Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pianists on the verge of a nervous breakdown

This is the week for musicians having meltdowns, that is for sure! Yesterday we dealt with the situation involving Keith Jarrett. That sparked quite a discussion! Today we have a case of a classical musician gone wild. It is Ivo Pogorelich.

Ivo Pogorelich misbehaved in Israel, according to this story in the Jerusalem Post. The paper said that during a piano recital he was giving, he began yelling at the audience for talking. Then someone from the crowd yelled at him. It was a lot like the Jarrett incident.

I do not know where to begin to ask questions.

Is it something with the moon?

Also I did not know that people in Israel have a habit of talking in concerts. Is that so? I would not have thought that.

The story in the Jerusalem Post was by Jonathan Beck. It was well-written, I thought, and contained this analysis of the situation:

There is a paradox to every performance of classical music: while instrumentalists or singers may attain superstar status, there is always a measure of servility inherent to their art, in that their abilities are measured by the extent to which they can make the composer’s intentions shine through their own work. Thus, the player is, even at his finest, only a vessel for something greater than himself; he is there merely to make the notes on the page come to life, and anything he manages to express should already be implied by the score, waiting to be brought to life.

I have caught myself thinking that -- or something like that, anyway. I mean, Glenn Gould played fantastic Bach, but it was not as if he was Bach.

I wonder if along with seeing the end of the tyrannical conductor, we will be seeing the end of the tyrannical soloist.

On the other hand hot tempers make good copy. Always have, always will.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The prima donna

There is this hilarious story about pianist Keith Jarrett being a prima donna in San Francisco.

I remember once he was a prima donna at Artpark too, when he played that great old Artpark Jazz Festival. He kept stopping and hitting the same note on the piano over and over, quizzically, critically. There was nothing wrong with that note.

Walking out of Artpark that day, my friend Diane and I were laughing about that, and all these Keith Jarrett fans turned and gave us stink-eye. They will put up with anything.

Finicky jazz musicians are not always as entertaining as they think they are. Especially when you have shelled out for tickets, their behavior is not fun. Once I shelled out money to go hear Branford Marsalis. This was years ago and though the tickets were not astronomical, I didn't have much money. I always remember how Branford thought he was being cute, wandering constantly off stage so he could check the score on a basketball game. Boring! And annoying. And furthermore it's been done, you know?

Branford played a short concert. The whole event lasted an hour and a half, as I recall. And he spent most of it backstage. Wow, I was mad. At least now if something like that happens I get to vent in the paper.

More recently there was a time I had to interview Wynton Marsalis. I could make no sense out of what the guy said. He kept murmuring stuff and giggling and just plain acting like a jerk. This is a guy in his 40s. I did not know what his problem was.

I mean, if you do not want to talk to the press, don't talk to the press, OK? I would have been fine with that.

Classical music, I am telling you, it gets you spoiled. There are some princesses in the classical world but not like in jazz.

Jazzers can be real jerks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Brahms scholar speaks

The Internet, every day I find a new reason to love it. You can get in touch with all kinds of people you would never have been in touch with before.

There is that biography of Johannes Brahms by Jan Swafford that I talk about a lot. I just talked about it yesterday! Anyway, my brother George recently read it too. There is no shame in pointing out that this is the first book of that kind that George has ever read. Most people do not read big, fat biographies of composers, let's get that out there right now.

Anyway George and I are kind of preoccupied with this book and we are always joking around about it. We are choosy and so we have gotten this way with only three other books: Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons"; Herman Wouk's "Marjorie Morningstar" and John Galsworthy's "The Forsyte Saga."

Now that George has read Jan Swafford's "Johannes Brahms" we talk about that. That is the book pictured up above. My husband, Howard, the book gets on his nerves. One of the millions of times I was talking about it he said, "That's the book with the cover where Brahms looks like Clint Eastwood."

Anyway, George and I quote from people in the book and discuss the various characters as if they are alive. It is a compliment to Jan Swafford that we feel they are! Perhaps some day people will feel that way about my book on Leonard Pennario.

Back to the Internet. What George did cracked me up. He went and emailed Jan Swafford and complimented him on his work.

George soared like an eagle and wrote:

Professor Swafford: Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the Brahms book which I just completed.  My sister, classical reviewer for the Buffalo News, Mary Kunz Goldman, recommended the book to me and we discuss it frequently - even enjoying an occasional inside joke ("The Second Fritz") ... ....thanks again for your hard work....George

And Professor Swafford wrote back:

"Thanks for your note, and glad you both enjoyed it. One of these days there'll be a Beethoven bio from me -- but don't hold your breath. Jan Swafford."

Ha, ha! I love the Internet. And now we know, there will be a Beethoven bio one day from Jan Swafford.

You read it here!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iron maiden

As a model for Monday mornings, or for Tuesday mornings, or for any stressed-out weekday morning, may I propose Clara Schumann. That is she up above. Here is a more battleax picture.

"During their marriage, pregnant most of the time, with her children and fragile husband dependent on her, Clara gave about 150 public concerts between 1840 and 1854, sometimes playing days before or after suffering a miscarriage." That is from my Jan Swafford biography of Brahms, now in about 50 pieces.

You got to have servants back then. But still.

She would still have to oversee the household. The buck stopped with her. She put aside her own career. Every day she put out for Robert, how about that? She was also accident prone. This from the Swafford Brahms book: "Accident-prone Clara was then in Cologne for medical reasons, having injured her hand in one of her falls. She was taking the treatment, medieval and unbelievable but approved medical practice, of  'animal baths,' which meant plunging her hand into the entrails of some freshly killed creature."

Yecch! As they used to say in Mad magazine.

Clara was also prone to hysteria. I would be, too!

The great pianist Earl Wild told me once when I got to interview him, "She was not a nice person." I got a kick out of that but if Clara Schumann was not a nice person I do not care, I will tell you that right now.

My hat is off to her.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rose-colored music

Today was Laetare Sunday which is kind of a break in Lent. The priest gets to wear rose-colored vestments as the Pope is seen doing in that picture. The Mass today had the words "Laudate Dominum." It comes from an old Hebrew psalm. Many of the most beautiful prayers from the Mass come from psalms.

That makes me think of the Mozart "Laudate Dominum." It is one long and sustained aria and he throws in this Mahler harmony that I find thrilling. There is this video with pictures and a translation. In the video the harmony that gives me a buzz comes at 2:53.

A phrase I love is "in saecula saeculorum." It means "World without end." You hear it all the time at Mass. The priest is always wrapping up prayers by saying, "In saecula saeculorum." And then you say, "Amen."

I love that phrase but for the life of me, even having taken three years of Latin, I do not know how it works out into meaning "world without end." That is something to ponder while listening to "Laudate Dominum."

You never quite shake the recording you grew up with. The "Laudate Dominum" I grew up with was on Nonesuch with Teresa Stich-Randall. I have never heard of Cristina Piccardi, the singer in the video I just linked to, but I like her. Even though the tempo is a bit brisk for me. I know, fussy, fussy, fussy!

Here is Joshua Bell playing it on the violin.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Star-crossed lovers

I was listening to this new CD with Anna Netrebko and Daniel Barenboim singing Russian songs. (Editor's note, pursuant to comment below: Netrebko sings and Barenboim,  plays the piano. I will have to stop Ms. Kunz Goldman from writing late at night.)

The liner notes mentioned that Tchaikovsky had written some songs for this singer he was in love with, Desiree Artot. That is she pictured above.

This is funny, I have read lots of books and articles about Tchaikovsky, and I never remember hearing about this woman. You always hear about the loon Tchaikovsky married, the woman he hardly knew, and things fell apart very fast. And you hear about Madame von Meck. That is a story I love. It is so Russian, how they correspond but agree never to meet in person.

But this Desiree Artot, no one makes much mention of her.

Yet it appears Tchaikovsky was over the moon about this woman and neglected his friends, finally writing back to one of them who was bugging him that he was sorry, he was just spending all his time with this singer, and he was very smitten.

Here is another picture of Miss Artot.

She and Tchaikovsky were engaged but then she up and married a Spanish tenor. When he heard about it Tchaikovsky freaked out and ended the rehearsal he was leading.

Wow, how interesting! This sounds like a real love affair.

Tchaikovsky is supposed to have written "Romeo and Juliet" while thinking of her. His friends made rude jokes about it. What are friends for? He also wove the letters of her name into a few compositions, the way Schumann used to weave in the names of his girlfriends.

Another picture.This must have been her fat picture, the one she got mad at her friends for bringing out.

 I think it is odd you do not hear more about this episode in Tchaikovsky's life. And when you do, it is always shrugged off, as in: "He believed himself in love..."

How about just "was in love"? Everyone has an agenda, you know?

Here is Tchaikovsky in his later years looking back on Desiree Artot...

and pondering what might have been.

Last bow

I just went next door to the Radu Lupu concert -- I love saying that -- and while I was there my cousin Gretchen told me that cellist David Soyer had died. That makes me sad.

Well, he lived a long life, to 87 years. And it was a wonderful life.

That is a great picture above of Soyer that I ripped off from Instant Encore's absorbing Soyer page. Like a lot of music listeners I consider the Guarneri Quartet practically family. I grew up with their records. Their RCA Red Seal box set of the six Mozart "Haydn" quartets were part of my adolescence. I know, nerd! But that is the truth.

Then I read Arnold Steinhardt's book "Indivisible By Four" years before I got my job writing about music for The Buffalo News. That is a hilarious and very human book about life in a string quartet. Later, when I found myself interviewing Steinhardt, I kept remembering the book, and how I never thought I would be talking to him about it. It was funny, Steinhardt on the phone was not at all what I had imagined. You get your highly personalized images of these people.

When I shared the stage with the Guarneri Quartet last spring, Soyer was no longer with them. His successor, Peter Wiley, was playing.

But there was an occasion several years ago when Soyer was here in Buffalo, I think with the Shanghai Quartet. It was so sweet to see the younger musicians gathered around him, looking up to him as if he were God. And when they left the stage, the kids were all gathered around him still, patting him on the back, basking in his nearness. It was so touching.

They played the great Schubert C major Quintet. Soyer was in the center. I remember that.

I wish I could go back in time to that evening, you know?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Another voice

There is this singer, Jonas Kaufmann. I like him. Jonas Kaufmann is a tenor but he almost sounds like a baritone. He has that kind of depth to his voice.

He is from Munich, I think. That is a funky picture of him up above. I heard him the other day in "Die Schoene Muellerin." You want to get my attention, let me hear you in "Die Schoene Muellerin." Every time a new one comes in I drop everything. I collect performances. I have about 25, I think.

Here is a hippie picture of Jonas Kaufmann. It reminds me of Grateful Dead concerts I attended.

Ha, ha! I guess there has been a kind of flap because Jonas Kaufmann complained that he was being presented as eye candy. "Totty" is the quaint word they use. It must be British. You can read about that flap, as I eagerly did, on this fine Web log here.

To accompany your reading here is "Der Zurnende Barde" ("The Angry Singer") by Schubert.  This is a great song and a dandy performance by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Back to Jonas Kaufmann's voice.

Here is a recording on YouTube of my new friend Jonas singing the first two "Schoene Muellerin" songs. This is kind of like a dream video for me. In the car, or anywhere, listening to this song cycle, I always take forever to get past "Wohin." Even though I love the whole cycle and know it by heart, I will keep listening to those first two songs over and over again, into eternity. I get like some kind of robot. You have to reboot me.

I have special feelings for them because when I went to California to get with Leonard Pennario, I had that moment of panic in the parking lot of work because it struck me I had just met this guy, I had no idea what I was doing. Then I heard those first two songs and everything was better. I wrote about that on this Web log, I remember that now. I wrote about it the first day.

I am fussy about these songs the way you get when you love something. "Das Wandern," I do not want it too fast or too slow. I want the piano strong and hearty. I want the singing strong and hearty too. Tenors do not always do it for me.

But this Jonas Kaufmann ...

I like him.