Tags: Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein
Famous conductors often live a long time and like most performers are loath to give up the stage even if, as Abbado said about himself, they are uncomfortable with the showbiz side of things. He wished that curtain calls did not exist. How striking it is then to think about the five months Abbado spent with Leonard Bernstein as his assistant with the New York Philharmonic in 1963.
Abbado was a relatively detached conductor, communicating to his musicians with the most economical means while Lenny COMMUNICATED baby with every ounce of his physical and mental being: he danced, he bounced, he sweated, he sang and he whooped and cajoled – and boy did he enjoy the applause. Limelight became him.
Yet, they were both truly great. Perhaps because they stayed who they were that this is so – they let their genius out.
(I am thinking about one who belongs on Mount Rushmore: Pete Seeger.)
Tags: David Dubal, Mitsuko Uchida, Mozart
About a year ago at this time, I heard David Dubal, noted pianist and writer say that for him, Mozart was the greatest composer of them all. Though the world would not argue with this, his choice struck me as odd. I had had my Mozart stretches but I didn’t consider him as deep, as profound as Bach or Beethoven. I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Six months ago I began to listen to Mozart almost daily and each morning I read one of his letters. Bach and Beethoven have lost no luster (I don’t want to trade one foolishness for another) but a joy has entered my life – a life-affirming joy! Amidst the famous Mozart gaiety there is a sadness in his slow movements that portrays an understanding of life that is beyond anything I have ever experienced.
As one example out of hundreds, here is Mitsuko Uchida in the 2nd movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #9 (of 27!).
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died at not quite 35. But he is not dead and so we say Happy Birthday Wolfgang, friend to the world!
Tags: Arturo Toscanini, Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, Mozart Requiem, Riccardo Muti, Tullio Serafin
Claudio Abbado, the great Italian Maestro, died the other day at 80. He was from a certain line of Italian conductors that seemed untouchable in their devotion to music. High priests in conversation with Dante! I am thinking of Arturo Toscanini, Tullio Serafin, Carlo Maria Giulini, Riccardo Muti when I think of Abbado, who I saw several times in Chicago, many years ago.
He suffered from stomach cancer for well over a decade and this lent him an air both of other-worldly transcendence and deep courage. Here is a short video of the end of the Mozart Requiem from 2012 and one of his last performances. In the long silence after the last note we can’t help but think of Abbado holding on to the music, holding onto his beloved Mozart – holding on to life – for just one more exquisite moment.
I don’t think you will be able to watch it just once.
Farewell great Maestro, farewell.
Playing the piano, like golf, lends itself to the cry of “if only ….” With golf I think, ‘if only I hadn’t taken myself so seriously, if only I had a better attitude, if only I’d gotten over my water phobia.’
With the daunting piano, we moan ‘if only I had kept at it! If only … now I’d be able to play.’ And it is true that if we had practiced for 25 years, we could now play decently. Possibly, anyway. But what I have found is that the very reason we quit playing comes back immediately upon recommencing practice, like the tendency to duck-hook in the vicinity of out-of-bounds markers.
In my case, two prongs of memory forked me back to the past. On a staff there are 5 lines and four spaces and there are, for the piano, 2 staffs (or staves), a treble and a bass. On the staff the lines are labeled by the notes that live on them. Going up in lines on the upper staff: E,G,B,D,F (Every Good Boy Does Fine) and in spaces: F,A,C,E. Forgetting for a moment the lines and spaces: E,F,G,A,B,C,D,E,F going up and F,E,D,C,B,A,G,F,E going down. So far so good.
But the lower or bass staff is lettered differently: G,A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A going up and A,G,F,E,D,C,B,A,G going down.
In between the two staffs is a line that is C – the famous Middle C. Above this C is the D that precedes Every and below it is the B that tops the A at the top of the lower staff.
Above and below the staffs lines continue but only appear as needed.
Each line or space is simply and logically named and like seeing a member of your family, easy to recognize. But as a group, hurdling at you at a (proposed!) 100 notes per minute, very difficult for me to read and translate to my fingers. This prong of the fork came back to me immediately.
The second immediate problem came in finding my place should I dare to look at my fingers wandering about the keys. Where was I? What was that last note? This was the second prong that wasted no time in forking me.
There is, of course, only one answer: practice/patience. There is not one without the other.
(But I’ve forgotten to mention accidentals strewn as they are, like character defects, amidst the lines and spaces!)
Tags: Alan Rusbridger, Ballade #1 in Gm, Chopin
If I did not have a piano I would be in a desperate search for one. Oh what pianistic castles in the sky I would be building! Spreadsheets would bow before my artistic justifications. My brain would get bigger and I’d live longer. I’d live better. I’d be a better person. I’d be everything I never was before. I would finally breathe.
But I have a piano and have had one for 25 years and can’t play even one song.
But now I am super-motivated. I’ve just read a fantastic book: Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible by Alan Rusbridger. He is the long-time editor of the (Manchester) Guardian and an amateur musician. The book is a narrative of a year-plus in which Rusbridger attempts to learn and then play publicly the notoriously difficult Chopin Ballade #1 in Gm. This is juxtaposed against publishing the Wikileaks (led by the Guardian with the NY Times) and the Rupert Murdock hacking scandal.
Though Rusbridger is reasonably self-deprecating, it is impossible to not be in awe of all he gets in in a day. He has all the excuses I had for not playing (the press of business, travel, no consistent access to a piano …) and 10X more.
I am away from my piano for a few days but I’ve begun (again) anyway. How could I not?
Tags: Bach, Goldberg Variations, Jeremy Denk, NPR
Jeremy Denk, the pianist, is not short of kudos these days as he recently won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” and then, too, there are those standing ovations. Still, with the retirement of Alfred Brendel, he is my favorite pianist, my favorite musician and I want to say why.
Denk gives you more than the notes. He has a blog, ThinkDenk. His liner notes are classic, both super-knowledgeable and witty. He recently did a series of pieces for NPR on the Goldberg Variations by Bach and his spoof, Why I hate the Goldberg Variations is a must. My wife and I recently saw (experienced!) Jeremy Denk play the Goldbergs in Chicago and the experience was so much greater than normal because of what I refer to as his denkishness.
He recently recorded the Goldberg Variations and instead of liner notes, the recording came with 9 video segments in which Jeremy talks about the music. Frankly, priceless as he dishes knowledge with wonder.
This is why Denk and why I appreciate him so: he gives you so much of himself and as he plays and writes and talks about the music, he becomes super-alive – and some of that rubs off on us. A genius, yes – but oh so beautifully human.
In a follow-up post I will write about those very famous and yet to most unknown, Goldberg Variations.
Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Fran Lang, Joanne Lipman, NY Times, Woody Allen
From a deep recess in my memory comes one of my younger brothers running down the stairs with my clarinet book opened to the page in which my teacher had marked a succession of incomplete assignments. My brother ran right to my parents to show them my ineptitude. That was the end of the clarinet. I was in 4th grade.
In this past Sunday’s NY Times, Joanne Lipman makes the case in Is Music the Key to Success?, for the deep study of playing music as a key to future success in life. She calls upon the famous, like Woody Allen and Condoleezza Rice, to back up her argument. According to Lipman, “multiple studies link music study to academic achievement.”
While I’m sure nay-sayers can list all the bank robbers who mastered the bassoon, her point feels right to me. I’d give anything to start over as a young boy — perhaps I’d be playing clarinet next to Woody. Seriously: learning an instrument requires stick-to-itiveness and I lacked this early on. It was only when I learned that we could do just about anything if we tried really hard for really long that the world broke well for me.
Read the article and tell me what you think.
(Shout out to my sister Fran for alerting me to this article!)
Tags: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Jazz, Mozart, Mozart's Letters, Robert Spaethling
“Somebody whispered in Dechant’s ear that he should really hear me play in the organ style; so I asked him to give me a theme, he didn’t want to, but one of the clergymen did. I took the theme for a walk, then in the middle of it – the fugue was in G minor – I changed it to major and came up with a very sprightly little tune, but in the same tempo, then I played the theme again, but this time assbackwards; in the end, I wondered whether I couldn’t use this merry little thing as a theme for the fugue? – Well, I didn’t stop to inquire, I just went ahead and did it, it fit so well as if it had been measured by (the tailor) Daser.”
If you were to change “theme” to “riff”, it could have been Count Basie or the Duke talking.
The above is from one of 1400 letters that Mozart wrote – he would have loved Twitter! I’ve spent the summer listening to Mozart and reading and learning about him but mostly I’ve listened. It has been a joyful and profound, deeply profound experience and I have no plans to stop.
(The letter, from October 1777 and addressed to his father, was translated by Robert Spaethling and is from his indispensable Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life.)
Tags: Anthony Maillie, Bill Evans, Leonard Bernstein, Marian McPartland, Piano Jazz
Marian McPartland may have just recently died, but oh how she lived!
I thought that she would go on forever, and she almost did. Born in 1918 in England, a piano prodigy at three, she came to the U.S. in ’45 to play jazz and stayed. I have a wonderful LP from my Uncle Anthony’s collection from 1960, Marian McPartland Plays Music of Leonard Bernstein.
McPartland is most famous for her landmark radio show, Piano Jazz that she began on NPR in 1978 and kept going, recording her last show in 2010, at 92 years of age. I listened to so many of these shows: she generally began by playing a number associated with her guest, then the guest (and these were some guests: Tony Bennett, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Diana Krall, Dave Brubeck, Billy Taylor, Norah Jones … everybody) would play and then would come the duets amidst the talk.
It is striking how Marian could play with all of them deep into old age. There are lessons enough and plenty in her life and recorded treasures for all of us.
Here is a YouTube link to a Piano Jazz show with Bill Evans.
Tags: Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Dvorák, Kevin Puts, Room Music
The day after the concert I wrote about in Room Music, I was delighted to receive an e-mail from the Festival with two video highlights from the concert. I was not aware that the concert was being filmed though I did notice that the stage was heavily miked and I knew that this was not for amplification purposes.
As I watched I was struck by seeing the performers at a different angle from where I sat. I did not feel that the video replaced my sense of the performances but enriched them.
I wonder if something like this could be done after each software demonstration: send some video highlights to the audience. It is so hard to remember what was shown, that customers inevitably forget what they saw – and presenters forget what they showed. Now this would create extra work but the real “extra work” in selling is losing deals that you have put time into.
Just a thought.
Here is the highlight from Kevin Puts’ 7 Seascapes.