you.’ “
She also comments on Jerome Rose, the performer: “When he played, music was the only thing on earth that seemed to truly matter. For a man who can easily intimidate, Mr. Rose has been always humble when it comes to music. Once, before his Salle Cortot debut in Paris, he asked me into the hall for his dress rehearsal and made it my task to let him know when he was rushing. The master became the student when the music required it.”
Stern-Baczeswska concludes: “There are many pianists whose fingers never slip, and whose memory never fails. Yet one leaves the concert hall with a feeling of void. It is in Mr. Rose’s recitals when unforgettable moments take place … he plays who he is.”
The Iowa-born and San Francisco-raised Rose began his international career in his early twenties. By the time his career was abruptly interrupted by the U.S. military draft during the missile crisis in October 1962, he had already performed in many major concert halls around the world. Thanks to an educational deferment he became an artist-in-residence at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, which gave him limited travel opportunities to perform and give master classes for three weeks at a time.
Rose still contemplates his decision to opt out of an intense touring and concertizing career: “I asked myself many times if I sold out for security or if I was really smart. I got married and had four children and a university position with all the benefits of an institution. Everyone who has performed realizes that we are all victims of our own standards, and of the public’s and our own expectations. I did not like the insecurities of a performance career, and the dependency on critics, managers, and conductors.”

Interview with David Dubal at IKIF
But perhaps he’s too much of a people’s person to solely contribute as a performer to classical music. “It is my job to know a lot of people,” he says. And he has certainly touched a lot of people’s lives during his long and distinguished career. He has also inspired countless others with the activism and boundless enthusiasm he brings to music, both through his presentations and his performances.
Bonnie Barret at Yamaha Artist Services
One such person is New York’s Yamaha Artist Services director Bonnie Barret: “He is the reason I came to Yamaha,” she says. Having previously been involved with Steinway and later, with an artist management business, Barret attended Rose’s Schubert recital at IKIF, at which he played on a Yamaha CFX that had just come onto the market. “There was a brochure on each seat and I got curious. It prompted me to do some research about the new product and I contacted Yamaha to offer my services.” Beyond that, she was impressed by Rose’s great projection. For his DVD recordings at Yamaha Artists Services since 2007, Rose used both the predecessor of the Yamaha CFX, the Yamaha CF3, and the CFX, thus adding a visual connection to his already existing catalogue of classical repertoire recorded for Monarch Classics, Sony, Newport Classics and Vox on CD. His Liszt recordings for Vox were awarded the Grand Prix du Disque. “I am concerned with the tradition of the great masters and what these performances represent”, Rose says. “I want to put on record what I really believe in.”
Which might be why Jerome Rose has not only prevailed in his creative approach towards classical music in the widest sense, but he himself has transcended the expected model for success at the piano.

Pianists Marc-André Hamelin, Jerome Rose

Friday, November 1, 2013

Daniele Rinaldo - distinctly conceived pianism

Presented by the esteemed Keyboard Trust on October 10th, the Italian pianist Daniele Rinaldo impressed with a thoughtfully programmed performance, one of the last ones to be held at historic Steinway & Sons Hall, which is soon to be demolished.
The audience’s stormy applause was asked to be held back until the end of each part of the program, so as not to interrupt the special harmonic interrelation and correspondence of mood revealed through the progression of Rinaldo’s chosen works, which alternated between Claude Debussy (Etude No.8, “Pour les agreements,” Etude No. 5, ”Pour les Octaves,” and Etude No.10, “Pour les sonoritiès opposeés”) and Domenico Scarlatti (Sonata in C-major, K.132 and Sonata in G-minor, K.105).
With this unusual combination, Rinaldo deliberately created a unique correlative flow, which is again pointed out through his decision to link Liszt’s Verdi Transcription of “Misèrere” from Il Trovatore, Olivier Messiaen’s Prelude No.2, “Chant d’Extase dans un Paysage Triste,” and Robert Schumann’s Sonata in F-sharp minor, No.1, Op. 11, in the ambitious second half of his program. At the core of this pianist’s edifying program choices lies the motivation to make musical context audibly accessible to his audiences.

Rinaldo, who also studied mathematics and is currently entering a doctorial program in Geneva, feels compelled to guide his listeners toward a comprehensive understanding of music. “I enjoy learning,” he says, and this translates into something he likes to share with his audience. “The main misconception of presenting classical music today may be based on the assumption that classical music is for everybody. But indeed, it may be universal only in its message. But one can educate one’s audience,” says the pianist, “which means one has to guide the audience in a very comprehensive understanding of music.”
Another factor is the presentation of classical music: “Today, classical music needs to be offered in a way it appeals to its audiences. It can be channeled in an interesting way, away from its old-fashioned image and with a taste for its contemporary application and relevance. I don’t believe that anybody who is listening to Björk would not enjoy listening to Bartók or Stravinsky.  No wonder classical music today, aims to be heard in buzzing scenes and new venues internationally, like the warehouse concerts in Berlin, Paris and London. As long as one does not take away classical music’s substance, it’s natural to realize that there may be different criteria of promoting it today….”

Rinaldo makes sure that the music’s substance does not suffer in his presentations, whether he is performing in one of the grand international concert halls, or at a venue that caters to a “special scene,” as he describes the Chelsea Music Festival (now in its fourth season), where he performed a Britten program this summer. It was held at the Dillon Gallery, one of the Chelsea Festival’s Venue Partners, owned by the artistic directors of the festival, Ken-David Masur (Kurt Masur’s son) and Melinda Lee Masur. The “spiced up” theme of the festival, according to Rinaldo, was showcasing a mix of musical genres fused with a neighborhood experience of local art and cuisine. “Music itself creates interesting connections,” says Rinaldo, whose career did not start out meteoric, but rather developed “[in] its own time,” as he says. “I always knew music [was] going to play an important part in my life, but I did not give concerts [at] 8. I rather found myself into music.”
Rinaldo connected with Keyboard Trust in 2011 through a coincidence that was brought about through a mutual friend and led to his performing for the eminent piano pedagogue, Noretta Leech. “I play regularly for Noretta,” whose sound advice he appreciates. “She is always straight to the point, and has great ideas for new fingering suggestions. And she encourages great, free playing that conveys everything that’s in your mind and projects through performing without tension,” Rinaldo says. It was not long before he got taken under the wings of Keyboard Trust, who boosted his performance opportunities.
Rinaldo indicates that his mentors have given him many gifts over the years.  His deep understanding and appreciation of a broad spectrum of repertoire goes back to many important influences to which he was exposed. Among his teachers are Sergej Schepkin and Sergio Perticalori, both renowned for their Bach interpretations, Ines Scarlino at the Conservatory Pollini, an enthusiast of the modern repertoire, and Christopher Elton at the London Royal Academy of Music, also a great chamber musician.  Elton, who has been declared a huge influence by his student, the prodigious Benjamin Grosvenor, a younger classmate of Rinaldo at the Academy, and especially Claudio Martinez have been singled out as Rinaldo’s most inspiring teachers. For seven years now, Martinez has taught Rinaldo in Basel, Switzerland, having served for three years as the pianist’s main mentor. “I owe everything to him,” Rinaldo says of Martinez, beginning to get excited. “I met him at the Dino CIani Festival in Madrid; he was Dmitry Bashkirov’s assistant. When he invited me to come to his house, I was blown away. When he points out the nature of the music at hand, its world just starts to open up for me. He teaches you how to look at music, what’s missing. And you know when it’s true, when the musical substance is there. Many accomplished musicians in their own right come to see him and to reconnect. He considers Ferenc Rados (also András Schiff’s teacher) his musical don,” shares Rinaldo. “You need someone to give you this honest feedback, someone you trust and whose judgment counts for you. I have my own take of performance, as a consequence of what goes on in your brain and ears. You present what is happening if you have a clear idea and emotional connection, passing it on.”
Partly because of his relationships with both Elton and Martinez, Rinaldo has inherited a poignant enthusiasm for chamber music. “I especially enjoy chamber music, the best emotions I have ever had were playing together, with the right guys, of course. The connection with your partner(s), enjoying myself on stage…that reveals something to the audience, as well. Sometimes the rehearsal is already exciting, and I like to share that intense experience with partners, I already made a good team with.”  One such partner is violinist Lisa Ueda, with whom Rinaldo received the British Tunnel Trust award; another is his compatriot violinist Davide de Ascaniis, with whom he has performed regularly since 2008 as the Duo De Ascaniis-Rinaldo.
In performance, Rinaldo projects his ideas with great enthusiasm and consistent virtuosity. The many interesting facets of the stylistic nuances in his presentation of Debussy and Scarlatti represent an intellectual tour de force, expressed with the most sensitive pianistic touch, artistically differentiating the sound worlds of both composers.

“The chronological ritual of presenting composers according to their stylistic area from earliest to latest seems a bit outdated,” Rinaldo comments. “I rather highlight a certain influence: one composer – despite the stylistic differences—connecting to another.” The reason behind the Scarlatti–Debussy connection, according to Rinaldo, is that, “Scarlatti highlights the baroque influence in Debussy, especially in the late Debussy, in his works dedicated to the harpsichord player Couperin… They both start with some of the same gesture of vocal ornamentation: the cantabile in these pieces really can show a strong reference. In the Schumann and Messiaen, there is no stylistic reference, but rather a mutually strong, tonal structure. I find the match successful, which shows itself in the same leap of fourth….”
I personally found his performance even more enjoyable when he was not concentrating on following these precise correlations, and instead expressing purely indulgent submission to his refined virtuosity, which came to its fullest realization in Liszt’s paraphrase of “Misere.” The piece impressed with its enormously rich palette of sound and sustained phrasing.  Listen to music performed by Daniele Rinaldo’s at the 2012 Santander Competition here: listen to Daniele Rinaldo playing:
Leoš Janáček - Piano Sonata 1
Robert Schumann – Fantasiestücke, Op. 111
Domenico Scarlatti – Sonata K.135, in C-major;
Claude Debussy Etude No.8 ‘Pour les agréments’ ;
Domenico Scarlatti – Sonata K.105, in C-major;
Claude Debussy Etude No.5’Pour les octaves’ ;
Claude Debussy Etude No.10 ‘Pour les sonorités opposèes’ ;
Guiseppe Verdi/Franz Liszt ‘Miserere, Il Trouvatore‘

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hilan Warshaw’s new documentary “Wagner’s Jews”

Not surprisingly, the 2013 Bicentenary of German composer Richard Wagner’s birth saw a whole range of commemorative cultural activities. One of the most interesting contributions to the debate about Wagner’s well-documented anti-Semitism is Hilan Warshaw’s new documentary, “Wagner’s Jews”. The 55-minute film was recently presented by the Wagner Society of New York at Columbia University’s Barnard College. Filmed on location in Germany, Switzerland and Italy, Warshaw focuses on Wagner’s complex relationships within his immediate entourage in general, and the Jewish members of his circle, in particular. Overtonefilms Warshaw’s film introduces us to a broad range of Jewish artists who became absolute Wagner devotees and played a critical role in Wagner’s success.
The fact that the German composer surrounded himself with Jewish friends and artists might surprise: Wagner, author of the infamous pamphlet about the role of Judaism in music, “Das Judenthum in der Musik”, left no doubt as to his disdain of Jews. Yet, according to Warshaw, Wagner’s explicitly anti-Semitic attitude not only brought about considerable consternation among Jewish artists, supporters, fans and benefactors, but was also at the very heart of a perverted, reciprocal dependence. Wagner was probing, to great effect, some of his Jewish friends’ deepest vulnerabilities. “Wagner did not surround himself with Jews despite the fact that they were Jewish, but because of it”, says Warshaw.
 “Scholars who question the severe gravity of Wagner’s anti-Semitism in light of his friendships with Jews are overlooking many nuances about those specific relationships”, Warshaw adds. “The fear factor was a great motivator in the psyche of the Jewish German community, which had just gained its independence but still had to prove its cultural equality, all in the face of a worsening anti-Semitism at the time,” explains Warshaw. “Wagner shamelessly used their eagerness to redeem themselves and, calculating on his part, ‘allowed his Jews’ to selflessly engage in his services; copy scores, raise funds… to partake in German culture, and contribute to it.“
Many young Jewish musicians became absolute Wagner devotees, and played a critical role in the promotion of his work and the financial support needed for it. There was teenage piano prodigy, Carl Tausig, and Hermann Levi, the son of a Rabbi, who urged his father to become a member of the Wagner Society. Short of being forced by Wagner to convert to Christianity in order to conduct the premiere of Parsifal, Levi however reassured his independence by declining Wagner’s wishes and threatening to abort his mission.
Another Jewish artist, baritone and theater director Angelo Neumann, became a major producer of Wagner’s work throughout Europe, and the young pianist, Joseph Rubinstein, who had lived with the Wagner family for many years, committed suicide shortly after Wagner passed away.
In evaluating Wagner’s anti-Semitism, some of today’s artists offer rather nuanced opinions. Pianist Evgeny Kissin concluded in Christopher Nupen’s 2004 Holocaust film, “We Want the Light” that “… the talent and genius of an artist, and his or her personal traits are just not the same thing.” And Zubin Mehta, conductor for life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra argues that forgoing Wagner, the artistic forefather of composers such as Bruckner, Mahler and Schoenberg, would be similar to enjoying the fruit of a tree without acknowledging the tree’s roots (in Nupen, “We Want the Light”). On the other hand, Mehta fully respects the negative feelings of the generation of Holocaust survivors.
Warshaw admits that one of the motivations behind the film was to explore his own ambivalence towards Wagner. Born into a musical family, he studied violin and conducting before turning to film, and did not get to listen to Wagner growing up: “There was so much associated with Wagner, in connection with my family’s losses and tragedies during the Nazi area, so whenever Wagner came on the radio got shut off. When I finally had the opportunity to study and play Wagner’s music, I found it very striking, even electrifying … and when I became a filmmaker, I saw that in terms of links between music and film, Wagner is a very influential figure. Early film composers like Erich Korngold or Max Steiner, for example (“Gone with the Wind”) built on Wagnerian leitmotifs and his unending melody.”
Formally studying the composer’s music gave Warshaw a greater emotional distance to the man, which allowed for an appreciation of Wagner’s creativeness. “In a way, he thinks like a composer of film scores,” says Warshaw, “… his dramatic vision is sort of a precursor of film. His operas are shattering experiences for me, yet I have no illusion about how his anti-Semitism must be embedded within the concept of his art; and that is troubling for me, and has to be. It is the price I pay for my admission of enjoying his music.”
Of course, there were other composers who harbored anti-Semitic sentiments. Chopin is one example, but then Wagner was a much more outspoken and political figure.
The film also focuses on today’s Wagner policy in Israel. Even though there is no real political codex that implicitly forbids Wagner’s music on stage, musicians like Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta and others have failed in their efforts to introduce Wagner’s work to a majority of Israelis. Yet Wagner is often played on Israeli radio. Influenced by strong anti-Wagner sentiments and forces that appeal to issues bigger and more important, Israelis have bowed to the naysayers for now.
This conflict takes us back to 1938, the year of the ‘Kristallnacht’. Then, a performance of Wagner’s Overture of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by the orchestra now known as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was stopped, and, as a result of the Nürnberg race laws and the memories of Holocaust survivors recalling the horrors of Wagner’s music blasting from loudspeakers in German concentration camps, Wagner was dropped from any appropriate concert program altogether.
The fact that many Wagner scholars and expert performers, as well as enthusiasts, are Jewish and a Wagner society was founded in Israel in 2011 by Jonathan Livny, did not lessen the outcry in the Israeli press when, in 2011, the Israel Chamber Orchestra under Roberto Paternostro travelled to Bayreuth for their first ever-performance on Wagner’s turf.Interview Roberto Paternostro

Warshaw’s film doesn’t provide the answers to many of the questions the topic raises, but rather expects to create a discussion and to make audiences reflect for themselves.Says Warshaw: "The objective is not to present just the case for the defense or prosecution, but the whole trial."
To mark the Bicentenary of Wagner's birth, WAGNER’S JEWS was broadcast in Europe on ARTE on May 19, and will be re-broadcast by Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) on November 18, 2013.
The film has started screenings in the U.S. and internationally, at venues including Yale, Columbia, and Boston universities, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in New York, the London's Barbican Centre, and the London Jewish Cultural Centre.
“Wagner’s Jews” will be distributed in North America by First Run Features.

Classical music moving forward to its original roots – the intimate space – now at SubCulture

Classical music used to be heard in salons and palace ballrooms, so it’s not an entirely new concept to present classical music, like other genres long since have, in intimate spaces where audiences can enjoy a closer connection with their favorite performers in a relaxed setting. One of the first of these venues in the New York downtown scene to include classical music was Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street, which opened in 2008. Here, New York classical fans had their first chance to feel as cool as their Pop and Jazz cohorts, and enjoy a slider and a drink while listening to some bold star pianists like Simone Dinnerstein, Hélène Grimaud, and Natasha Paremski. To add excitement, these pianists often paired up with a young, attractive cellist or violinist. I especially remember programs with these matches, such as cellist Zuill Bailey paired with Simone Dinnerstein, violinist Misha Quint and Natasha Paremski, and the husband-wife piano duo Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung. These performances were not taken lightly by the press. Pianist Jeremy Denk’s program at the Highland Ballroom in 2009 attracted the New York Times’ attention, as have most of the performers on LPR’s somewhat leisurely curated programs, which include classical mixed with jazz, tango, and contemporary. The night after his Avery Fisher Hall performances with the New York Philharmonic, pianist Kirill Gerstein told his LPR fans how much he enjoyed mixing it up a bit. As an ideal place for a combination performance/CD release after-party, Le Poisson Rouge has attracted such recording artists as mandolinist Avi Avital, who celebrated his Grammy nomination of a Naxos recording with the Metropolis Ensemble and famed violinist Gil Shaham, who connected a short, droll video clip of himself and pianist Yefim Bronfman playing a high-caliber performance, to his evening’s presentation. Classical repertoire also made a timely entrance into Joe’s Pub, which has lately featured some European artists, including pianist Lily Maisky, who performed with Misha Quint and signed their just-released CD afterwards for fans. The performers seem to enjoy playing in the less-formal venue, glad to have the opportunity to perform for some of their peers, who may not venture out to the concert hall frequently, or at all. What draws new audiences to these settings? Of course, the immediate proximity that patrons have to the performers, and the comfortable setting in which they can sit and listen to the music appeals to a more casual lifestyle. Also, table service during performances is a welcome change from seeing their favorite artists from afar on the big hall stages. Another attraction for all is that it’s not unusual to find other star artists in the audience, which creates a feeling of an artistic community setting that everybody enjoys being part of. The other night at Joe’s Pub, for example, illustrious cellist Misha Maisky was in attendance to support his daughter on stage, and prominent violinist Joshua Bell also came to the show along with a group of friends.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       SubCulture – Photo: Ryan Jensen
With the opening of the new venue SubCulture this September, however, new rules have come into play to accommodate its owners’ vision. In an interview at the venue’s backstage office, Marc and Steven Kaplan, owners of the new spot on Bleecker Street, which is just a couple of blocks down the road from LPR, shared their ideas: “We had gone to LPR and other venues and truly enjoyed hanging out there very much. We also love all kinds of jazz clubs and eating, drinking, and listening. However for SubCulture, our goal was not necessarily to become part of New York’s nightlife. We rather wanted something more theatrical, which concentrated on the performance alone, even though we do have a bar.” That’s why instead of the cocktail tables of LPR, Joe’s Pub, or others, one finds rows of old theatre seats at SubCulture, making it clear that the audience is the audience while the music plays on stage.
SubCulture - Photo: Ryan Jensen
With SubCulture, the uptown classical programmers and institutions saw an opportunity to finally get a piece of the trendy, downtown action. “Last April, after the 92nd Street Y’s downtown Tribeca location closed its doors, the Y came scouting for a new location,” says Marc Kaplan.


Photo: SubCulture’s channeled hallway leading to the performance space below @getclassical

“The 92nd Street Y had made plans to coordinate some classical music events with the New York Philharmonic’s contemporary CONTACT! series and other artists…,” like the famed pianist Yefim Bronfman, this season’s New York Philharmonic pianist-in-residence, as well as other authorities of the music world. “They had no idea that we were here, but came to the theatre upstairs. We were still knee-deep in the construction process, but they must have seen the huge potential interest that the venue could hold, affirming our own instincts about the possibilities.” November 4th, SubCulture will host its first collaborative event with the New York Philharmonic and 92Y, in an evening presenting CONTACT! artists with the eminent conductor/composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. On January 13th, CONTACT!’s young artists will partake in a trio with pianist Yefim Bronfman. Besides the exciting program and performers, both events should be memorable and chock full of press, as uptown music venues attempt to take their hold in downtown’s alternative music industry.

Photo: (left)Marc and Steven Kaplan at their bar at SubCulture @getclassical
This is a big opportunity for the two Kaplan brothers, who grew up in West Hartford, Connecticut, and arrived on the scene with lots of supporters from their hometown and a set of skills that they feel make them the perfect partners for this uptown-downtown mutual undertaking. The joint partnership and its promising beginning has given the brothers’ own relationship a new energy, which has enabled them to achieve what they feel is an “authentic venue with an atmosphere that offers the best possible climate, concentrated on performances for a small but not tiny audience, while still retaining that ‘cool’ feeling of a unique downtown space – a diamond in the rough.” This is not the brothers’ first project working together. “We wrote some music, we talked about real estate…. but SubCulture is the perfect merger of both our worlds and all our dreams.” Steven has a business background. Marc is in charge of production. Music has always been a connective tissue in their relationship, as music and the arts played a big role in their lives growing up. Steve picked up the trumpet at West Hartford High School, which offered a great jazz program with many guest artists, who performed and inspired the young students. When Steven and Marc attended college in Washington, D.C, Steven went down the road of finance, but picked up piano improvisation later on. He enjoys playing tremendously: “Playing music makes me happy,” he says.
                                                                                                                                                                       Photo: Steven (left) and Marc Kaplan at SubCulture @getclassical
Marc remembers many car rides during which he and his brother would listen to each other’s favorite tunes, comparing their latest tracks. He himself always stayed in music, everything from instrumental and voice, as well as conducting. From early on, he conducted youth orchestras, always finding a way to cast his brother in them, and continued in music education afterwards. Music continues to be a “feel-good ground of sharing our interests with each other.” SubCulture feels like the natural course for their professional relationship and their relationship to music, which welcomes variety. When the brothers started looking for the “perfect” venue that would become SubCulture two and a half years ago, it took them about a year to find the location. “We brought a certain naiveté to it. When describing our ‘ideal’ place to each other, our vision took shape to include intimacy, artistic design, great lighting and sound, not too large, an open feeling…to enjoy performances on stage in a personal way, “ they say, reminiscent of a fun process. “When we saw this raw space, it fit the bill. The only thing, which was totally opposite to our vision, were the columns. We did not really want them since we thought they would block the view but we did end up having lots of columns which kind of now define the space at SubCulture.” Steven and Marc have many ideas, but have not yet completely decided on the direction of their curating, with regard to programs or even general set usage. “We can see the venue work successfully for many productions; the space is geared towards all kinds of music performances with its great acoustics, but comedy shows or even business meetings and fashion events can work well there, too.”
SubCulture - Photo: Ryan Jensen
In the meantime, they are aiming to create the best performance space of their league, building up trust with their new audiences and customers. And for whatever event they are hosting, they stay involved in every production they book, making sure it works with the atmosphere of the space, satisfies their new audiences, and reflects a certain sophisticated fingerprint of style. Is downtown becoming the new uptown for New York’s avid classical music lovers?