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: 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: 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: Paul Schenly, Pianofest, St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Pianofest, celebrating its 25th Season and directed by Paul Schenly, is an intensive summer study program for 8 seriously talented young pianists who are either in or graduated from Julliard and the like – and all have won numerous prizes. Here’s the great part: 14 weekly concerts throughout the summer, with each pianist playing one or two pieces, and the price is $20 per concert and free for students.
We attended this past Wednesday and the venue was a small, intimate parish hall behind St. Luke’s Episcopal Church ( a visual gem). We were very close to the musicians and after each performance I turned to my wife and said, ‘wow, I that was the best performance so far.’ In two cases, I felt chills.
So, the dilemma: seemingly hip, attractive young people who have dedicated their lives to an art, succeeding, play only to older crowds. Classical music by its name is old-fashioned and the composers most often played are long dead. Piano music has no words and on the surface, little sex appeal. While you could, you don’t dance to it.
The fundamental problem though, is not musical. Put kids in a room with a great teacher and one of these young pianists and the room would rock. The kids would get it. But the problem is that older people attend these concerts and young people do not want to be with them except on Thanksgiving. I felt the same way as they did.
Until classical music becomes social for the young, it will languish and that is a waste of one the supreme jewels of civilization.
Tags: Anthony Maillie, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Claude Debussy, Emanuel Ax, Hélenè Grimaud, Katherine Stott, Marc-André Hamelin, Maurice Ravel, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Robert Casadesus, Vladimir Horowitz
With thousands of LPs, CDs, cassettes and even mp3s in my library and now being out of the limelight, I could listen to whatever I want for as long as I want. I am not suggesting that I have too much of a good thing – I just ordered 3 more CDs yesterday – but I listen best, as I did when I was pressed for time, when I have a concert to prepare for.
Marc-André Hamelin, the great Canadian pianist was coming to town and I bought my tickets over a year ago. Back then, I had no idea what he would play but I had to see and hear him and his vaunted technique. There are some who put him on the top of the pianistic heap because of his technique and unusual repertoire and some who drop him a few notches for those same reasons. Ordering early, we had primo seats, in the lower balcony on the essential left side which gives full visual access to the artist and those hands.
I was more than delighted when I first saw the program: Berg, Faure, Ravel, Hamelin!, Debussy, Rachmaninoff. Great names all, save Hamelin as a composer but no Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms — good, give them the day off. I love them but in music I am inconstant and seek variety.
As it happens, I have all the works in my room: Aimard playing the very modern Berg Sonata #1 and Stott the Faure Impromptu #2 and Barcarolle #3(!). I had many choices for the Debussy Reflets dans l’eau and the Ravel Jeau d’eau. For Rachmaninoff’s Sonata #2, I have a wonderful performance from the beguiling Hélenè Grimaud and one from 1968 on LP from the thrower of thunderbolts, Horowitz (which must be heard.)
My greatest pleasure came in preparing for Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Here too I had CDs at the ready but I chose three LPs that my Uncle Anthony gave me. As I listened to them it was as if he was in the room, as, in a sense, he was. He would listen, back in those old days, with a relaxed attention. Often, once the piece was over, he would recall how he came to have the recording. I hung on those words. Music is so much more than music to me, as it was to my Uncle.
Those 3 records:
- Robert Casadesus, the elegant Frenchman and a Grand Prix du Disque recording.
- Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, the Italian Magician from a live performance.
- Emanuel Ax, the much-loved American in one of his first recordings.
Hamelin was great and I felt electricity throughout. One of the works was his own as well one of the encores. His major composition was a very tongue-in-cheek take on Paganini that had us laughing and that is not usual at concerts. Something else: it is normal for a pianist to be marching on and off the stage after every piece or small set of pieces. It brings applause but has always seemed to me to be made-up, stilted. But not noble Hamelin: he played a piece or a small group, stood up and accepted the applause and then sat back down and as the English say, got on with it.
It was a great experience.
Tags: Don Draper, Mad Men, Presentation Training
In my previous post we entered the world of the piano masterclass. Now we will examine training in the world of software sales. What follows is not based on studies but on my own experiences over 39 years and nine companies. The focus will be on Presentation Training.
I have had great Presentation Training and so I am not picking on the weakest horse in the race.In the next post I will make suggestions for improvement but now will review what often takes place.
In the best training, the instructor is skilled in presenting and training and early on, introduces foundational concepts, taking time to answer questions and to make sure that she is getting her points across. Soon, each student is filmed in a short introductory talk, just to get the feel of speaking before the group and also, to give the teacher a base-line as to the student’s skills and areas to improve. The instructor gives feedback for a few minutes and then it is on to the next student.
Following this segment, more content is delivered and then the second filming takes place. Often, the student has prepared a talk and quickly adapting what he has just learned, stands and delivers. This second presentation is almost always better than the first. Once again, a few minutes of feedback and the student sits – with a sigh of relief. He is given his film and soon he is back in the field.
Three days later, when preparing his upcoming presentation, he will seek to incorporate the most easily digested concepts he recently learned and if the air currents are favorable, he will give them a try. Most of the time, though, is spent re-purposing old slides. In a month, most if not all is forgotten as is the whereabouts of his filmed performances.
Remember, this is training done at a reasonably high level and by no means the average. Also, I am assuming that the student wanted to learn and was neither checked out, burnt out, cranky or upset at the world.
But I exaggerate: 10% of the students improve significantly and nobody gets worse than they were. I have been thinking about this for decades. Why aren’t the numbers reversed – why don’t 90% improve significantly? I think that it comes down to three fundamental points:
- Sales Reps undervalue the potential of their role in the sales process.
- They overvalue their skill level.
- The training is not sustained.
However, if Sales Professionals understood how important they are, understood that their importance lies not in setting appointments and giving a 12 minute “corporate” overview but in thinking through the customer’s problems and the solution to those problems in a unique way and then presenting the results of that work in a compelling, unforgettable manner, then the Sales Professional would take a cold clear look at their skills and not only insist on training, but insist on being the best in class and then the best in the field.
Don Draper always makes the pitch.
Tags: Andras Schiff, György Sebök, Jeremy Denk, Marcel Proust, William Leland
A “master class” is a setting where a great pianist or renowned teacher (sometimes they are both) coaches a young student while other students and interested parties, like us, look on. It can be excruciating for all involved, like a blood sport. But it can be an awesome learning experience as well. It is demanding.
These masters do not just sit there listening calmly, applaud and pass on a tip or two. Oh no, they continually interrupt! The great pianist András Schiff tells the story of a student about to play his first note and the master stops him. The student says, ‘but I haven’t started yet.’ The master rejoins, ‘No-but you were about to.’ The student’s foot was reaching for the pedal and the master saw that as a mistake.
The masters often demonstrate and the casual ease with which they play, rarely even glancing at the music, is striking. You get the sense that they truly know what to do and they help that by not excusing their own playing – ‘I’m rusty.’ By not apologizing they build confidence, so essential in a teacher-student relationship.
As I began watching these classes, I wondered how anybody could learn with these constant interruptions which can resemble a parent yelling advice from the stands as their child is in mid swing. That their peers are in the audience heightens the tension. But then I learned of the Hungarian pianist and teacher György Sebök in an article in The New Yorker by one of my favorite pianists, Jeremy Denk. In this wonderful and touching memoir of learning to play, Denk relates his experiences with two of his teachers, William Leland and Sebök (who taught for many years at Indiana University) and it is Sebök I found on YouTube holding a masterclass in 1987. The class is in six 10 minute segments and all are worth watching.
Sebök, in a manner that is both dreamy and detailed, gives the young pianist, in a perfect grandfatherly way, a philosophical framework for the Haydn piece she is playing but also technical advice. In the latter half of the first section of the video, Sebök asks her to play a short piece with both hands, as usual. Then, with just the right hand. Next he asks her to play it again with just the right and he plays the left hand part. Lastly, she plays it with both hands. You can hear the difference in her playing. Now that is teaching – and learning.
It is important to understand that the students are by no means beginners. They are tremendous pianists, sometimes future virtuosos. From what I have seen, they don’t become outwardly frustrated, though inside they may be counting the seconds for the next victim to take the stool. I imagine their best self being wide open to learning and that they take the discomfort as it comes, as a necessary passage to learning their art. I imagine them feeling quite lucky and if not immediately, soon after.
If, as I do, you find the master class fascinating, I recommend this one by Jeremy Dent, given at the Chamber Music Society in New York. In it he coaches two groups of musicians. It is two hours long but you can skip around. Denk, an American and Sebök the Hungarian are quite different but both share a winning generosity of spirit.
While the major point of this blog-series is the adaption of the master class method to business, I found that after watching a master class, my ability to listen to music expanded. For example, I heard gradations in sound, how a pianist first played a phrase this way and then another way. I heard the difference between teacher and student. I was, to adapt Proust’s advice, hearing with new ears.
Tags: Andras Schiff, Bach, Jan Jedlička, Well Tempered Clavier
Bach entered my life, appropriately in Germany in 1973. My wife Ingrid and I were just married and moved everything we had (3 suitcases, leaving only books and records home) to Germany so she could study in Tübingen. We had almost no money but I have always been able to buy music somehow and for only a few marks I found myself listening over and over to several Brandenburg Concertos by Bach on a small cassette player that my friend Pete Mularchuk gave me as a wedding gift to play Knick games on (part 2 of his famous gift.)
Bach hooked me and he has never let go. As Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, ‘Age cannot whither, nor custom stale his infinite variety.’
The profound pianist András Schiff has created quite a stir this past year with his recitals and his new CD release of the Well Tempered Clavier. Foolishly I missed him but have done a happy contrition by listening, rapt, to one Prelude and one Fugue each morning. Schiff has given us a new way, a prism, in which to listen anew. The Well Tempered Clavier is made up of two “books” and each book is composed of a prelude and fugue in each major and minor key, of which there are 24. So, each book begins in C major and ends in b minor. In Schiff’s imagination, and now in ours, he sees each key, the sound of each key, in a different color. Here is what he writes in his notes:
Let’s imagine that in the beginning there was innocence and therefore C major (all white keys) is white as snow.The last piece of both books is in b minor which is the key to death… This has to be pitch black. Between these two poles we have all the other colors, first the yellows, oranges and ochre … all the shades of blue … the greens … pinks and reds … browns … grey and finally black.
Of course, this is a very personal interpretation and each of you may have a different opinion. Nevertheless if some of us happen to believe that music is more than just a series of notes and sounds, then a little bit of fantasy is welcome.
With Bach, when you end, you begin.
Tags: Lazar Berman, Paul Lewis, Schubert
The English pianist Paul Lewis completed his Schubert cycle playing, undaunted and with great art, the last three piano sonatas. These are long and intense pieces that require wonderful playing, and an awake and excited listener. This was not a concert for the tired or the anxious.
It is often the case that, in classical music, the most wonderful and touching music comes with the most boring names. Schubert’s last sonata, completed just before he died at 37, is called Sonata in B flat Op. Post. D.960. When I first heard this sonata in a recording by the Russian Lazar Berman (that I bought for a dollar in those final days of the LP), I was entranced and played it over and over. Its first two movements are the Grand Canyons of deep soul. Here played by the great Alfred Brendel.
So, having heard Berman deeply and the magisterial Kempff and Uchida many times I awaited Lewis on this grand playing field. He was strikingly different from Berman taking 12.5 minutes less to play the piece. It wasn’t just that he played it faster, which he did, but he didn’t play all the repeats. In those old days, Schubert and Beethoven often called for repeats of sections of movements. The listeners would be hearing the music, most likely, for the first time – and sometimes the only time – and so the composer would notate a repeat to make sure the music was in the listener’s ear. They did not, of course, have collections at home but would have had to play the music themselves if they wanted to hear it again.
All this is just to illustrate how important it is to go see the musicians live – each performance is just that! I was lucky to hear Mr. Lewis’ take on this cherished work.
Tags: Debussy, Horowitz, Khrushchev, Tchaikovsky Competition, Van Cliburn
I came to classical music after Van Cliburn went into retirement but he was the first pianist I ever heard of and in this, I am not alone. Van Cliburn! His name resounded like the giant chords that begin Tchaikovsky’s First that became the first million-seller in classical history.
The weekend before his death on February 27 at 78, by chance, I played his The Debussy I Love and the playing was beautiful but the experience not completely satisfying. The sounds were all there but something was missing: Cliburn. Now, in the days when the record came out, 1972, it was not usual for an artist to write liner notes and though notes in general were common, having just the works and timings was just as common. But in this case, even though I know that this was part of a series (The Brahms I love …) I did want to know why he loved the chosen pieces, what were the associations, connections that led these works to this particular vinyl disc.
Like Horowitz, Cliburn came out of a self-imposed retirement but there the comparison ends. Horowitz played Carnegie Hall and Sixty Minutes and went on a pilgrimage to Russia and an ever-increasing clamor of adulation and while Cliburn played for all our President’s in ceremonial situations and even, one time again in Carnegie Hall, he always repaired back to a quiet repose in Texas.
I think that the fame that came from winning the first Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 with Khrushchev in the audience at the height of the Cold War and then the ticker-tape parade in New York City were far more than the shy boy from the South could stand. He didn’t have staying power but he didn’t need to. Harvey Levan Cliburn had done his thing at a time and a place that made him the most famous musician in the world. That was 55 years ago and that was enough.