PRESERVING the PAST–
I have said “This is my last performance” to friends and family, dozens of times in the past, when it seemed as though the stress outweighed the pleasures. And always, the lure of sharing the great works I have learned, has canceled out whatever tensions are attached to it. Nothing could ever beat the pleasures of studying these masterpieces and bringing them to performance level. The sense of privilege of being someone who is blessed with this ability never goes away. The problem arises when the urge to share what you have learned, seduces you into planning another concert, and yet another. And I have suffered the snickers and chortles of those who, with an “I told you so” tone of voice, (I told you you could never stop playing) , see me coming back for more—for more commitments, –and more stress.
But of course there are other ways to share—the most creative and deeply fulfilling of which is teaching. At almost every lesson I give, I have the overwhelming urge to share every single thing I know about the work at hand, and the whole sense of continuity, from my teachers, through me, to my students is elating.That I already knew.
But lately, with this new Composer’s Landscape Project taking up my time and energies between lessons, I begin to understand why Glenn Gould stopped performing at a relatively early age, preferring to record what he had accomplished. To be sure a live mic imposes its own potent presence in that process. But I have been in a constant state of excitement since I began this endeavor. I am on fire with it, actually. And the nicest element is the sense of cheating that live-performance, ephemeral, disappearing act, that vaporisation of all your beautiful work, and instead, getting something exactly as you wish it to be—and having it be there forever!
I have set up a nice little recording apparatus called a ZOOM which gets quite good fidelity; I have learned how to record, and re-record, plug the apparatus into my computer, listen to the takes, and download my favorites onto a disc which I then hand over to Jeff, my audio engineer. In this way, I am augmenting and filling in the gaps in the literature I wish to include on these CDs.
Looking back and gathering up already-recorded performance from the past is a rather melancholy process. I remembered a certain special performance of the Chopin b minor sonata, opus 54, but could not find a trace of it, although I was certain it had been recorded. In fact I knew that my late friend, Norman Greenspan, had recorded it, and so it seemed all but impossible that I would ever retrieve that performance. One evening out of nowhere, I dialed Norman’s old telephone reason, quite a strange impulse, as he had lived alone. The phone was answered by a man with a voice almost identical to Norman’s. It was Norman’s son, Alex, whom I had heard Norman speak about, and who had moved into his father’s house. One of his huge tasks was getting the hundreds of DATs (digital audio tapes) sorted out, as Norm’s studio was anything but organized.
I beseached Alex to look for any of my concert DATs, and within a few weeks, a package arrived containing about five or six unlabelled DATs, which I brought to my friend, Jeff, to scan…praying that the Chopin sonata would be among them. Which it mercifully and miraculously was! Jeff made me a CD from it, and then I had to decide whether the somewhat degraded sound after 15 years of lying in a drawer somewhere, was good enough to include in the Chopin set for my new Composer’s Landscape Project. My hope was that listeners could and would be willing to bypass the sound quality and listen to the music, because I knew I could never play it that well again. I decided to append the sonata to the end of the Commentary disc, as I had already crammed as many Chopin works as I could onto the music CD.
My friend, Melisa, called the process I am going through, “harvesting”. It is as good a word as I could have found for the culling of my best live performances, and ending up with something I can feel pleased with.
NEW SERIES of RECORDINGS
Hello. This is my very first blog ever, and I instituted it because of the racing thoughts that occur day and night in my head, with nowhere to put them. So I hereby invite you to visit whenever you choose and to respond, and I will do my best to reply. The biggest news is a new series of recordings that are in the works!—[2-CD] sets: one disc of concert performances, and the other a disc of commentary and program notes, each set focusing on one composer at a time. Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Schumann, and Schubert. (The Beethoven set will be ready next week.)
The Composer’s Landscape Project emerged from a series of programs I gave at Steinway over the course of two years. Each event was a deep exploration of a single composer’s piano works, (with a focus on the particular challenges of that composer for the pianist), followed by my performances of selected works.
A few words and metaphors will explain why I call the series The Composer’s Landscape. Given, that Music is a language, it also has a broad spectrum encompassing many styles, genres and dialects. In fact, each composer has a language of his or her own, and a page from any score has its own terrain and contours, directly related to, and one might say, a pictorial depiction of the language of that composer. An experienced musician can behold a page from a score and discern whether it is a page of Schumann or Mozart, just from the look of it: the landscape, even though the same system of notation, lines and spaces notes, phrase-marks, dynamic markings, are common to all.
What gets more complex is the “topography”: the peaks and valleys, patches of bramble or thicket to plow through, open plains to traverse, gullies to leap over, winding circuitous melodic lines to follow, clotted harmonies to grasp, busy thoroughfares where all the voices converge, and most importantly, the strata,–layers as deep as the Grand Canyon, which we must plumb and peel away in order to find meaning at the CORE. (The metaphors are endless!)
I have drawn mostly from past live, unedited performances, filling in with recent home-self-produced recorded tracks. Jeff Baker, a crack audio-engineer, miraculously eliminated some coughing fits and slamming doors, and equalized recording levels. There will be variations between some of the tracks according to the pianos and hall, but I love the differences each piano’s voice can bring to the music.