Archive for November, 2006

In teaching Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’, I am curious if teachers reading this post instruct their students to search online for information about the dedicatees of each movement of the suite. I was playing ‘Forlane’ for one student and realized halfway through that it reminded me of a boat chant, perhaps–and in searching for the translation of ‘tombeau’, I was directed during my student’s lesson to a site describing the piece. We looked up Gabriel Deluc, the dedicatee of the ‘Forlane’, as I was not familiar with his name. Deluc was a famous painter–one painting he titled, ‘Le lac’– who was trained as a nurse and died in World War I, as did all the dedicatees of each movement. His paintings were hanging in Ravel’s home which he owned after the war. I instructed my student to search each name online for each movement’s dedicatee and see what he learns–I think it will have a deeper effect on him and draw him closer to the work and the composer. He could certainly do a wonderful lecture recital on this–although, perhaps it’s been done many times and I am finding this for the first time.

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What an unusual experience: returning to pieces I have not played for so long–in an attempt to try to repeat the way I played twenty years ago, I am somewhat relieved that I am not playing as I did twenty years ago. What does that mean? In my young search for the ultimate interpretations of standard repertoire, I remember so much of the process–tonal production, tempi, pedaling, phrasing, dynamics. In returning to these pieces, it almost seems too easy–everything falls into place without the same thought and stress of ‘what to do’. I find I am playing fast pieces a bit slower, and slow pieces a bit faster. What’s that all about? Perhaps it has something to do with age and experience–teaching, performing, arranging, who knows. I don’t find the need to play as fast–although it probably still is fast as necessary–and I was never ridiculed or criticized for doing so, or for trying too hard to make a musical statement. I find more simplicity now–clearer thoughts, musical lines–not to say I am finding things more matter-of-fact, quite the contrary–I simply find it easier to do what’s on the page and alittle more, without it sounding drippingly over-Romantic or underestimating the emotional state of the composer at the time of writing. I am finding a marriage of heart, mind and spirit which is not as ‘mindful’ and cerebral as it might have been, rather, more of a natural language than it has ever been. Then comes the question: am I doing enough? Well, I am still able to sing out loud as I play and float the melodies on a single breath without feeling the need to grasp for air (I have always sang along as I practiced, as did my teacher, Adele Marcus). I am not sure if my fingers can fly as fast as they did–though in encores after concerti, they do, but musically, I can’t do that–it doesn’t seem appropriate to play too fast when the music doesn’t speak naturally–

There is a renewed sense of inner trust–to do what comes naturally–trusting the years of effort placed on thought and reason. I trust I will do exactly what is appropriate. I have grown to like that word ‘appropriate’–it is not a definite interpretation when one says it is ‘appropriate’, because it is appropriate for the now–not right, and not wrong. What was appropriate twenty years ago is not now. I can play a slow movement to a Mozart Sonata and a Brahms Intermezzo appropriately now–not overdone, not underdone (yes, like a steak!) I am not as worried that it is too slow, or too fast–it is the singing line that predominates my sense of pulse now. I don’t use a metronome–my sense of pulse is based on the natural vocal lines, and Andante for Mozart is not so slow, nor is Adagio for Brahms. The word isn’t metronomically as important to me as it is a sense of the phrase and the rhythmic flow.

The acid test will come when I perform recitals in Norway in January. This new sense is not as apparent in the concerto playing, because we have to keep a beat with the conductor and have the orchestra playing along. In recital, however, is where we are alone and the interpretation has ebbs and tides. I am curious to hear the reactions–especially from people who have not heard me perform these works for nearly 20 years.

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I was teaching Beethoven’s mammoth ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata today–that last movement fugue is incredibly difficult–pianistically challenging to say the least. My student, who has also brough Medtner’s g minor Sonata and Copland’s Piano Variations, was sharing how Egon Petri and Ernst Levy played the ‘Hammerklavier’–names we almost never hear unfortunately–and when Beethoven heard a 13-year old Franz Liszt–can you imagine the young Liszt being presented to Beethoven? Perhaps Beethoven was my age when he heard Liszt. He asked Liszt to play a Bach fugue–and then transpose it! The great pianists since Beethoven, many of them played the ‘Hammerklavier’–I asked my student why so many don’t today–he said, ‘It’s too hard!’ Well, it also seems hard to see major record labels lay-off top-tier administrators who have dedicated their lives to the industry–and it’s all going digital download–yes, the world is evolving into a new industrial revolution in technology, and we have to adapt to the changes. But we must always remember the great artists and the vast repertoire they performed in recitals–we must keep recitals alive, otherwise, the repertoire will shrink enormously–yet, who can pen a work such as the ‘Grosse Fugue’ or ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata? It always amazes me to think about what it must have been like to be around amongst these giants of composition.

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