Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Dead Pianists Society

Surely we live in the golden age of books about pianists. I look forward to contributing to this era of excellence with my book about Leonard Pennario!

There are two new books out about dead pianists which I am excited to see.

One is about Moriz Rosenthal. It is edited by Mark Mitchell and Allan Evans.

There is the Moriz Rosenthal book pictured at left. Indiana University Press was nice enough to send me a note about it at work so I am planning on checking it out and reporting on what is inside. It is sure to be interesting. Rosenthal was a student of Carl Mikuli who was a student of Chopin. He also studied with Liszt.

Here is a sentence I love that I just read on Wikipedia. "Rosenthal's own student Charles Rosen, in an interview published in the June 2007 issue of BBC Music Magazine, recalled Rosenthal's having said little of his studies with Liszt except that luring Liszt from the café to the studio at lesson time was a challenge."

Ha, ha! That reminds me of my interviewing Pennario. He would always have some funny detail he would want to laugh about. You were supposed to be taking care of scholarly stuff and instead you are both sitting there laughing.

The other piano book is about Ignaz Friedman and it is by Allan Evans, the co-author of the Rosenthal book. That is the Friedman book pictured at left. I love on the cover how Friedman's first name is huge and his last name is smaller. That big "Ignaz," right in your face. That is Ignaz Friedman pictured at the top of this post.

Friedman was a child prodigy and as a kid participated in Busoni's master classes. That would be something to read about. I cannot wait to check this book out. I bet there is all kinds of fascinating stuff in there.

Norman Lebrecht praised the Ignaz Friedman book, so that certainly bodes well. But one thing. Lebrecht writes: "Nothing is harder to bring back to life than a dead pianist, no matter how effervescent or influential. The art dies with the fingers."

I do not think so!

We have recordings! We have testimonials and memories. We have our romantic imaginations. We have these pianists' artistic heirs. Now, try bringing a dead sanitation engineer back to life. Or, I don't know, a dead bureaucrat, someone who worked for the Water Authority. I think that would be tougher.

These books about old dead pianists, bring them on!

Those old dead pianists live on, to me!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Maazel tov

Today the Wall Street Journal spotlights Lorin Maazel, who is stepping down from the podium of the New York Philharmonic. You can read the story here. I think! I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal but I hope other people will be able to click through.

The story, by David Mermelstein, says that Maazel is 79 and lives in an antebellum mansion with his third wife and his 106-year-old father. I did not know that! I am always interested in reading about people's situations.

It also mentions Maazel's opera "1984," which I guess got unflattering reviews.

Maazel, undaunted, says he is going to devote more time to composing. Which, I have to be honest, I find it hard to get excited about that. Maazel should not take that personally. I find it hard to get excited about anyone composing.

It is not my fault! It is just what is out there. We do not live in a good era for musical composition and I do not know why that is but it is true.

Wow, all this unburdening of the soul, because Lorin Maazel wants to devote more time to composing! Oh, well, have at it, Maestro. What the heck, I'll give it a listen.

Here is an interview with Maazel filmed on -- I love this -- the London Eye, which is I know not what. A train? A plane? Sometimes it looks as if they are up in the air. Wait... could it be a Ferris wheel? Maazel looks like a charming person. I like the way he talks.

And up above is a picture of Maazel with his wife. She has a very interesting name. It is Dietlinde!

All these interesting things I am learning!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cold, cold heart

Interesting review one of my Twitter buddied posted today, from the British Telegraph. Of Matthias Goerne singing "Die Winterreise." The Twitter buddy who posted it is a Web logger who goes by the name of Friedrich Kuhlau! But that is a whole other story.

Matthias Goerne, the German lieder singer, is no stranger to this Web log. Number one we are preoccupied with Schubert songs, and number two, we have commented on Goerne's rough and thuggish demeanor.

Here is part of what reviewer Ivan Hewett wrote in the Telegraph.

Goerne’s vocal power is absolutely astounding and so is his control. He rose to an awe-inspiring fortissimo on the last word of “Wasserflut” and then did a perfect diminuendo; and in “Das Wirthaus” he matched Schubert’s staggeringly powerful music with a perfect sustained quiet line.

It was tremendous but somehow unmoving, I suspect because Goerne is so utterly lacking in vulnerability. He wants to pin us to our seats with vocal shock-and-awe. The humanity in the performance came from Eschenbach. When Goerne asked, “Leaves, when will you turn green? When shall I hold my love in my arms?”, it was Eschenbach who softened Goerne’s hard edges with a beautifully expressive touch.

I have always found Goerne's recordings on the whole rather unmoving and perhaps that is why. But this is illuminating for me because I have never seen him in person.

It is funny, the people who get to you and the people who do not. A few weeks ago here in Buffalo we heard that solo recital by the pianist Yefim Bronfman. To be honest, I think Bronfman should work on his stage presentation. I know, listen to me talking. But his demeanor was too cold, too introverted. There is an audience there and you should at least glance at us once in a while, you know?

Still, he had that certain something and there was a kind of warmth that came through. So that stand-offish quality, I found myself writing it off as shyness. Or something. In any case, you wind up giving him a pass. He found some way to let the audience in.

How funny. You think you are just sitting there listening to Schubert. And there are all these different variables, constantly at work on the concert stage and in the twists and turns of your brain. It keeps things exciting, you have to say that.

That link is a clip of Thomas Quasthoff, by the way, singing the opening song of "Winterreise," a song I find tremendously moving.

Wow. Listen to that. Look at him and Daniel Barenboim when the song goes into the major. Look at their faces.

All these different variables at work.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


On June 21 most people think of the summer solstice. But I do not! I think of this.

Such, beautiful, tender music! I remember writing that in an email one morning to our classical station, WNED-FM. Because they played it when I was on my way to work. And I remember it completely turned my day around.

So tender!

That is, in case you do not feel like clicking on the link, the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger." You can feel the dawn breaking, the music gradually growing brighter. The yearning in the strings. Everyone waking up. The feeling that something beautiful is about to happen.

That is a British production of "Meistersinger" pictured above. It is a little far-out but I like the magic of the colors.

All of "Die Meistersinger" takes place on a single day, June 21. It is so sweet, an opera taking place on a single day. "The Marriage of Figaro" does that too. All these crazy and magical and romantic things happen, all in a single day.

But in "Die Meistersinger" the day is Johannestag, or St. John's Day. The saint is St. John the Baptist. I checked in my missal this morning and the Catholic missal puts him on June 24, which I understand in his birthday. But traditionally it is June 21. Midsummer Day.

Here is how music can take over your life. This morning I came out of Mass and a whole group of us were standing on the steps of the church, talking and laughing -- and all I could think about was "Die Meistersinger." About how Eva comes out of the church with everyone else and all this funny and interesting stuff is happening.

Here I was on the steps of the church on Johannestag with my prayer book just like the people in the opera! That was all I could think about.

Wagner used the traditional Johannestag Chorale in "Die Meistersinger." He did not write that theme. Darn, I am trying and trying to find a recording of the Prelude to Act I that leads into that chorale. But fie, I cannot!

But that is not the only time you hear the theme. Wagner weaves it in at other parts of the opera including this one.

Here is the Prelude to Die Meistersinger as conducted by my friend Larry's hero, Rene Leibowitz.

Here is a cute film version of the magical part of Act 3 when you glimpse the guilds and hear the trumpets and the Middle Ages comes to life before your eyes.

Magic. I keep saying that word. But it is. There is this story about George Szell that I read recently, I forget where. One of the orchestra musicians made a mistake and was asking Szell's mercy, saying it was his first "Meistersinger."

And Szell, uncharacteristically, was not mad at all. He said, "What I wouldn't give to hear 'Meistersinger' again for the first time."


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The grand Legrand

On my other Web log today I recount my outrageous experiences trying to mail a letter to the great songwriter Michel Legrand, among other people. And I started thinking about Michel Legrand songs that I love.

Here is one he wrote that I am crazy about.

That is Legrand himself playing it with a jazz trio. I wish I could have posted the recording of Leonard Pennario playing it. Pennario played it solo as part of an "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" suite on "Film Themes and Variations," a movie music CD he made late in his career. He is playing solo piano, just improvising, and he never lets it go uptempo, he just keeps it slow and straightforward. And it is just beautiful.

Here is "I Will Wait For You" from "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" which to tell you the truth I have never seen.

Wow, I am watching this clip. Who would ever have dreamed up a movie like this? I seem to remember Pennario liked it. He loved sultry stuff like that. I liked that about him.

Here is another Legrand song I love, sung by Sarah Vaughan. What is it with everyone misspelling Sarah Vaughan's name? They are always leaving out that last "a." It is not a difficult name to spell. I cannot figure that out.

We have this pianist in Buffalo, Wally Jedermann. Jedermann is a cut-up and he can never resist having fun with that song title.

"What am I doing the rest of my life?" That is what he sang once.

And another time: "What are you doing the rest of tonight?"

This is a bad thing to do, start the day with ballads by Michel Legrand.

Now I will never be in the mood to work!

Friday, June 12, 2009

A toast to St. Anthony

Tomorrow being the feast of St. Anthony of Padua we should raise a glass of wine in his honor because of this wine miracle he performed. St. Anthony is a saint after my own heart. That is for sure!

I lifted this off a Catholic Web site:

On his way back to Italy after the death of St. Francis (3 October, 1226), he traveled through Provence where, tired from travel, he and his companions entered the house of a poor woman, who placed bread and wine before them. She had forgotten, though, to shut off the tap of the wine-barrel -- and as the wine was running out, one of Anthony's companions broke his glass. Anthony prayed, and the wine barrel was filled up again and the glass was made whole.

Ha, ha! I love the detail of the story. How in the confusion and panic of the wine tap being left on and the wine running out, the friend has to go and break his glass.

Why am I writing about wine? It is only 7 a.m. Well, it is not my fault that St. Anthony performed this miracle.

I found out about it when I was researching St. Anthony because this weekend, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is playing Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony. There is a part in that symphony where you get to hear Mahler's song "St. Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fishes."

I love that song because the accompaniment lets you picture the water stirred up and the fish leaping and sparkling in the sunlight. Also the music has this sweet klezmer feel and it is so tender.

Here is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing it. There is a translation to the right of the video. What hilarious graphics! I would never have dreamed this up.

St. Anthony's sermon to the fishes was another miracle he performed. The fish raised their heads out of the water and listened to him. Here is a picture I found that I love. That look on the face of the fish!

Then there is the famous St. Anthony Chorale that is the basis for Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn."

That is a warhorse of a piece but I am sorry, it is thrilling and uplifting. Once about a year ago I was terribly stressed out and I found the Karajan recording and took it walking in the park every day for a week. I love how at the end of the piece, Brahms has everything fall into place. It all comes together in a rush and it is as if you can see it before your eyes.

The chorale theme is so beautiful and dignified. When I was growing up, the girl next door even got married to it. Her name was Leslie Heinith. She was getting married and she happened to ask my dad for ideas on what music she should play walking down the aisle. And my dad suggested it and Leslie went with it.

It is a beautiful choice! I wish I had thought of it when I got married. I did not know that story then. My mother told me about it later.

Here is the St. Anthony Chorale where you get to watch the music.

Here is a another treatment of the piece and the performance is more professional. These are variations by Arthur Nobile and as the commenter mentions, he works in "Angels We Have Heard on High." Pretty church, in Coral Springs, Florida. The slideshow is also pretty, even though it does end cryptically with a slice of Sacher Torte.

There is another thing I love about the St. Anthony Chorale. I love the middle section, what a jazz man would call "the bridge." The music rises gently and falls gently and it is like breathing. When I was stressed out and walking in the park with it, I would actually breathe along with it. Inhale, exhale. It made me feel better.

The two-piano arrangement of the famous Brahms Variations on a Theme by Haydn is fun to hear. Here it is with Martha Argerich and Akane Sakai.

Here is part 2. It is great to watch them manage the ending. Wow, that Martha Argerich! I cannot get over her hair.

Speaking of tributes to St. Anthony here is someone who really put it all together. It is a man playing the St. Anthony Chorale on a bunch of wine glasses!

Before learning about that wine miracle, I would not have understood why he would want to do that.

Now I know!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

High society

Rejoice with me! I have just been accepted into, ahem, the Music Critics Society of North America.

Remember when I sent in my stuff? I wrote about it on my other Web log. Well, the Association was very nice and sent me a note saying I had been approved by unanimous vote. That made me feel good. Howard said it is probably just one guy but it is not. It is a whole board!

You can read my public welcome here.

My august colleagues include Barbara Jepson, who writes for the Wall Street Journal; and Tim Smith from the Baltimore Sun, whom I already am in touch with on Twitter. And Anne Midgette, the critic for the Washington Post. She wrote a nice review when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra played Carnegie Hall. And she is writing a book about Leon Fleisher who was one of Leonard Pennario's friends and fellow pianists.

There is also Gary Lemco, a freelance critic who I remember called me two or three days after Pennario died, when I was still in California, kind of dazed. That was a strange week for me. I lost six pounds! Count on me to remember that.

Other people can gripe about the Internet. I love the Internet, I will tell you that right now. I love being able to connect in any way, shape or form with people like this. Not just for professional reasons. It is just fun. It is fun to find people interested in talking about the same things you are.

Still, I have to say it psyches me up professionally, being a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.

It makes me want to get right out there and criticize!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Cliburn jury of stars

To my delight there are fanatics out there besides me who demand to know who all the people are in my famous picture of the jury of the historic first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, held in 1962!

So here is the lineup. This comes to you courtesy of Leonard Pennario, the juror third-to-left in the last row, the tanned and good-looking one. Pennario was the youngest jury member. He treated his jury booklet like a high school yearbook and had all the jurors sign it and they all wrote stuff about what a cut-up he was. Anyway, so I know who everyone is.


Back row: Luis Herrera de la Fuente; Rudolph Ganz; my friend LP; Jorge Bolet; Leopold Mannes; Angelo Eagon; Serge Saxe (the jury chairman); Ame Motonari Iguchi; Lev Oborin. Oborin came from the Moscow Conservatory.

Front row: Lili Kraus is at left and at right is Yara Bernette. Her real name was Bernette Epstein. I get a kick out of that.

I do not remember the name of the woman to the left of Van Cliburn. I believe Pennario told me she was some kind of administrator. It may have been Grace Ward Lankford ... I think I am reading her writing right. She wrote a message in Pennario's booklet about what a joy it was to have him there.

Mrs Lankford, you betcha!

Wow, looking those pianists, you think of all that monster technique. Those guys in the back row. Ravel dedicated "Scarbo" to Rudolph Ganz. Then you had Jorge Bolet and his knuckle-busting performances. And of course Pennario and "La Valse."

What titans.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rudolf Serkin and me

Yesterday I was driving in to work and I heard a great performance of Mozart's D Minor Piano Concerto. I came in only in the middle of the Romanze movement but what I heard was so crisp and good. Nothing unusual, but I liked its excitement.

Look, I found the first movement on YouTube! The exact performance I heard, but the part I missed.

At the end, Bill McGlaughlin -- it was his show, it turned out -- said it was Rudolf Serkin and George Szell. No wonder it was so good! I congratulated myself on my good taste and then I forgot all about it.

Until later yesterday, when I walked with my friend Melinda to the library.

We stopped in the used book shop. We always stop in there to see what bargains can be had. And I leafed through the vinyl records the way I always do.

And there it was!

Szell, Serkin, the Mozart D Minor!

The same performance I had heard that morning. Well, I think it is, anyway. Unless they recorded it twice. Of course I picked the record up. When I find time to listen to it I will know for sure. That is a picture of Rudolf Serkin up above, by the way. A cute, young picture of him. Usually you see him old.

At the library I also got a beautiful set of Hermann Prey singing Schumann. For $1.
Vinyl is the way to go! I am telling you.

Bill McGlaughlin, on his show, was talking about Mozart cadenzas. He was pointing out that in Mozart's time they were improvised. But now, of course, pianists almost invariably play pre-composed cadenzas. As McGlaughlin said, no one wants to wing it.

Robert Levin winged it when he was in Buffalo! That was fun. I am surprised more pianists are not taking up the challenge to do as he is doing.

All the same, I am so used to the Mozart concertos and have been loving them for so long that I am kind of married to them the way they are.

A glass of wine and this Mozart concerto, in the Serkin/Szell performance...

That will be my carrot for the end of this day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Van Cliburn experience

This Cliburn competition is still a lot of fun even though Eduard Kunz, on whom I had pinned all my hopes, is no longer in it.

As my friend Steven wrote yesterday, you can follow it on the Web site Here is the specific link for Cliburn performances.

Steven writes: "Just look for the MUSIC section on that page and click on the photo/name of the pianist you want to listen to. New performances are being uploaded as the competition progresses."


I am going to be checking that all the time. Which, I am lucky that way. I can sit at work and say hey, I am just doing my job. It is up to me to keep up to date with the classical music world!

Here is what I am wondering. Do the Big Van Cliburn Competition contestants get to go to Van Cliburn's house the way we got to in the first Van Cliburn Amateur Competition? I had fun at Van Cliburn's house. It was the most beautiful house I had ever seen in my life and that included movies. There were tables set up on the terrace and we dined there. Everyone was just floating around.

There were pianos in every room and Van Cliburn did not care if we played them or set drinks on them or what. And from the terrace while you were eating you could look down and there was Fort Worth spread out beneath you, its lights twinkling.

It was funny at the competition because this was all secret. It was not planned. The competition had not even ended, I can't even remember what round we were in, but a bunch of us who didn't even have to play were sitting around listening and gabbing, and the word went around: Pssst, Van Cliburn is inviting us over to his house.

Then we all had to convoy there. You just followed the person in front of you.

And Van Cliburn hugged us all at the door. He said to me: "Oh, you're so beautiful! Oh, you're so sweet. Oh, you're so nice!"

Which I am!

But it was nice of him to say so. What a gracious man he is.

The funniest thing was, my friend Lizzie was with me. She had accompanied me down to Fort Worth. Lizzie is not a musician. She is a prison guard. We have been friends since I was 16. I was not in the clink! Do not even think that. Lizzie was not a prison guard back then.

But the point is, Lizzie does not know a lot about music but she was along for the ride and she was great. She is very outgoing and meets everyone and I made friends with everyone because of her. She was following Van Cliburn around and they were making plans to get together. He loved her. Later Lizzie and I were gloating that Van Cliburn liked us more than he liked anyone else. It was the truth!

Now this is the best. We are all floating around Van Cliburn's house drinking wine and Lizzie gets on her cell phone and calls her parents and she says: "I'm down in Texas with Mary and we're at this pianist's house. It's such a beautiful house! His name is Van. Van Cliburn? I think that's it."

And her dad says: "You're kidding!!!"

Wow, we had fun at that competition! Or contest, to use the word Leonard Pennario preferred. Here, I can prove how much fun I had. Last year, I called the Van Cliburn Foundation about something relating to my book about Leonard Pennario. And their head of P.R. remembered my name!

"Weren't you in our Amateur Competition?" he said. "I remember you!"

That had been eight years before!!

"I can't believe you remember me," I said.

He said: "Yes, I do. You were a lot of fun!"

Ha, ha! No wonder I got knocked out in the first round!

Pennario told me all kinds of stuff about the Cliburn contest because he was a juror for it forever. He had me laughing and laughing. There were only two permanent jurors named to the Cliburn competition. Pennario was one and the other was Lili Kraus.

That is the, ahem, historic jury of the first Van Cliburn Competition pictured above. It was in 1962. Pennario is third from the left in the back row. He is the tanned and good-looking one! The one who looks as if he is having fun.

Which I was, too, as a contestant in the Amateur Competition. I had more fun than I think these contestants are having now.

But still, I will be watching them on!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Opera Woman

Zut alors, Eduard Kunz, the pianist from the Cliburn Competition I was cheering on because of his name, has been knocked out of the race. I guess his performance of Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata was not good enough. That is Eduard Kunz pictured above, in happier days.


Die Welt ist leer, ist leer. That is out of Schumann's "Frauenliebe und -leben." It means "The world is empty, is empty."

I am always applying lines from Lieder and opera to my life.

For some reason I am always thinking of lines from "The Magic Flute." I guess it is because I studied German and I know that opera so well.

"Geduld, Freund. Der Himmel will auch fuer dich sorgen." That means "Have patience, friend. Heaven will look after you, too." Pamina says it to Papageno in "The Magic Flute." I used to think that a lot when I was single. It meant God would find me a good guy.

"Zuruck! Auch hier sagt man zuruck?" That is what Papageno says when he is finding all the doors barred to him. I think that a lot when I am in a situation with no way out, which, I have that experience a lot, often at work.

What other lines come back to me frequently? It is hard to think of them when something does not arise that reminds you of them.

"Ich bin nicht hungrig, Tetrarch." That is from "Salome." Salome says it. That line flashes into my mind when I am not hungry.

Isn't this a silly thing to be thinking about? But the news these days is so scary and ridiculous that it is right and just that we divert ourselves. Dignum et justum est. That is a line from Mass that comes into my mind a lot. It means "it is right and just." But Latin Mass phrases are another topic for another day.

"Freundschaft und Liebe." Tamino says that in "The Magic Flute" when they ask him what he seeks. That occurs to me without fail whenever anyone asks me, "What are you looking for?" Luckily I never say it out loud. People would think I was crazy!

It is funny when these lines drift into your head in the middle of a busy workday, a crowded afternoon full of errands, whenever. Does that happen to anyone else?

If it does, here and now is the time and place to confide it.

Dignum et justum est!