Why would a pianist and piano teacher be so interested in a masterclass for a young string quartet at CMU? Because I am interested in garnering any advice given in the name of better performance of music, whether played by piano or any other instrument! David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet visited CMU on his way to a performance through Pittsburgh Chamber Music, and it was most interesting. I couldn't help but be struck by his great interest in the beginning of the work played by the student quartet (sadly, I couldn't hear the title of the piece, and it was unfamiliar to me, but I thought it to be a fascinating piece)......David suggested the performers do much more in the way of gesture, not only to communicate to the audience, but to inform the music itself. This made me think about solo piano performances needing the same. Visual gestures can carry the same information as the sound; much emotional information is conveyed not just to the audience, but back to the performer. Interesting to think more about..........
I have so enjoyed spending time with the music of Federico Mompou, the pianist and composer born to a Catalan father and a French mother in 1893. Mompou was shy, introspective, and self-effacing, and I believe that his personality comes through in so much of his music. A few of my students have played some of his pieces.....CS especially loved "Angelico", the first piece of the collection Musica Callada; I feel the same way about that piece! Listen to his Prelude No. 5 for a similar vibe. You can find a recording of Mompou himself performing much of his own music on the Brilliant Classics label (you can find it on Apple music). Also listen to Impresiones intimas, another collection of pieces I adore. I remarked to a pianist colleague one time that I could not imagine playing this for an audience as I would be afraid that they wouldn't understand the piece? My friend said "perhaps it was not meant to be played for a large public?" This morning I happened to see an article on the WCRB (classical music Boston) website. I will link the website here, and you can scroll down to the Blog where you will find CRB's link! It is an interview with the pianist Stephen Hough, who recorded Musica Callada in February. I think you will learn much from listening to this interview - enjoy! And I hope you find Mompou's music as lovely as I do.
I have been lost in happy practicing of three Debussy Etudes, works not heard nearly as often as many other famous 'etudes', for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they are quite challenging. My other happy-to-practice etudes, of course, are the Chopin, marvels of invention and beauty. And, here are two articles I have enjoyed reading that I think others may find interesting too (especially if you listen to the example attached!) The first one is called "Piano Practice from Czerny to Chopin", and the other is "Piano Practice Etudes for Intermediate Beginners". Both of these were found in Interlude. Hope you enjoy reading, and will be inspired to have happy practicing!
A monumental work for solo piano that is not just for listening to in the Christmas season: Messiaen's "Vingt Regards"
I have been listening a lot in recent days - albeit in small sections as the work is about two hours in length - to a magisterial work for the piano by Messiaen. This unquestionably important landmark of 20th-century piano music is called Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus (Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus). Understandably because of its extreme difficulty and its sheer length, it has received few recordings since its first performance given by the composer's wife, Yvonne Loriod. She made her own recording in 1956 under her husband's supervision. Two more recent recordings standout, by Pierre-Laurent Aimard (a former pupil of Loriod) and Steven Osborne; both of these are more than 20 years old. Osborne, by the way, is a fabulous performer of French piano music in general; watch this recent video (I can't stop watching!) of his recital of the Debussy Etudes in Wigmore Hall in London. There is a recent recording, though, of great beauty by Bertrand Chamayou, and he also frames the work with short pieces by composers writing in tribute to Messiaen, a very interesting idea. Here is an article from Interlude which describes the work a little. I also have enjoyed these pieces by Takemitsu, Kurt, and especially the first one by Anthony Cheung (I really want to learn this one!) Listen wherever you stream music....apple, spotify, etc. I am curious as to what you will think about Vingt Regards.
Please watch this video of Martha Argerich performing the Ravel Piano Concerto in g Major at the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. You can see close-ups of her hands in the wonderful videography in the first movement; then in the second movement, you will hear a beautiful example of balancing sound between melody and accompaniment!
I'm sure it is no surprise to my students that I have regarded the playing of Martha Argerich so highly. I missed a chance to hear her perform live in the Musikverein in Vienna (no tix available; went to the hall anyway and was at least able to see and hear her play from a small screen on the wall in the gift shop....oh dear, how sad!) I did get to hear her perform in Cleveland's Severance Hall a few years ago, playing Prokofiev duets with Sergei Babayan.....I will never be able to tell you how thrilled I was that you got tix for us, Kate!). Anyway, this morning I happened upon a recent performance in a youtube post playing the first work I ever heard her play on record - the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto. Please listen here to a live performance in Buenos Aires (she is from Argentina). The sound is somewhat meh, but I am grateful to be able to see and listen, nonetheless! Let me know what you think!
Anyone know the term "Lisztomania"? According to a Wikipedia article, "Lisztomania or Liszt fever was the intense fan frenzy directed toward Hungarian composer Franz Liszt during his performances. This frenzy first occurred in Berlin in 1841 and the term was later coined by Heinrich Heine in a feuilleton he wrote on April 25, 1844, discussing the 1844 Parisian concert season. Lisztomania was characterized by intense levels of hysteria demonstrated by fans, akin to the treatment of celebrity musicians today – but in a time not known for such musical excitement.
Lisztomania is a 1975 British surreal biographical musical comedy film written and directed by Ken Russell about the 19th-century composer Franz Liszt. The screenplay is derived, in part, from the book Nélida by Marie d'Agoult (1848), about her affair with Liszt." All of these references are interesting, but my favorite new reference is in this fun, interesting video done by Ben Laude with Tonebase. Some speedy fingers here, no doubt!
Have you seen today's Google Doodle? It highlights Oskar Sala, a physicist and composer and early pioneer in electronic instruments. Here is a good video to introduce you to Oskar playing on the Trautonium. Sala worked on many film scores with this instrument, and created the non-musical soundtrack for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. He received many awards for his film scores, but never received an Oscar. In 1995 he donated his original mixture-trautonium to the German Museum for Contemporary Technology. If you find this quite interesting, as I do, you can read lots about early electronic instruments! I am rather fond of the sound of the "theremin", have you ever heard of it? Check it out, and let me know what you think!!
One of the many pianists that I admire today is Jeremy Denk. I have suggested to many of you to watch the marvelous videos of Jeremy performing some of the Bach Goldberg Variations on Apple music. I find his focus and concentration, his thoughts when he describes so compelling. Jeremy has a book called Every Good Boy Does Fine; I have on order and am looking forward to reading! I recently watched a video of an interview with Jeremy discussing "why practice matters" on CBS Sunday Morning (I link it here for you). Jeremy is a witty writer, as well as a pianist, and I have read many of his Blogs on his website. Jeremy is also a MacArthur Genius Grant awardee; no slouch there! And I highly recommend a recording from 2012: Ligeti/Beethoven. He plays the very thorny, but amazing etudes by Ligeti, coupled with the last Sonata No. 32 by Beethoven. Seek this one out, and let me know what you think!
In celebration, Bruce Liu, winner of last summer's International Chopin Competition, performed a beautiful recital on March 1 (dedicated to the victims of the war on Ukraine). He played some of my very favorite Chopin works, and wow, how he played! Bruce's program included the Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1, the Rondo a la Mazur op. 5, two Ballades, the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35, and he finished with the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, op. 22. I link the video here, but be aware that you will have to manipulate some timing! He doesn't actually walk onstage until about 7:00 minutes in, and there is a long intermission in the middle you can skip through. Please watch, listen, and enjoy. I have watch several times! Let me know how you liked this performance!