Friday, July 25, 2014

Thriving on the efforts of its musical community: the Manchester Music Festival

Photo: by Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical - Banner of the festival at its concert’s summer home at the Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Arkell Pavillion
 Not unlike its esteemed neighbors, Marlboro Music, which has, for decades, built itself upon its master-performers’ reputation, or Yellow Barn, with its annual workshop geared to foster artistic growth, the Manchester Music Festival counts on  Vermont’s  bucolic Mountain views for its splendorous atmospheric stage-scenery.
During its six-week full scholarship summer program (this year from July 3 – August 14), young musicians are coached in chamber music performance by the festival’s capable faculty, members of its own Michael Rudiakov Music Academy- and an impressive roster of attending guest artists, who are also presented in weekly concert performances.  Concerts are filled to capacity which has helped to build the festival’s thriving reputation and its opportunity to feature fresh and consummate musical talent.
With a demographic of ca. 4,500 all year round residents, an amount that triples during those music filled summer-months with a swelling population of second home owners, it is no surprise that the summer highlights of the festival meet with an especially high enthusiastic support.
In its 40th year now, the festival relies on unyielding support by its local and visiting patrons of the arts, some of whom not only help financially to sustain the festival’s programs, but open their home to visiting artists, as part of their residency.
In accord with the spirit of the festival’s founder, pianist Eugene List and his wife, violinist Carroll Glenn, who initiated the Southern Vermont Arts Center Music Festival in 1974,  Peggy Telscher, a current festival board-member and chair of its artistic committee, explains, ”We have an obligation to foster the love for music and reach out to the next generation.”  A professionally trained singer herself, her interest focuses on bridging the gap between the instrumental and a voice syllabus of concerts. Last year the festival featured the prominent singer/actress Audra Macdonald.
After attending the series’ Young Artists concerts with her own children, when she  moved to Vermont a few years ago, Telscher held her first house-concert, in passionate support of professional singers, in 2012. Since last year, the concert-hall-like acoustics of Tom Snopek’s and Peggy Telscher’s’house has led them to host some of the artists for private recording sessions, while enjoying their home’s equally exquisite mountain views. Returning festival’s artist-in-residence, and co-founder of LP Classics record label, pianist Vassily Primakov, brought in his recording team for two of the performing artists of the festival. Photo: Ilona Oltuski-GetClassical Vassily Primakov after a coaching session with “his” group of students saying they sounded amazing

Primakov also has been invited for the second year in a row as “artist in residence,” a weeklong performance and teaching position at MMF. “Attending the festival now for a number of years, it has from the beginning felt like home away from home. MMF always attracts great artists, so I am always grateful and humbled to be among the performers and now also to be part of their guest faculty,” says Primakov.
When recently taking over the chair of the artistic committee, Telscher followed Mary Miller, whose own pianistic background and passionate engagement for the festival made her an advocate for finding and bringing great pianists to the festival. Says Telscher,”I had big shoes to fill, Mary did a fantastic job! The biggest challenge is that the costs of presenting can never be fully paid through ticket sales alone, and people have to understand that we have to pay living wages for the artists, which don’t just cover the performances, but endless hours of preparation.”
Photo: by Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical from left: Tom Snopek, Peggy Telscher, Mary Miller, and Walter Miller at the 40th Anniversary Celebration Cocktail Gala

Board member or not, Mary Miller and her husband Walter Miller, made it their mission to look out for “their” artists. “We love it as much as they do,” says Mary Miller, whose renowned hospitality includes filling most of her many rooms with visiting artists and their entourage, during the summer months. “To be surrounded by so much talent is amazing,” says Miller, who met the current artistic director of the festival, violist Ari Rudiakov and his wife, violinist Joana Genova, on the occasion of their daughter’s wedding in 2003. "It is just fantastic, what they have helped to build here, for the community," says Garry DuFour, and enthusiastically vouches his future support.

 ”We have work that is still unfinished,” says Ari Rudiakov, the festival’s artistic director. “My job is to not only put together a great festival, but to build our endowment fund, guaranteed to support our Young Artist program. We are half way there now, with activities that go well beyond the summer, and we are incredibly thankful for the support of all our members through their own personal efforts, hosting house concerts and benefits, to profit the organization. Right now, I am looking to unify all the varied elements we already have in place,” he says.
                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Ari Rudiakov, Artistic Director MMF.
But perhaps it is exactly these special, personal efforts that create small sanctuaries for the arts in intimate environments which contribute to the festival’s great communal success, as well as providing a unique setting for visiting artists. “There are always great hosts and wonderful performances and it is quite a unique experience, to create, perform, study and teach surrounded by nature – it feels like a retreat,” says Primakov.  Photo: Cottage at the Miller’s residence, hosting a MMF-student dinner.
Two years in a row, Primakov has been performing trios with cellist Ben Capps and violinist Joana Genova at the festival.  Last season it was Rachmaninoff’s PianoTrio élégiaque in D minor, Opus 9, and this year Chopin’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.8. Primakov describes these experiences as one of the highlights of the season for him and they are soon to plan the repertoire for next season’s program. ”It’s a wonderful feeling to return to a place where you feel welcomed and harmonize with the performers.  I am equally thrilled to have the opportunity to coach the students in chamber music performance, it always creates excitement and a special bond,” describes Primakov.
Photo: Pianist Vassily Primakov with violinist Joana Genova and cellist Ben Capps at the Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Arkell Pavillion
In 2000, Ari Rudiakov inherited his father’s, Michael Rudiakov’s, mission to give more definition to the loosely organized festival that its founders had created, with an emphasis on a streamlined, full scholarship program for young artists that includes a strong, communal outreach program.

Photo: by Ilona Oltuski- GetClassical – student rehearsal and coaching at the Riley Center for the Arts at Burr and Burton
The philosophy of the festival was built on different premises than those of its eminent neighbor at Marlboro. While there was a fair amount of crossover participants between Marlboro’s and Manchester’s stellar performers, the Manchester Festival focused on giving students their separate curriculum and stage experience, while Marlboro’s concept integrated its students’ and professionals’ performances.  A student of Bernhard Greenhouse, member of the famed Beaux Arts Trio, Michael Rudiakov was a veteran cellist, principal cellist of the Indiana Symphony Orchestra and had administrative experience from running a chamber music series at Sarah Lawrence. Invited by List to join him in Manchester, he took on full leadership of MMF in 1985, after the passing of the festival’s founders.
Their son, violist/conductor Ari Rudiakov and his wife violinist, Joana Genova, continue to pass on the tradition of great, classical music, taught and performed in an environment geared to enhance the music’s outreach, as well as the personal maturity of its performers. Some travels are taking place, sometimes as a string orchestra, sometimes as chamber music tours and the faculty varies from year to year.  
“We are building on the previous year’s teacher’s faculty, but also have some new additions every year; the only truly constant are Joana and me. That way we keep it fresh, but still make it possible for musicians to return and build a wider community. What’s great is that students always have more than one opinion, we break them up into groups, switch coaches, change repertoire and put them back together again – often they have already become different players.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Making of a Modern Musician

In her lecture at the Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium at Princeton University, Director of Yamaha Artist Services, Bonnie Barrett gave some great career advice for musicians, clearly inviting them to “think out of the box.”
“Due to the shrinking market for traditional classical music, its “graying” audience and overall lack of funding for costly productions, the generation of the great impresarios and dedicated press coverage has vanished. Because of all this, the solo-piano virtuoso is all but dead,” she commented. “However,” she continued, “where there is crisis – there is opportunity.”
In her commitment to promoting new approaches to music performance and presentation, Barrett introduced a selection of entrepreneurial efforts within the classical- and jazz music-environment. The creative mindset and reinventing of alternative forms of representation is now being widely recognized.
Ms. Barrett gave examples making use of efficient collaboratives and giving a new angle to the concert experience which includes unusual settings, means and combinations of skills and genres. Some of these innovative undertakings are based on technical advances, some on recognition of the need to instill different marketing aspects. Barrett introduced an award winning, animated movie which,  based on the personal story of the Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva, introduced her pianistic soundtrack in a most endearing way. Another novel example mentioned by Barrett was the classical series “Music by the Glass,” which combines music- performances at Soho’s “Louis Meisel Gallery” (Photo) with Wine tastings, paired to associate each performance’s musical syllabus.
Founded by the accomplished pianist-duo couple, Soyeon Kate Lee and Ran Dank, the series aims to develop new audiences who will respond to an experience of classical music, up close and personal, in a relaxed and communal atmosphere.
The need to identify the “personal touch” of classical music presentations beyond its usual concert hall existence is also the mission of “GetClassical,” which takes its classical music happenings to different localities, including extravagant hotspots like the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar. Photo: Alex Fedorov GetClassical at the Rose Bar pianist Alexandra Joan

Barrett showed the documentary of GetClassical’s last June-event at “India House.” The film, made by Hilan Warshaw, watch video here harked back to the series’ essential model of the19th century Salon made relevant today, by integrating innovative programs in diverse, social environments. In the film,  GetClassical founder Ilona Oltuski, pianists Vassily Primakov, Natalia Lavrova, and David Aladashvili explain the key ingredients of the series: personal closeness and direct interaction with the audience and with each other, bridging the divide between the performer and the listener, which does not happen in traditional venues, often remarked on as a “disconnect.”

Works presented by GetClassical were chosen from the highly original Opus 13,” Aladashvili’s debut recording on the LP-Classics label and a preview of the Lavrova-Primakov piano duo’s Rachmaninoff recording.

Founded by the Lavrova/Primakov musical team, LP-Classics was discussed as an empowering answer to the difficult market situation for new artists, who are struggling to sign onto established recording labels for their debut recordings which they, in turn, can use as a calling card, necessary to land performance engagements. LP- Classics gives an opportunity to both its founding artists to manufacture their own recordings, with a now rapidly growing repertoire, as well as open their prospects for collaboration with artists they discover and admire.

Photo: Alex Fedorov  GetClassical at India House from left: Natalia Lavrova, David Aladashvili, Ilona Oltuski, Vassily Primakov 

Technology has always had its impact of re-defining our culture, and with no exception here, an improved and facilitated technical recording process opens the door to professionally graded recordings, and for savvy self-made producers.
Another astonishing and innovative result of technological refinement was demonstrated with Barrett’s introduction of Yamaha’s Disklavier Digital Player Piano. “One possible answer to the challenge of overcoming great distances and responding to educational needs is tapping into the renewed thirst for remote piano lessons, through the digital connectivity of the Disklavier,” says Barrett. It allows teachers to connect with their students throughout the world. “With its sophisticated nuances of 256 pedal strokes and thousands of keystrokes, the Disklavier recreates pianistic action with an extreme exactitude, transforming the landscape of piano pedagogy. Many top universities and conservatories like UCLA already have signed on and some, including the Juilliard School of Music, are just about to,” says Barrett. The program also enables re-creating the concerto-experience, superior to the simple  music minus one, for example, a recording of the orchestral score performed without its piano part, to be filled in by the performer.
“Through the exceptional capacity of adjustment of the Disklavier to the keystrokes by the individual performer and chosen instrumentalisation, the technology is able to follow the performer’s tempi, and yes, even recognize the performer’s wrong notes. Playback and repetitions are simply accomplished, making the Disklavier a preferred platform for many artists in a variety of educational programs, like Simone Dinnerstein’s high school outreach program watch it here, or Dan Tepfer’s (photo) imaginative jazz piano-playback arrangements. It remains to be seen if the apt description of his demonstration so far and yet so near, will truly win over fans, or just point to the one ingredient missing that would make the experience more than an experiment. Does the student need the actual stage presence of the performer or the teacher’s commending pat on the shoulder, the truly human touch - perhaps not superior in action, but not quite to be superseded by any technology either?

Photo: Ilona Oltuski - Bonnie Barrett                                                                                      

Venerable musicians like Jerome Rose and Byron Janis have embraced the fascinating possibilities that Disklavier offers, using it in the service of special workshops and teaching presentations.
The only condition, of course, is to have access to two Disklavier pianos, a laptop and the internet, and off you go readily creating complex multi-track arrangements, recording your own performance and playing them back.  But, fortunately, some musical talent still needed.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Mostly Martha – The Progetto Martha Argerich in Lugano

“It is all of these great people here who ought to be thanked,” Martha says, surrounded by a throng of festival guests as she awaits that evening’s concert performer, “not me; I just show up,” she insists, gesturing some unruly tresses of her signature mane of grey hair into place. That in itself is no small virtue for the enigmatic pianist, notoriously known for changing her mind about her performances on short notice. She nods towards a tensely focused man of slender stature who, in close proximity yet with a respectfully guarded distance, watches her every move attentively from the corner of his eye. A glance exchanged between the two of them barely requires words. Carlo Piccardi, who as consigliere (advisor) is the festival’s other pillar, stands by Martha, the festival’s artistic director, ready to tend to her wishes or to settle any emergencies. Perhaps she wants to join some artists for dinner before heading back to the radio station for her customary late night practice time, or the other way around. Perhaps she would like to avoid the crowds who, mesmerized by their idol’s presence, long for a momentous photo with her, or, perhaps it may be a night when she just feels like accommodating their wishes.(photo of banner of the festival: Ilona Oltuski)

All photos courtesy of Carlo Piccardi - Progetto Martha Argerich (unless specified)
It is a ritual that bears witness to the intimacy of an alliance based on great understanding and admiration, and it perpetually repeats itself during these weeks in June: the time of Lugano’s music festival that carries the name of the legendary pianist and much-adored protégé: Progetto Martha Argerich.

A musicologist and former director of Radio della Svizzera Italiana - Rete Due, Piccardi fell in love with the possibility of bringing chamber music and Martha Argerich to his region and into his life. The original initiative was sparked in 2001 by former EMI recording and TV producer, Jurg Grand, who approached Piccardi: Why should his great friend and pianist extraordinaire Martha have a festival in Buenos Aires (which today is not in existence anymore) and in Beppu, Japan, but not in Europe? It seemed the obvious next step for Martha, a resident of Brussels holding Swiss citizenship who possessed a fascination for all things Italian, to unite with Piccardi and utilize his strong relationships with the Radio and BSI (Banca Svizzeria Italiano – also a current major sponsor of the festival) to plant the seeds of chamber music culture in the Italian-Swiss region, which had heretofore been practically absent. As “Abdul” (Grand’s nickname, coined by Daniel Barenboim) suggested, the festival was inaugurated; he had the vision, Piccardi the perseverance and Martha the compelling persona that brought not only her singular artistry, but her international following of stellar performers, to Lugano.

“Martha is like a river,” says Piccardi in between four very important phone calls he takes apologetically, “when we approached her about the possibility of starting a festival here, she said: “Hmm, yes it is possible, perhaps…” But the first installment in 2002 “was a disaster,” Piccardi recalls. “I was director of the culture and broadcast program of the second channel, but I had no experience whatsoever with programming live concerts. At the end I was with a fever, exhausted, and in despair. It was Martha and Jurg who took complete charge of all programs during the eight consecutive days. Concerts were held in the morning in the church, in the evening at the Radio station, and with 32 artists performing, we had to have rehearsals at night. Today we have a day in between for rehearsals and recordings, but with the number of artists reaching 82, the duration of the festival now is spread out to three weeks, with concerts recorded live or in rehearsal, and many of them broadcasted or streamed live.”

During the festival’s second year, Piccardi was better prepared: “I was more familiar then with the problems of running the production and hosting the artists, but then a disaster happened: Jurg, the festival’s founder suddenly died. Martha was in Buenos Aires at the time and we had to make a fast decision, whether or not to continue, and came to the agreement to at least go through with the already planned out next season,” Piccardi explains.
“Except when it comes to all things piano, Martha is not a systematic thinker,” Piccardi says. ”Her personality is ambivalent: when I ask her something she always remains vague, never definitive…it’s a maybe.” But perhaps it is this 'out of the box thinking', behind her “maybe”, aiding her in the constant search for new talent.
Martha constantly discovers new artists while participating in juries at international competitions, or through recommendations from friends whose input she values. “She trusts my judgment as well, and I have suggested some of the young artists who have performed at the festival, but she is very spontaneous and sometimes enthusiastically discovers an artist she likes on YouTube,” says Piccardi, who is mostly in charge of the festival’s programming.

Often it gets very late at night before Piccardi, who patiently waits for Martha to finish her nocturnal preparations for the many programs in which she partakes, takes her home; returning at 3:00am is not at all the exception. “Martha is a night owl,” he says, “she likes to practice sometimes right after a concert, to go over things and to prepare for the next one.” He tells me of her practice routine, taking only short breaks to come up for air or the occasional shared cigarette with one of her musician friends or colleagues. The sensitive artist with mood swings often dreads certain performances. This year, it is the Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1 that she performs with the Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana under Alexander Vedernikov at the Palazzo Dei Congressi that has been making her nervous, even though the benchmark recording of her 1994 performance of that piece under the legendary Claudio Abbado for Deutsche Grammophone proves that she owns it. While Martha’s current state of mind becomes a general theme of interest amongst the festival’s participants and visitors, Piccardi does not seem to engage in such circling conversations or concerns. He rather relies on what has proven to work for Martha, like the comfort she finds staying in an old artists’ house made available to her for the whole month of June by the artist benefit foundation Pro Helvetia. Located in the small town of Carona, the house is filled with an atmosphere, unmoved by time and inspired by the residency of previously hosted artists, and it is conveniently located just steps away from Piccardi’s own house. “Martha is not the kind of person who can stay in a hotel room for a month, she needs that feeling of familiarity, and it is these little things that make all the difference,” Piccardi says. “When we return together to Casa Pantrova in the middle of the night, there is a sort of feeling of belonging, the ease of home,” he says.

Now in its 13th year, the festival has grown into a celebration of chamber music, with programs that center on the piano in combinations with other instruments. Piano duos, trios, quartets, and quintets, even several pianos at a time, provide a sheer infinite variety for daily concerts, during many of which Argerich performs with young musicians and renowned friends and colleagues. “She is so wonderfully encouraging,” says Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan pianist about Argerich, who was instrumental in the launch of young Montero’s career, having encouraged her to publicly improvise, which greatly contributed to her international success. Photo: Andrej Grilc  
Gabriela Montero and Ilona Oltuski-GetClassical at the festival
The festival's tradition of minimal bureaucracy, neither applications nor tedious acceptance procedures persist to this day. Martha embraces great and new talent in this musical incubator, offering first-hand experiences by performing with high-caliber international artists. Another quality of the festival is the great respect for its artists, past and present; violinist, pedagogue, and actor Ivry Gitlis for example, Argerich's long-time friend who performerd at the festival for many years, while not perfroming any more on stage, continues to share his wisdom during his master classes.
“Martha loves to be surrounded by other artists, sharing some of the burdensome aspects of the stage,” says Piccardy. Often, one sees her laughing with other artists or complaining about the difficulties within a particular score she is working on. Surrounded by her young colleagues, the now 73-year old pianist seems agelessly energetic.
Lately, the decision of some of her colleagues to end their public performance career has made her think about the future as well. “But Martha is not interested in teaching, or likes giving master classes like Maria Joan Pires or Alfred Brendel, who have recently put a halt to their performance careers,” says Piccardi. “Martha needs to play concerts, at least a good amount of them; she can never be without music,” says Piccardi, who seems to know this from a place in his heart that understands her. He adds: “chamber music is like a life elixir for her,” and when one sees her in action, one has to believe him. Her playing remains fantastic no less: her tone is natural, highly imaginative, and brilliant, and it is exciting to watch her pour all of herself into the piano.
Many artists come from near and far to the Progetto to make music together, rehearse, perform, and record, but also to rehash their personal relationships with Martha. Many of these friendships, built during her many years of celebrated performances throughout the world, are defined but not confined by her ability to share the limelight to support her fellow artists and causes close to her heart, making it a family affair of sorts: “Partaking in the festival can really put you on the map,” says Nora Romanoff, one of the young artists who has been attending the festival since age 16. The daughter of Dora Schwarzberg, a famed violinist based in Vienna, Romanoff was asked to jump into the deep end when, in its beginning, the festival was looking for an additional violist. “Can she do it?” Martha asked Schwarzberg about her talented daughter, and after a brief hesitation, Nora, who had no previous experience with playing chamber music, started as the youngest participant of the festival.

( The photo by Andrej Grilc shows Nora during one of her many performances during the festival)
(Photo) Martha and Misha Maisky

Illustrious cellist Misha Maisky, one of Martha’s regular musical partners and her friend of 40 years, brings his daughter, Lily (piano) and his son, Sasha (violinist), regularily to the festival’s programs, providing them with an education that puts learning by doing first. Another longstanding musical partner of Argerich’s, pianist Lilya Zilberstein, performs with pianist Akane Sakai, a former student of hers, and her two pianist sons, Anton and Daniel Gerzenberg. The connection of lives mutually spend together brings artists like Gidon Kremer, Stephen Kovacevich, and Charles Dutoit to Lugano, and while Martha shares the podium generously, it is she to whom all of these artists pay tribute.
Annie Dutoit, Martha’s middle daughter from her marriage with conductor Charles Dutoit, made her artistic debut at this year’s festival with her adaptation of the role of dramatic narrator and performance of the devil in C.F. Ramuz/Igor Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. Violist Lyda Chen, Martha’s eldest daughter from her first marriage to conductor Robert Chen, partakes regularly in the festival, often as her mother’s performance partner. (Photo: Annie Dutoit with Carlo Piccardi)
Bloody Daughter, a film produced in 2012 and directed by Stephanie Argerich, Martha’s youngest daughter, was screened at last year’s festival; the screening afforded some private glimpses into the life of the usually evasive pianist, connecting archival footage of the performer with a uniquely personal portrait of the mother, seen through the eyes of the daughter. The title of the film depicts some of the heartrending circumstances that affected Martha’s family life, ranging from her separation from her oldest daughter to the conflicts between a superstar lifestyle and motherhood. Yet, as Stephanie’s father, pianist Stephen Kovacevich, explains in the film, Stephanie’s nickname “bloody daughter” is meant endearingly, and while it reveals many flaws, so is the overall outlook of the film.
What resonates perhaps most imortantly throughout the film, is that this divinely brilliant artist is human after all.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         (photo from the movie Bloody daughter)
“Martha liked the film. Even though she values her privacy and it must always feel uncanny to be portrayed so personally, the film certainly could not have been made by any other person than the daughter, so close to her,” says Piccardi.

None of the artists leave the festival without saying fare-well to Martha. No matter in what language – she is fluent in Spanish, English, French, Italian and pretty fluent in German as well– the tone is always personal and engaging.
Since the festival’s first year, EMI issued a series of recordings named Martha Argerich & Friends: Live from Lugano, which continued on the Warner Classics label. A 4-CD compilation produced by Deutsche Grammophon titled Martha Argerich: Lugano Concertos, a selection of the first ten years of the festival’s concerto performances with the Orchestra della Svizzeria Italiana, received last year's ECHO KLASSIK award.
From the beginning, all artists involved were paid equally for each performance, no matter their pedigree."More concerts translate into more money. But it does not matter if they have a big name or not, every musician, every musician does his part," Piccardi says. "In the beginning of the festival it was really just all about an extended artistic family; as the festival expands, more egos emerge and questions arise - who plays with whom - and competitveness seeps in. It is my role to keep everything accoding to the original mileu of open-mindedness, music being in the center of attention, and to create challenging programs that express its artists' full potential."

A goal. Martha Argerich and Carlo Piccardi should be able to achieve again in the future.
The 14th Progetto Martha Argerich - Festival is planned to take place again in Lugano in June of 2015.