Friday, January 23, 2015

Violinist Paul Huang – Nurture and Nature


The contours of natural talent, education, and unlimited personal support from his family all blend together for young Taiwanese/American violinist Paul Huang, who came to Juilliard’s Pre-College division at age 13. “It meant a lot of changes for my family, when my mom came to New York by my side, parting from the family and its business, a small pharmacy she ran together with my father back in Taiwan,” Paul remembers. Paul’s mother made the decision to leave behind Paul’s older brother and his father, dedicating five years of her life to Paul’s musical education, fostering his growth as a budding virtuoso.

All photos by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

“Looking back, I feel so much appreciation for her utmost devotion, she never went out except for grocery shopping, always staying home for me,” says Paul, who remains closely connected with his family through tools like Skype and daily phone calls, but clearly feels like a New Yorker today. “Artistic growth like this does not happen there; the teacher tells you what to do…here the teacher encourages you to teach yourself, finding your own voice – that’s an even bigger lesson,” he says.
“Of course I don’t know yet where my life is going to take me, but right now it’s happening here [in New York.]” While Paul visits Taiwan on a regular basis, he has clearly made himself a home in the metropolis of music-making, “living [his] dream,” as he proclaims, which revolves around the instrument that took center stage for him as soon as he heard it performed for the first time as a young boy. “I seek inspiration wherever I am, and [in] whatever I do, living very much in the moment,” he says, describing his morning’s jog in Central Park, during which his eyes and ears were wide open, taking in nature’s wonderful sights and sounds. “There is always a new corner I have not yet discovered, birds singing, people to watch…sometimes, when you feel stuck and hopeless, you need to get inspired in order to inspire others. That is a talent in itself,” he explains. Paul likes to take advantage of the city’s broad variety of art and concert offerings. Sometimes, when he is inspired by great performances, Paul will pick up the violin right after to practice, even at 10pm at night.
“Listening to a great performance makes you want to play better,” he says, starting his daily practice with Bach, a composer whose works he does not feel quite comfortable performing publicly yet, but whose music takes him on an inner voyage, reflecting on his own, personal state of mind – in all its glorious and self-revealing solitude. “With Bach, there is nowhere to hide, in a musical sense you are totally exposed, and it’s reflecting on who you are and where [you are] at this point in time with total honesty,” he says. Choosing his performance repertoire as a young performer, he realizes the importance of being familiar with a great variety of programs, although his heart truly beats for the late romantic and 20th century genre. “I never play music I don’t love,” he says, and that is palpably clear in his performances, which display his distinct individual musical voice, already lauded by many critics.
Beyond that recognizable personality, there is an element of absolute necessity in his playing, making listening to him a gripping experience. “I never try to be different for the sake of being different; I rather always look for what’s meaningful to me and try to convey that as best as I can, but I do treat every performance as if it was my last one,” he says, explaining the emotional intensity of his recitals, in addition to his “stylish and polished playing,” praised by The Strad. After winning the 2011 Young Concert Artists’ International Auditions and its 2012 Helen Armstrong Violin Fellowship, the young artist, who had already worked on collaborations with internationally acclaimed artists, began working with management geared towards moving his career in a distinct direction. One chamber music collaboration that came about through YCA was between Paul and the talented young pianist Louis Schwizgebel-Wang, BBC New Generation Artist 2013-15. The project resulted in instant friendship: “Although we just live two blocks away, we had never met in New York, before,” Paul says. A presenter in North Carolina was looking for a collaborative performance of Beethoven Sonatas, and, since YCA often promotes their artists together, Louis, winner of YCA’s 2006 auditions, was brought together with Paul to take on the task. “We immediately clicked while rehearsing Beethoven, and a close friendship developed further on many following concert tours together. Chamber music is the building block for any kind of music making. For me, it’s the absolute pinnacle of music making,” Paul says. For the 2015-18 seasons, he will join Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two program for young, up-and-coming artists.
“I am at my boldest in big concerts, with orchestra, but music at the beginning was all meant for smaller spaces, especially chamber music. Intimacy is what chamber music in particular is all about,” he says. “To have the luxury to share music in a smaller setting is truly a rewarding experience; the audience being so close around you – they are practically breathing with you, hearing every nuance of your sound and seeing every movement,” he explains. “I actually think this is music-making at its most exciting, and it is especially enhanced by the atmosphere in such intimate settings that allows the artist true interaction and communication with the audience, [which is] always cherished.”
On April 14, 2015, Paul Huang will perform in this kind of setting at GetClassical’s intimate classical music series at Zinc Bar, a downtown Jazz club, along with pianist Louis Schwizgebel-Wang. The two will collaborate for the first time with cellist Julian Schwarz, forming a trio to perform “Intimate Impressions,” a program of music by French and Francophile composers whose musical output is inspired by the epoch of the impressionist art movement. Visit GetClassical’s website for more information about this upcoming concert. http://getclassical.org 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pianist Alon Goldstein – pursuit of one’s vision and voice never go out of style


 “It has been fifteen years since I received my last ‘official’ lesson with my sainted teacher Leon Fleisher,” wrote Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein in a July 2013 blog entry dedicated to his legendary mentor on the occasion of his eighty-fifth birthday. “I remember telling him not long after I moved on that my best decision in my life was to come and study with him, and the second best decision was to leave,” adding later in a personal interview that he knew he had to leave before getting too comfortable. Obviously, all of this commentary was delivered with love and admiration.
Fleisher, who may easily be one of the most captivating raconteurs among the great musicians of his generation, recently commented when asked about his former pupil: “Alon, now he really is fantastic. He is one of the most open-minded musicians I have ever met and he is not blinded – like so many others – by anything; he has a vision, and his playing is rather insightful, deep and meaningful. He also has such a warm personality; we have shared so many memorable moments together.”
Goldstein witnessed the power of the maestro’s communicative gift during his four years working closely with Fleisher as a student, and later as his assistant: a coveted position at the Peabody Conservatory reserved for Fleisher’s most brilliant students. “Even though Fleisher’s teaching did not involve extensive demonstrations at the piano, not having been able to play with his right hand for many years, he used his descriptive skills,” says Goldstein and explains how Fleisher’s vast personal experience, rooted in his exceptional pianistic career, inspired his students. He managed to translate his musical directions into intellectual property, geared to assist his students in expressing their individual vision at the piano.
“Musicians tend to say that music cannot be described in words. I believed it until I heard Fleisher speak. It was so clear, so eloquent, so rich, so incredibly precise...,”Goldstein says, describing Fleisher’s intention to teach his students how to teach themselves through his profoundly associative instructions. One of these descriptions stuck with him in particular: “During one of our lessons, while I was trying to find the focal point in the phrase, create long lines, generate momentum, and so forth, Fleisher leaned backward slowly in his chair, closed his eyes, gently raised his eyebrows, and said, ‘music is made out of physical forces. Every note, every ascending or descending line, circular pattern, or huge leaps is surrounded with physical forces. They are a magnet between the notes. This is what the music is made of. Understanding these physical forces, knowing how to utilize them, makes for an interpretation that is not only irresistible, but inevitable,’ ventured Fleisher." This irresistible musicality can be found in demonstration, recorded on his latest Grammy-nominated release of left-hand repertoire, All the Things You Are (Bridge, 2014).
“He had x-ray ears,” says Goldstein about Fleisher, “and because he made you analyze everything you do, this awareness allowed you to go straight to the heartbeat of the piece and challenge your music making to find its fundamental truth, time and again,” he reminiscences.
Even the most stirring lessons need fertile ground to instigate motivation. Goldstein inherited the tradition bestowed upon him with deep gratitude, continuing an inspired, lifelong dialogue with music vigorously articulated in his own teaching and his international career as concert pianist, and on occasion in his writing and concert talks.
In 1997, Goldstein moved on to Great Britain’s Guildhall Music School as a performance fellow, where he became a proponent of four-hand piano performances, and helped create a chamber music festival. His pianistic talent and creative performance concepts led to his receipt of an invitation to be artist-in-residence from the Theo Lieven International Piano Foundation at Lake Como. During two seasons, Goldstein was privileged to partake in private master classes with world-renowned musicians.
Shared Israeli roots and summers spent at the Marlboro and Vermont Music Festivals brought about collaboration with stellar cellist Amit Peled and clarinetist Alex Fiterstein. The resulting Goldstein-Peled-Fiterstein Trio was praised on many occasions for its members’ ability to precisely balance their original artistry as soloists with their great sensitivity and communicative skills as chamber players.
Photo Credit: Britt Olsen-Ecker

 Together with violinist Ilya Kahler, Goldstein and Peled also formed The Tempest Trio, whose virtuosic performances have already been compared to the legendary Million Dollar Trio comprised of Arthur Rubinstein, Gregor Piatigorsky, and Jascha Heifetz.
        The Tempest Trio's European Tour, 2012.
Goldstein’s musical integrity and amicable personality has translated into scores of alliances and engagements as recitalist and soloist with orchestra, and a multitude of chamber music appearances, including numerous invitations to perform and teach at some of the most highly regarded music festivals, including the Verbier and Ravinia Festival. A recipient of various scholarships and prizes, including a ten-year scholarship from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, Goldstein has always believed in paying it forward. His loyalty in supporting music by young Israeli composers, which resulted in a commission and performances of Avner Dorman’s concerto Lost Souls, is as much an integral part of that pledge as his community outreach efforts, through which he aims at “giving everyone the chance to be transported by the beauty and power of classical music,” inside and outside of the concert hall.
At the same time, some of the formative moments of Goldstein’s past remain a substantial source of reverence, and have become an integral part of his personal musical voice: “Not long ago,” he writes, “in the midst of rehearsing of Mozart’s concerto for two pianos… at my alma mater, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, in preparation for a performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra later that summer, Fleisher entered the room unexpectedly,” which marked a welcome opportunity for Goldstein to be transported by the master’s presence and to experience. He says, “…how these physical forces slowly awakened – Centrifugal force pushed us outwards when an ascending melodic run changed its direction. Centripetal force pulled us inwards when a descending line suddenly turned upwards. Circular patterns, angular ones, leaps, jumps, sustain notes- all generated forces that glued the notes to become a musical phrase.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                Maestro Leon Fleisher with Alon Goldstein
“There was one force, though, that existed from the moment the first note of the piece was pressed until the last note disappeared. That was the force of gravity. As the melody soared high above, then dived back down almost touching the ground, making loops and leaps, taking us on a rollercoaster journey, it was a journey in anti-gravity…and Fleisher commented, ‘Listen to the way the long notes make a crescendo after being pressed, followed by a diminuendo before the next note arrives…Every physicist would say this is impossible, but we musicians are not physicist, we are illusionists. This is vocal playing.’”
For more information about Alon Goldstein’s diverse concert activities and CD releases, visit http://www.alongoldstein.com/. His blog can be found at http://blog.alongoldstein.com/.