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.
Tags: Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, Kevin Puts, Seven Seascapes
We were so close to the musicians that we could see them eye each other when a moment of entry was imminent; we could see the difference when they played an old favorite and when they played the new piece; we could see them sweat.
The uniqueness of the night was a new work by Kevin Puts (b. 1972), Seven Seascapes for flute, horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano. The composer was on hand for this premier and he said, as an introduction, that he enjoyed composing for such an unusual group of instruments as he didn’t have to compete with Beethoven. He thanked the musicians who had spent 6 hours on the music the day before. He looked relieved to leave the stage to the musicians.
The room for this music was the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, founded in 1696. Back then the piano had not been invented and Bach was but 11 years old. But music both settled and ignited the soul back then as it does now.
This concert was part of the annual Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival and that such an event exists is a gift. We can, though, make it sound too formal, too old, too boring when it is something so alive: people getting together to play without a conductor, with two to several instruments, playing both new and old-timey music and with us sitting on the edge of our seats, real close up.
Tags: Kongar-ol Ondar, Margalit Fox, NY Times, Throat Singing, Tuva
It is a continuing wonder to me how often I “discover” new worlds. For me, there is no greater source of these discoveries than the obituary pages of the NY Times. That does seem after the fact but – as it is my belief that connections are never broken – not too late.
Margalit Fox writes of Kongar-ol Ondar, the Tuvan “Throat singer” who recently died at 51. First of all, Tuvan? Tuva, once an independent country, lies between Mongolia and Siberia. Throat singing? Here is Fox:
(Throat singing is a) Central Asian vocal art in which a singer produces two or more notes simultaneously – and which to the uninitiated sounds like the bewitching, remarkably harmonious marriage of a vacuum cleaner and a bumblebee ….
There is a reason not to read about Kongar-ol Ondar: if you think you have had things tough, you will surely be disillusioned.
(Here he is on the Letterman Show.)
Tags: Dick Cavett, Oscar Peterson, Robert Greenberg, Schwarzwald, The Teaching Company
It was a bright moment when I discovered that Robert Greenberg, my musical Virgil from The Teaching Company, has a blog and that he writes for the love of the game, not just the classical game. Greenberg, a noted composer as well as teacher, is a devotee of all kinds of music and in the blog I read yesterday he exudes over the great jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson.
Besides the nice insert of Peterson on the Dick Cavett Show, I was most hooked by his discussion of certain recordings that the super-prolific Peterson made in “a living room in the town of Villingen-Schwennigen in the south-western corner of Germany, smack-dab in the middle of the Black Forest.” Boy, did my ears perk up when I read this! I feel an affinity with the Schwarzwald that, while founded on eating (ah, the kirsch and cherries over ice cream!), extends to the many people I met there.
Greenberg highlights a 4 CD set, Exclusively for My Friends, recorded in 1963 – 1968 as being a particular treasure. Though I am in a spell of non-buying, I went to Amazon just to browse. Only 1 left! I am susceptible to such e-tricks. At the moment I am about to purchase, our power goes off. Hmm. A few hours later, electricity is flowing.
When I woke up today I had no idea that I would be contemplating Oscar Peterson. Do it. Do it!
The set arrives next week.
Tags: Anthony Maillie, Arturo Toscanini, Licia Albanese, Metropolitan Opera, NPR, Tom Huizenga
Licia Albanese, who had her hundredth birthday this past week, sang for Toscanini in 1946. In those years she reigned as Madame Butterfly, Violetta and Mimi at the Met, where she first sang in 1940. Think on this: Toscanini was born in 1867!
When I first discovered opera, hers was one of the first voices I heard, as she had hallowed shelf space in my Uncle Anthony’s apartment. I didn’t care for her then for the very reason I prize her now. She sounded, at first, so Italian, which I know seems like a funny criticism, as she was an Italian singing Italian roles. But, as I’ve come to appreciate, she sounds like she comes from a specific spot in Italy, where most singers, no matter how great, now sound like they come from everywhere. Her voice is unmistakable.
Here is an excellent NPR post by Tom Huizenga which includes the aria, Un Bel Dì from her most famous role as Madama Butterfly.
And for the devotee: this home video, recorded in the eighties. An old trooper from a glorious age, giving her all yet one more time. If my Uncle was still alive, I know, we would sit and watch it together.
Tags: Hunt Quartet k.458, Mozart, Robert Greenberg, The Teaching Company, Vermeer
I am juxtaposing in my mind two recent artistic experiences. Last week, as I mentioned in a prior post, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and, as I arrived 10 minutes or so before opening, the huge steps were completely covered with people of all sorts waiting to get in. Once in the immaculate rooms they hurried to see the masterpieces. I have felt their tension, almost running in case someone was thinking of moving, say, Vermeer’s A Maid Asleep the second before my arrival.
Then yesterday, after listening to a lesson on CD by Professor Robert Greenberg on Mozart’s Hunt Quartet (K 458), I went to the Arkiv site, an “Amazon” for classical music, to see what other groups had recorded this famous string quartet besides the one I have by the Julliard Quartet. 67! There are 67 recordings available of this masterpiece and nobody is waiting patiently on steps to listen to it.
But hold on, you counter, how can there be 67 recordings and no audience? Well, there is an audience for the great Hunt but it is small yet avid. But far more avid than the listeners are the players and they have a justifiable desire to immortalize their interpretations.
This work by Mozart is certainly as great as the famous paintings hanging at the Met but we take it for granted (if we even know about it), I think, because it is so easy to access. For example, you have to be in Manhattan to see the sleepy maid and for most of the world that takes a huge effort and significant money. By contrast, you can get all of Mozart’s 23 String Quartets for $40.
There is something else, now that both works are perched in the Catbird seat of my brain: to look at a great painting can take just a moment – even the Mona Lisa – and The Hunt requires 25 minutes of your time. Of course, any great painting offers a lifetime of study but to collect the experience, 5 minutes, 1 minute, sometimes 30 seconds will do the trick.