2015 - 2016 Highlights
- February: David Dubal Rachmaninoff - His Life through His Piano Playing and Compositions
- January: George Marriner Maull Choir Boy to Conductor to Educator
- November: Nancy Modell Creative Composing: Embracing Creativity, Nurturing Musicianship
- October: Forrest Kinney Sparks Improvisation The Four Arts of Music: A New Paradigm for Music Education
- June: Ann Schein "Shines" as Master Teacher for MEA Young Artist Master Class
- May: Adam Kent Grieg's Lyric Pieces
- April: Jerome Lowenthal Tells About "Five Famous Teachers and What I Learned from Them"
- March: Joseph Kalichstein Teachers' Master Class: Joseph Kalichstein
- February: Aaron Wunsch Piano Music of Klimt's Vienna
- January: George Rothman The Art of the Interpretation & Discovery of New Music
- November: Terry Eder Bartók's Piano Music
- October: James Irsay How can historic recordings help us to listen, understand, and teach on a deeper level.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (April 1, 1873 - March 28, 1943) had immigrated to USA after the Russian Communist revolution of 1917, and became one of the most influential composers, performers, and conductors of the 20th century. In Dubal's words, he is a 'James Joyce of music.'
Mr. Dubal started with playing an excerpt from the 1st movement of Rachmaninoff's Symphony #3, Op. 44. Conducted by the composer himself and illustrative of his style, it is saturated with the deep passion and Romantic nostalgia for the lost world. Narrating Rachmaninoff's life story, Mr. Dubal played and analyzed some if the Rachmaninoff's recordings, among which were Étude-Tableaux in G minor, Moment Musicaux in E-flat minor, and the Prelude in C-sharp minor, that Rachmaninoff grew to hate due to its overplaying. An inimitable interpretation of the popular Chopin's Valse in C-sharp minor was breathtaking. A masterly recording by Kreisler and Rachmaninoff, of Grieg's Sonata Op. 45 was also played by Mr. Dubal, who told a humorous story about Rachmaninoff pushing Kreisler to work on it more and more. Rachmaninoff was a perfectionist. As an example, he had 42 takes for the recording of the Scherzo from the 'Midsummer Night's Dream' by Mendelssohn. As Ravel said, "The thrill of perfection - life's only badge"... Rachmaninoff's playing of the cadenza from his favorite Piano Concerto #1 was extremely touching. Actually, Rachmaninof considered Vladimir Horowitz, whom he had asked to play this cadenza for him, to be his best interpreter.
Rachmaninoff was born into an aristocratic family in Semyonovo, a district of Novgorod. He took his first piano lessons from his mother, Lubov, and later - from Anna Ornatskaya. Three years later his father, Vasily, fell into debt and lost all his estates. The family moved to St. Petersburg, and Sergei received a scholarship to study at the Conservatory. Sergei wasn't a very serious pupil, didn't see his purpose, and failed his exams.
At 12, his mother sent him to the Moscow Conservatory, to study with great Nikolai Zverev, who, together with Sergei's cousin, the famed Alexander Ziloti--a pupil of Liszt--, influenced Rachmaninoff's musical career. Rachmaninoff studied theory under Arensky and Taneyev. He met Tchaikovsky; Scriabin was his classmate. He had completed composition courses in only one year and wrote the one-act opera 'Aleko,' Piano Concerto No. 1, Prelude in C-sharp minor and other works. Rachmaninoff was the 3rd and last student to receive the Moscow Conservatory's Great Gold Medal.
In March 1897, his Symphony No. 1 received terrible reviews. It might have been a result of Glazunov's unskillful conducting, but nevertheless, this symphony was not performed again until after Rachmaninoff's death. He became deeply depressed and stopped composing for three years during which he performed, conducted, and taught. After a treatment by Dr. Nicolai Dahl, who hypnotically suggested to him to write 'a great piano concerto', Rachmaninoff gradually recovered and began working on his magnificent Piano Concerto No. 2. For ten years, until the Russian revolution, he was very successful in his career. In 1902 he married his cousin Natalia Satin. He was a conductor of the Bolshoi Theater in 1904-6, and then went to Italy and Germany. In 1909 he toured the United States, composing his Piano Concerto No. 3 for this occasion, which he performed with Mahler conducting.
In December 1917, Ivanovka, his beloved estate, was seized by Bolsheviks. Rachmaninoff moved with his family to Denmark, and the following year, to New York. In March 1931 he signed a petition published in the New York Times, criticizing Stalin and the Soviet regime, and as a result, his music was banned in the USSR. In the U.S., Rachmaninoff didn't compose much. He was a wonderful husband and a father and earned a living by playing and conducting. He became one of the greatest conductors and piano virtuosi, having around 500 pieces in his repertoire.
Rachmaninoff's compositions include operas, symphonies, orchestral tone poems, piano concerti, chamber works, transcriptions, solo piano and choral pieces, altogether about 45 opuses. In his lifetime, avant-gardism, neoclassicism, and twelve-tone music became state of the art. But his compositions were in the great Romantic tradition. Reactions to his works were and still are mixed among critics and musicologists: either disapproval or adoration. But among the general public his music was and remains very popular.
Rachmaninoff was six foot-six inches tall, (he could reach a 13th on the keyboard), and possessed magnetism and authority that projected in his stage presence. He had a melancholy demeanor, affected by the early death of two sisters, the realization that he could never return to his homeland, and a sense of decline of Russian aristocratic tradition. Horowitz said that Rachmaninoff was the most aristocratic man he had ever met. Rachmaninoff considered that artists carry a tremendous responsibility before humanity. He was the last connection between Romanticism of the 19th century and contemporary music.
David Dubal's program "Reflections from the Keyboard" can be heard on WQXR.org and 105.9 FM. "The Piano Matters," is a weekly program heard on WWFM.org highlighting the piano in comparative performance.
Sophia Agranovich, Program Chair and Hostess
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
George Marriner Maull, in his MEA lecture on January 19 titled "Choir Boy to Conductor to Educator," began by stating "for 95% of our population, classical music is off the radar screen. Only 3% of Americans listen regularly to classical music."
Mr. Maull proceeded to tell about his own life and the influences of other musicians on him. The son of an accomplished pianist and teacher, he was "forced" to listen to his mother practice. He said "Physicists, researchers and doctors" now agree that six months into a pregnancy a baby listens to sounds outside his mother. George listened to his mother's piano students, to her accompanying singers, and to string quartets performing at his home. He remembers a pivotal moment when he was 4 1/2 and listened to an LP on a portable record player of Dvorak's New World Symphony and at times cried at the beauty of the music. George was sent at 8 1/2 to St. Peter's Choir School in Philadelphia. Harold Gilbert, Headmaster and Choirmaster, had been a student of Constantin von Sternberg, a student of Liszt. Mr. Maull studied Latin, French, solfège, piano and rehearsed after school each day with the choir. The men and boys choir sang two services of Anglican music every Sunday including chant psalms, and, upon request, sang at the Philadelphia Academy of Music for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Once, while singing Rachmaninov's "Beatitudes," and feeling "suspension and resolution," George looked around the church and noticed that not everyone was listening. Some of the congregation were focused on the music, others were not. A patron of the Philadelphia Orchestra gave tickets to the choir boys to attend Friday alernoon concerts conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
When Mr. Maull's voice changed, he attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Philadelphia, where he met Saul Feinberg, a General Music Class teacher who had developed a "Perceptive Music Listening" course. The goal of this course was to get 70% of his students each year to enjoy listening to classical music. George audited Mr. Feinberg's classes, experiencing Stravinsky's Firebird "sequence, tension and release" and becoming what he described as a "music vampire." Upon hearing Corelli's Concerti Grossi in 11th grade, Mr. Maull borrowed a high school viola and began to study with Irving Segall at the Philadelphia Settlement School. He practiced the viola tirelessly in his last two high school years, joining many amateur orchestras and received a full scholarship to the University of Louisville, Kentucky. In his junior year of college, Mr. Maull was invited into the viola section of the Louisville Orchestra. Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky both came as guest conductors during his tenure. Mr. Maull's conducting studies with Jorge Mester led to his becoming assistant conductor of the University orchestra and chorus, and conductor of the Louisville Ballet and another choral group. He also taught in a private school where he tried Saul Feinberg's methods.
When Mr. Maull moved to New York City in 1975, he played viola in the American Symphony Orchestra and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He first sang Beethoven's 9th Symphony under Georg Solti in the New York Philharmonic Chorus. After becoming assistant conductor and chorus master for the Opera Orchestra of New York, he was given a fellowship to study with Austrian conductor Richard Johannes Lert who was the godson of Johannes Brahms. He learned many unusual performance traditions from Richard Lert who, for instance, had been told via a chain of information that Tchaikovsky himself wished to cut out certain bars from his 5th Symphony.
Mr. Maull became assistant conductor of the New Jersey Symphony subscription series and led the NJ Symphony's Young Peoples' Concerts into forty schools, and conducted the Plainfield Symphony, the NJ Youth Symphony, and a community orchestra on Long Island. In 1987 Mr. Maull started his own orchestra of professional musicians, the Philharmonic Orchestra of NJ, which played its first concert featuring Strauss waltzes at a fund-raising Viennese Ball in NJ. This was the first of 18 Viennese Balls later held at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. In 1988 they began performing at the Pingry School in Martinsville, and thanks to good reviews, moved to Raritan Community College, Princeton University, then to the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark. Mr. Maull was asked to provide a course in "How to Listen to Music" - a 90 minute course on six Monday nights. In 1996 the first Discovery Concert was presented in Princeton and later videotaped for television at NJPAC in 2002. "Bach to the Future" was produced with the goal of helping a nationwide audience learn "how to listen." In 2006 the Philharmonic Orchestra changed its name to The Discovery Orchestra.
Mr. Maull says, "We have been trained to ignore background music in supermarkets and elevators." It has become "sonic wallpaper." If you bring such music to someone's attention, they will respond, "Oh! I wasn't really listening." Listening means to give undivided attention to music. You can't change your mental focus. Listen for what? "Rhythm, Melody, Texture, Harmony, Dynamics, Timbre, Form." He has created four TV shows and videos, chats on the internet, live concerts. He urges us to get overwhelmed by "goosebumps." Everyone can become a "virtuoso listener." In one of his four television shows, "Discover Beethoven's 5th," the orchestra plays the movement straight through; then he begins to break it apart. Mr. Maull says, "Engage the audience in a humorous way: when the recap comes, 'stand up'; at resolution, 'sit down.' Make analogies to regular life." George mentioned Charlie Rose's interview with Alan Gilbert upon his leaving the NY Philharmonic at the end of this season, in which Mr. Rose asked Alan Gilbert whether it was important for there to be more things like Leonard Bernstein's televised Young People's Concerts, all of which are now available on DVD. Mr. Maull's answer is "Yes. Absolutely!"
Maestro Maull announced the next Discovery Concert "Return of Dueling Pianists," at Drew University's Concert Hall in Madison, NJ, on Sunday, February 26 at 3 p.m. It will feature two young pianists performing Chopin, with commentary from Artistic Director Maestro Maull. An interactive exploration of the piece is followed by a playthrough which provides an opportunity to enjoy a very focused listening experience. A "Listening Guide," a visual "roadmap" of the music, is provided to each concert patron to help navigate the way.
Maestro Maull then presented a stack of DVDs of his first production for American Public Television, the Discovery Concert "Bach To The Future" - An Interactive Music Experience featuring Bach's Brandenburg Concerto Number 4, Third Movement, to give to all attendees! What a fine memento of this fascinating narrative!
Beverly Shea, writer
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
At the November General Meeting, we were treated to a lecture by our MEA-NJ President, Nancy Modell, entitled Creative Composing: Embracing Creativity, Nurturing Musicianship. Nancy, who pioneered the Suzuki Piano method in Israel in the 1980's, has been training piano teachers in this country since 1992 through college courses, Suzuki Summer Institutes, and privately. In various teachers' forums, she has presented her ideas on how to introduce composition to students of all levels.
In a presentation with slides and video clips, Nancy first highlighted a six-year-old Suzuki-trained student performing his own composition. Nancy stressed that "Every child can compose." Any ordinary child, through composing, develops the ability to really listen to, appreciate and become a better interpreter of other composers' music.
Nancy believes that note reading is not a prerequisite for music students to compose. Nancy's creative students simply tap into their imagination to discover the delightful compositions that enchanted the audience. A three-year-old played "little Cloud," a song with words inspired by a book. A four-year-old child played "Tinker Bell's Magic." Then an eight-year-old dressed in costume at Nancy's annual Pianowe'en program, played "Tigress," inspired by an animated film.
Nancy finds an eight to ten week period, usually beginning after the winter school vacation, when she assigns students to compose their pieces. She announces a theme: Music Inspired by... Literature; Art; Nature; Motion; Dreams; or the Moving Image, for example. She suggests that the student give more thought at home to the chosen theme and how to describe his/her idea in sound. A teacher should stress that there are no right or wrong choices of sounds.
Nancy suggests: Ask leading questions, such as "How would you describe swaying wind chimes?" Students share their idea or topic with you and their parents, who are also encouraged to ask open-ended questions and to promote the student's independent thoughts, hoping for an "aha moment." Once each student has tried out various ideas at home and brings his/her favorite story line, emotion or situation to a lesson, ask more questions such as "What is the back story? What happens in the course of the piece? What is the action and where does it occur?" The teacher may then continue to ask questions to help students choose which tempo, range, articulation, rhythm and dynamics enhance the feelings they are expressing.
A teacher need not notate for a student. Younger students who do not read music may draw or write reminder cards and/or ask their parents to record excerpts on a smart phone or tablet so they can better remember their ideas for their composition. Students who read music may also record their ideas; then notate a draft of their motifs; and later write out the composition either by hand or using software.
Nancy's March studio recital is all "world premieres" of her students' original compositions. Advanced compositions written by older students inspire younger students. If a student is not technically ready to play his own ideas, guide him/her toward more manageable alternatives so they each can perform their composition.
Her students performed with poise and demonstrated boundless imagination in a variety of musical styles. Some student compositions highlighted by Nancy in her video were titled: "In the Old Hollow Tree" (including sections describing spiders, bats, and owls); "Falling;" "The Trip to Hawaii;" "The ladybug Girl" (including ants marching, picking up pebbles, catching leaves, bird tweets); "Agitation; "Rain;" "A Ghostly Night;" "Fox and Puppy;" and "Swamp."
Nancy described the unexpected directions compositions might take which expand the creative horizon where, on their own, students write an original story; write lyrics; write piano duets or ensembles with other instruments; and/ or write pieces inspired by their own art works (drawings or paintings) which they bring to the recital and exhibit near the piano while they perform. One student wrote "Mazurka Rag in Black and White" and will choreograph a dance to her composition. To quote Nancy: "Don't be surprised by the emergence of undiscovered passions!"
Nancy's presentation was warmly received and the audience paid rapt attention. During the question and answer period, teachers expressed their enthusiasm for her approach encouraging students to compose. The grandfather of a longtime student stood up and stated that it was always his grandsons' music, not Nancy's, that he would hear. The former student, now in college, has won recognition for his compositions. At the end of the lecture, some MEA members clustered around the piano with Nancy for some hands-on experience. Many teachers in the audience left the meeting determined to apply what they had learned.
RESOURCES TO EXPLORE: Pattern Play by Forrest Kinney; Piano Teacher's Guide to Creative Composition by Carol Klose; Musical Improvisation for Children by Alice Kay Kanack; Creative Composition Toolbox Step-By-Step Guide for Learning to Compose by Wynn-Anne Rossi.
Beverly Shea, writer
Lisa Gonzales, photos
Nancy Modell, layout
Forrest Kinney, pianist, arranger, composer, author, lecturer, and teacher, presented an engrossing program, "The Four Arts of Music: A New Paradigm for Music Education." Focusing on the teaching of arranging and improvisation, the presenter supported his talk with impressive demonstrations in which members of the MEA audience participated.
A principle central to Mr. Kinney's many works is that a truly complete musician is able to arrange, to improvise, to interpret, and to compose. All too often, traditional music lessons cultivate the art of interpretation to the neglect of the other three arts. Forrest Kinney's mission is to strengthen the abilities of musicians in these other skills. To achieve that goal, he has developed teaching techniques and presents them at his frequent lectures and in his many publications. His piano music books (published by Frederick Harris Music) are designed to aid a teacher in exploring these neglected creative areas. For more essential information please visit Forrest Kinney's website at forrestkinney.com.
Reflecting on keyboard music at the time of J.S. Bach, Mr. Kinney mentioned the keyboardist's skills in "realizing" a figured bass. For decades following, pianists were expected to be able to improvise. Variations, a form of arranging, were popular. To illustrate that point, Mr. Kinney charmed us with a variation of "Happy Birthday" in the style of Gershwin. Improvisation contests were common. Before the commerce of mass publishing, composers would write for their own needs, unless composing under commission. Concerts did not feature entire sonatas, but a collection of movements and other selections. Composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt would routinely render the first performance of their own works. They also taught. As the piano grew more popular as a solo instrument, and piano ownership became more widespread, musicians became more specialized. Composing, performing, arranging, and teaching became separate professions.
Aiming "to help others to be creative," Forrest Kinney strives to help teachers stimulate inventiveness in their students. He begins teaching the art of arranging with helping a student to play tunes "by ear." This is followed by adding a bass accompaniment of fifths, and ultimately, of triads. A beginner reader can progress to using a "lead sheet . . . akin to the old figured bass system." Finally, the three main elements of arranging are introduced:
- Styling refers to bass patterns like Alberti, Ragtime, and Boogie-Woogie;
- Coloring refers to modifying triads by adding other tones (seconds, sevenths, etc.);
- Substituting refers to replacing familiar harmonies with compatible but novel ones, bringing a fresh sound to a traditional melody.
Although his teaching techniques could be implemented at any level of instruction, Forrest cautioned teachers to be sensitive in their approach. A beginner might know the names of the keys but nothing more, so in that case, refrain from using any terminology that might be intimidating. Rather than standing next to a student in a dominant attitude, place two seats at the keyboard and invite your student to sit. Then, sit next to him/her. (The teacher operates the pedal.) Promote confidence.
Volunteer "students" from the audience participated. For each improvisation that followed, Forrest gave his "students" a framework or patterns to initiate the process. For example, he asked the student to play a dyad of a fifth in the bass on black keys and to repeat it at a steady pulse. Next came repositioning the hand at another set of fifths on black keys, as the teacher improvises in the treble, only on black keys. Next, the teacher plays the ground bass "pattern" while the student improvises above. Limiting the student's improvised melody to black keys is a simple way to get started.
Exotic sounding melodies were created by improvising based on keyboard topography and hand position: the pattern Persia involved placing fingers on the keys D - E Flat - F Sharp - G, and then, keeping that hand shape, shifting the hand to A - B Flat - C Sharp - D. The student uses the "pattern" to generate melodies in which repetitions, key order, and rhythms may be altered. Forrest Kinney also created variations in timbre by first placing a graphite pencil on the strings just above Middle C to produce a metallic rattle, and later placing a lightweight music book (Pattern Play) on the lower strings to create a dampened sound. The novel sounds stimulated our imagination. Another pattern, Blues on Black, uses a bass pattern of broken E Flat and A Flat seventh chords against a treble which inserts a very occasional A natural, the "blue" note. It's a process, but eventually, the student learns to play both bass and treble. A new improviser is born! It's the "duet to solo" plan.
The culminating improvisation was "Musical Chairs" for five: three seated at the keyboard, (a bass broken chord, a mid-range fifth and fourth pattern, and the highest at free play) and two standing at the ready. As the seated trio plays, the two standing players either reach out and interject a musical comment on the keyboard, or replace a seated player. The "pupils" became energized. A supportive and skilled teacher produced results!
Addressing "interpreters," Forrest Kinney stressed that there is room for more than one single interpretation of any piece. That becomes evident when comparing performances of a piece by different artists. To further motivate the interpreters among us, he remarked that when he prepares for a classical recital, he finds that using his scores as material for improvising and arranging helps to keep his concert interpretations fresh.
Following experiences with arranging and improvising, the next step would be composing, which is beyond the scope of this session. Earlier in the week, some MEA members had attended a special class, a "Mini-Intensive," conducted by Forrest Kinney. They shared our enthusiasm for Forrest Kinney and his innovative ideas and practices.
Bertha Mandel, writer
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
Every June, an outstanding artist comes to give a Master Class with our Young Artist Competition winners and every year we are highly impressed with the insight and wisdom that these great musicians impart to our talented young musicians. This year was no different. On June 9 a large group of MEA members and guests filled the Chase Auditorium in Madison to hear the winning young artists perform for master teacher, Ann Schein. Though her unique approach may have come across as humble and gentle, her thought provoking messages were bold and in a musical sense, possibly life altering.
Student of Beatrice Long
The first performer of the day was Kelsey Lee, who played the Eb minor Prelude and Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book I, by J. S. Bach. Ann noted Kelsey's "beautiful" sound and touch, which especially was employed throughout the prelude. She also was impressed with Kelsey's memory of the fugue, which is "no small matter," especially since this fugue has five stretti along with difficult harmonies and key changes. Ann asked Kelsey why this prelude and fugue stood out from the rest, why was it so "poignant and tragic?" Kelsey replied that the fugue was "deeper" than most. From this statement, Ms. Schein then shared her recent discovery on the background of this great work. Apparently in 1720 Bach had gone on a trip away from his family and when he returned he learned that his first wife had passed away. He wrote this prelude and fugue in response to this tragedy. Ms. Schein noted that she had been working on this piece herself recently and it is one of her favorites from the collection. She was more than happy when she discovered it on our program! Kelsey's tempo was the main area of attention that Ann addressed. She suggested that Kelsey try a slightly faster pace in both prelude and fugue to keep the music moving forward. Both pieces in this pair have long lines and it was Ann's opinion that the "sustainability" factor of creating a more vocal line may require playing them a bit faster. Ann related many of the phrases to string lines and to the human voice. She also suggested that the lines in the fugue have more shape and a greater dynamic plan. When asked about what keys various sections were in, Kelsey was not always certain. "Know your harmonies and know what keys you are in," Ms. Schein would urge. All in all she was impressed with Kelsey's sound and sensitivity; she did use the word "beautiful" quite often!
Student of Julia Lam
Next on the program was Eric Wang. He performed the Rhapsody in B Minor, Op. 79 No. 1 by Brahms. Ms. Scheins's main concerns here were on pulse and counterpoint. Ann thought Eric had "a terrific feel for virtuosity and a powerful left hand." She invited Eric to explore the opening to find thematic relationships between the right hand and left hand lines, "The left hand is not just accompanying the right hand." she remarked. "What material is Brahms giving you to work with?" Bringing out more of the hidden contrapuntal gems could be the next step in developing this piece. "Brahms," she said, "gets his counterpoint from Bach." The rhythmic elements however are "Brahmsian."
Ann noted that "Brahms is not a romantic composer, nor is Chopin." She stated that "Brahms is more baroque and Chopin is more classical."
This may be argued, but whether or not one agrees with her one hundred percent, this bold statement drove her point home - approach this music as if you were playing Bach and dig deep to find the contrapuntal relationships in the material presented to you by Brahms. Ann then returned to the rhythmic elements of syncopation and the underlying eighth note pulse that unifies the composition. In the ostinato sections she once again referred to strings and suggested that the eighth notes be played portamento, not staccato. The syncopations in the LH passages should be within a smooth legato line, legato yet accented. Eric was able to keep up with her suggestions and we were all treated to hearing these fresh ideas evolve to an even finer performance. In closing, she noted "Great feeling, just needs to be tighter."
Student of Sophia Agranovich
Sofia Mouchtari completed the program with Mephisto Waltz No.1, S 514 by Liszt, a piece that Ms. Schein felt is "one of the two most difficult pieces in the repertoire." Sofia grasped the general character of the music and displayed extraordinary strength, stamina and concentration as she executed the repeated keys, fast runs, crisp staccato passages, and jumping chords. Ms. Schein was surprised to learn that this piece was not chosen by Sofia's teacher but was a piece that Sofia, herself, had asked to study. Ms. Schein suggested that perfecting this formidable work may be beyond the ability of any young teenager. She said this piece requires more than two hours a day of practice, (the average time Sofia has been able to practice per day). All that makes Sofia's playing more remarkable.
The major areas of attention here were on fingering and efficiency of movement. For fingering Ann referred to her teacher who studied with Bussoni, "he had magical fingering." In the opening she then had Sofia re-examine her fingering and had her divide the opening figure between the two hands resulting in a much more effortless execution. Moving on from fingering, she then explored various octave passages and chordal passages where the wrist could be more agile, and where there was a tendency to lose support and collapse in the arch of the hand. "Shake it out. Drop into the key. Do not push." Ann proposed. Addressing many of these smaller areas creates more efficiency in technic and builds stamina. After all, as Ann Schein pointed out, virtuosity comes from the Latin virtu, (manliness, strength, capacity) and suggests playing with "ease." Sofia seemed to be at ease working with Ms. Schein and by the end she won over the master teacher when Ms. Schein expressed that if she were able to, she would love to work on this piece further with Sofia to help her go through all the challenging technical elements and find more opportunities where she could facilitate her technic and further develop the virtuosity this piece demands.
Ms. Schein urged Sofia to listen to old recordings of the piece. She recommended performances by George Bolet and William Kapell and also asked her to find out more about the great musician Menahem Pressler. This piece demands it all Ann said "craft, skill, pianism and knowledge of the instrument."
Here are the programs that the three winning students performed for their auditions. We share with you Kelsey and Sofia's response to the following question: What was the one thing that you learned from Ann Schein at the Master Class that made the biggest impression?
Kelsey Lee, age 15
Kelsey started lessons when she was around 5 and typically tries to practice 2 hours a day.
Prelude and Fugue in Eb Minor
WTC Book I by J.S. Bach
Sonata Op. 78 by Beethoven
(I) Adagio cantabile - Allegro non troppo
Nocturne in Db Major, Op. 27 No. 2
Sonata No. 2 in D Minor by Prokofiev
During the masterclass, Ms. Schein asked me multiple times why I interpreted a spot in the music the way I did. I found this helpful and interesting because I think this approach to the music, thinking about the "why" rather than just the "how", is important to developing an interpretation. Also, more specifically to the Bach, Ms. Schein stressed how important it is to know my piece harmonically, and pointed out many "special" spots in the music that I overlooked before.
Eric Wang, age 15
Prelude and Fugue in D Major
WTC Book II by J.S. Bach
Sonata Op. 31 No. 3 by Beethoven
(I) Allegro, (II) Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
Rhapsody in B Minor, Op. 79 No. 1
Sonata No.1, Op. 22 by Ginastera
(I) Allegro marcato
Sofia Mouchtaris, age 14
Sofia started lessons when she was around 5 and typically practices 2 hours a day
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
BWV 565 by J. S. Bach,
Transcription by A. Cortot
Sonata Op. 57 by Beethoven
(I) Allegro assai, (II) Andante con moto,
(III) Allegro ma non
Prelude in G Minor Op. 23 No. 5
Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S. 514
The program began with Clarisse Kant's lovely introductory comments about Ms. Schein's illustrious career. To this Ms. Schein remarked that "Master teachers' do not deserve all the accolades, it is the teachers sitting in the room today that continue to inspire and nurture the next generations of young pianists." Though this may be true, there sure is enough room to share recognition for the roles that we all play. We may be the driving force behind our students while in the trenches but the artists like Ann Schein continue to inspire us and our students and elevate us all to higher heights. To learn more about Ann Schein visit her website here: annschein.com.
Congratulations to the teachers of these fines students, Beatrice Long, Julia Lam and Sophia Agranovich and to the students. Your work and talent are admirable and your participation in the master class is most appreciated!
Written by Joan Bujacich
Photographs: Lisa Gonzalez
Adam Kent, a favorite MEA lecture/recitalist, performed and discussed Grieg's Lyric Pieces at our May 19th General Meeting. It was a great pleasure to welcome Adam back to an MEA meeting.
Edvard Grieg is considered a Post-Romantic composer analogous to Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, and his nationalism added a new dimension to the Romantics' harmonic language and points the way to Debussy. Fortunately for us, Grieg left recordings of his own works on cylinders and piano rolls. From these we can hear the performing styles at the time of his death in 1907. [One may hear Grieg playing Butterfly via a 1906 piano roll on the Wikipedia webpage "Lyric Pieces".] Edvard Grieg was celebrated in Norway and headed musical societies. Yet, he was frail, five feet tall, and suffered from life-long respiratory problems.
Grieg's 66 Lyric Pieces are his most widely known compositions for solo piano, published in ten volumes starting in 1867 while he lived in Copenhagen. To complete the cycle, Grieg transferred the melody of his first piece, Arietta (Book 1, Op. 12, No. 1, 1867), into a waltz in his last piece, Remembrances (Book 10, Op. 71, No. 7, 1901). Wedding Day at Troldhaugen (Book 8, Op. 65, No. 6, 1896), is programmatic. It tells a story of a procession in which one can hear a mingling of harmonics, country fiddling, open fifths, bell-like sounds, shaping of chords such as a triad plus a sixth leaning toward pentatonicism - all typical of Grieg's music.
To further demonstrate open fifths, Adam performed Bell Ringing (Book 5, Op. 54, No. 6, 1891). He declared this was a futuristic piece, a mixing of major and minor together in harmonies anticipating Ravel and Debussy. Although Grieg orchestrated some of his Lyric Pieces, someone else orchestrated this work.
Grieg's summer home, Troldhaugen (Valley of the Trolls), six miles from Bergen, Norway, has Grieg's Steinway piano from 1892. The property includes a hut by a lake, which was the composer's workroom. In glorifying the outdoors, Grieg sometimes evokes natural imagery. In The Butterfly (Book 3, Op. 43, No. 1, 1886), Grieg seeks to illustrate the capriciousness and elusiveness of the butterfly by techniques such as phrases which reach a stable chord - root position chord - only at the ends of phrases. He uses the third of the chord in the bass. At the outset, what is the tonic? Phrase lengths are irregular - 6, 9, or 7 bars long. There is unpredictability in keys: is this section in E Major or G Major? There is a magic of voice leading and chromatic freshness.
Little Brook (Book 7, Op. 62, No. 4, 1895), leaves an impression of the spontaneous call of birds. The middle section suggests Debussy's Claire de Lune. (These two pieces were published within a few years of one another.) The Notturno (Book 5, Op. 54, No. 4, 1891) also uses imitations of bird song, a Schumannesque pulsating inner movement, and a motive similar to Claire de Lune in its middle section. Grieg's Piano Concerto Op. 16 is an early work about which he and Franz Liszt discussed orchestration. Grieg's Cello Concerto Op. 36, written for his brother, is based on the same main theme as his Piano Concerto.
Another processional piece, Homeward (Book 7, Op. 62, No. 6, 1895), illustrates syncopation, open 5ths, chromatic mediants (chords a third apart), leading tones which do not resolve up to the tonic, modality (the raised fourth note of Lydian inflexion). Not only Norwegian or Polish composers (Chopin), but European composers universally used Lydian mode to sound folkloric. Halling, named after a Norwegian folk dance, uses the rhythm of the last movement of Grieg's Piano Concerto, and, since it is difficult to make a diatonic instrument like the piano sound like the twang and microtones of a string folk instrument, Lydian mode.
Grieg wrote a few longer pieces: the E minor Sonata Op. 7 and Ballade in G minor Op. 24 sometimes called Variations on a Norwegian Mountain Melody. There is a recording of Grieg playing the Ballade in which one can hear him playing the rhythm of duplets versus triplets by swinging the duplets to match the triplets. Grieg assimilated Baroque notation for this interpretation. Because Grieg wrote this piece in 1875-76 when both his parents died and he had marital problems, he found it too emotional to perform in public. He used Norwegian melodies, what he called "northland peasantry," to show that life up north can be happy and gay. The main theme's tune has lots of interval repetition so he uses polyphony to smooth over the repetitiveness. Although the Ballade is in G minor, one variation has the tune in D-flat and one is in G Major in augmented rhythm.
Adam Kent gave us well-researched insights into Grieg's solo piano works enlivened by his talented performance of the pieces. Once again, we must thank him for a truly professional presentation.
Beverly Shea, Hostess and writer
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
Isabelle Vengerova, Olga Samaroff, William Kapell, Eduard Steuermann, and Alfred Cortot were the subjects of this fascinating talk by Jerome Lowenthal, concert pianist, concerto soloist, chamber music artist, and longtime Juilliard School faculty member. His account was filled with rich commentary, beautiful playing, and amusing anecdotes. Click here for more background information.
As a child, our speaker attended the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia in the late 1930s. European musicians were fleeing to the States then, and the school faculty became quite fluid; Jerome was repeatedly reassigned teachers. Six months of piano lessons with the wife of composer Leo Ornstein were followed by lessons with Eleanor Blum, assistant of David Saperton, her supervisor. (Ms Blum is now Eleanor Sokoloff, 100 years old still teaching at Curtis.) Jerome also studied briefly with a daughter of Otto Ortmann.
Then the renowned arts patron Frederic R. Mann brought 14-year-old Jerome to the reputedly terrifying Mme. Isabelle Vengerova. Using the Vengerova system, her assistant would prepare students for lessons with Madame. They practiced scales by dropping the wrist for each key while feeling the 'natural' weight of the hand. After mastering that, the student would play two, then three, and finally four keys for each dip of the wrist. But that presented a new challenge: to avoid accenting. The method was not universally applicable. "The system was flawed, but [still] has value, - that of learning to produce sound with the drop of the wrist," Mr. Lowenthal stated.
Jerome's routine of studying mostly with Mme. Vengerova's assistant ended when Mr. Mann arranged for him to work with Olga Samaroff. Although it was only for a few months just before her death in 1948, her influence "was life changing," Mr. Lowenthal reflected. Mme. Samaroff used no system, but was governed by principles. Uppermost was the acceptance of great responsibility in "bringing great masters to sound." One must maintain integrity in following the score, she believed. It's not always simple. Rudolf Serkin and Olga Samaroff, travelling by rail from Curtis in Philadelphia to Manhattan, spent the entire trip debating the length of the opening note (without a staccato) of Beethoven's Sonata Op. 2, No. 1!
Mme. Samaroff sought nuances in interpretation and employed imagery to help students discover deeper meaning in their pieces. Jerome Lowenthal demonstrated with the Adagio from Beethoven Piano Sonata Op. 10, No.3. Samaroff was not rigid. Speaking of a slow tempo chosen by "my student, Rosalyn Tureck," she was more concerned with the overall approach rather than specific details. "There is more than one interpretation," she stressed. "Think of the life of the composer. To be an artist . . . develop understanding of the music." These were impressive concepts.
The next three years, Jerome studied with William Kapell, a former student of Samaroff. An extraordinary pianist, Kapell frequently demonstrated during lessons. Influenced by an emphasis on scales placed by Jascha Heifitz, he focused on fingers, first training them to bear weight and building on that. Kapell favored high fingers rather than economy of motion. "I studied Czerny exercises and practiced with a matchbox on my hand, thinking evenness is for typewriters, not for interpretation. I would argue with my teacher," Mr. Lowenthal revealed. But Kapell could reverse himself, for example, changing his own interpretation of the Chopin B Flat minor sonata, Op. 35. "Kapell was an authority figure, but I adored him," said Mr. Lowenthal.
Following Kapell's untimely death, Jerome studied at Juilliard with the teacher who influenced him above all others, Eduard Steuermann, pianist and composer. On the recommendation of his own teacher Ferruccio Busoni, Steuermann studied with Arnold Schoenberg and became associated with the Second Viennese School. Steuermann thought of himself as a Chopin expert, but he was also very grounded in the classics. He'd proclaim, 'Search for one's self,' but being an authoritarian teacher, he really meant his self," opined Mr. Lowenthal.
For sustained tone, Steuermann would suggest remaining on a played key and "vibrating the hand." While not affecting the sound, this encourages the pianist to think about transferring weight finger to finger, while the rest of the hand remains "loose" or relaxed.
Regarding inculcating a student's respect for a composer's intent, Mr. Lowenthal recalled a lesson on the Alban Berg sonata. Steuermann told him, "This is the first thing I played for Berg. Before I began, Berg cautioned, "I hope you don't pay attention to all the things I wrote on the score.' You can go crazy trying to observe every marking!"
Steuermann emphasized that the style of score markings varies from composer to composer; one must try to infer each composer's intent. For example, in Chopin, a diminuendo is usually accompanied with a ritardando. In Beethoven Sonata Op. 109, you will find the instruction a tempo following an espressivo, suggesting that the espressivo is accompanied by a ritardando. Steuermann was "always interesting; he was wonderful," Mr. Lowenthal recalled.
Finally, Mr. Lowenthal reflected on his studies with Alfred Cortot. Despite his arthritis, Cortot would occasionally demonstrate at lessons. His Beethoven "Hammerklavier" (Op. 106) was taken at the slower tempo Cortot himself preferred. Working with Cortot was so different from Mr. Lowenthal's previous experiences that at the time, he did not recognize Cortot's great influence. He later realized that studying with Cortot also had left an indelible impression.
In concluding, Jerome Lowenthal stated that he is not an authoritarian teacher. The captivated audience wanted to hear more. Encore!
Bertha Mandel, writer
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
TEACHERS' MASTER CLASS
The March 17th Teachers' Master Class was skillfully led
by Master Teacher Joseph Kalichstein -
world-renowned pianist, chamber musician, and veteran instructor at Juilliard
Spring is in the air, so it must be time for the MEA Teachers' Master Class!
World-renowned pianist and Juilliard Chamber Music Chair Joseph Kalichstein returned for our annual Teachers' Master Class on St. Patty's Day this year. Members and music lovers gathered around the Steinway at the Madison NJ Library, scores in hands, ready to experience the thrill of live music. Pianists Kai Pangune Kim, Cherwyn Ambuter, and Sophia Agranovich, three of our multi-talented MEA members, brought the music of Liszt, Chopin, Piazzolla and Brahms to life for us this year. We were thrilled to listen to these three marvelous performers share their talents, piano mastery, and musical passion with us.
Our Master Teacher Joseph Kalichstein knows how to find the emotion, passion, and storyline in the music we love, and today was no exception. Mr. Kalichstein spent a half hour or so with each of our players, taking time to suggest and demonstrate different approaches to the pieces from his perspective.
Our first performer was Kai Pangune Kim, distinguished soloist, chamber musician, and educator. Kai opened the program with the first movement of Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35 by Frederic Chopin. This was one of the first pieces she studied with the widely admired pianist and conductor Seymour Lipkin. Mr. Lipkin, who passed away last November, was originally scheduled to be the Master Teacher today. Kai mused, "Who would have ever known that this is the day he was supposed to give a master class, and that I would be playing this particular sonata?" We were moved as she shared the emotions of this piece with all of us through her performance. Wonderful!
Mr. Kalichstein's comments first focused in on the sound and melody of the Chopin. He noted that many people refer to Chopin as a right hand composer. He is not, but said you have to constantly listen - "...piano, pianissimo, it doesn't matter- you have to constantly adjust." He reminded us to play from the key, listening for those note and sound connections. He shared his analogy of a melody being like chewing gum. "You can stretch it, you need to feel the stretch, and still have enough body so that it will connect." He encouraged creating and feeling tension between notes, hearing the crescendo, emotional surge or whatever it is you feel, in between the notes. Think of crescendo in two places - in the stomach, and in the ear. "Keep it going inside." After doing some octave work with the piece, he shared a thought for all pianists. He believes part of our challenge of octave playing is due to habits we acquired when playing octaves at an early age. As children, we learned to grab octaves, hard. "As we grow older, we have to disabuse ourselves of that." Also, because the thumb is so much stronger than the pinky, we have to balance them constantly.
Our second performer was church organist, choral director and chamber pianist Cherwyn Ambuter. Cherwyn played two wonderfully contrasting pieces for us, Adios Nonino by Astor Piazzolla, and the Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 2. She made us feel the power of the tango and the expressiveness of Brahms with her performances. Brava!
Mr. Kalichstein on the Piazzolla - "This is hot Argentinian music. People will dance to it, this is Tango!" He assumed the position of a dance partner, bolt upright and intense, ready to step into the dance. "You know this 'close thing' with the tango? You know, they look sexy, but they can't stand each other!" He then encouraged Cherwyn to think of the rhythm from a bass player's perspective. "The bass player is going boom, boom, boom (he plucked an imaginary upright bass to demonstrate). The world could be close to the end, he doesn't care, he's still going boom, boom, boom. Think of the rhythm all the time, even when it's free."
Then on to the Brahms! Mr. Kalichstein noted the very important expressiveness of the piece that Cherwyn conveyed to us. He suggested that when there is an opportunity for a longer melodic arc, use it - look for the longer line. As in the Chopin, he suggested generating more intensity between the notes. He imagines the 32nd notes in the piece are there to create a wind - "...it's a gentle wind, it's a nostalgic wind, but it's a wind nevertheless."
Our final performer was Sophia Agranovich, Steinway Artist, award-winning soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and educator. Sophia is also our MEA Program Committee Chair, bringing wonderful world-class musicians and pedagogues to our monthly general meetings. She engaged the audience in a high-energy performance of the Liszt Fantasia quasi Sonata (Après une Lecture du Dante), and wowed us with her stamina, which is key for this piece. Kudos and applause!
Mr. Kalichstein said to Sofia, "Quite a mouthful this piece; you understand it very well!" He remarked that he imagines the right hand melody as "a snake, moving very slowly, so take care to match the sound so that no notes stick out." He suggested giving "just a little" in the beginning of the piece - "This is just opening up, just suggesting, so don't give me full." Working on some of the two bar phrases, he suggested the left hand be 'lazier' at the end of each phrase - too much articulation could disturb the right hand line. On the performance stamina required here, Mr. Kalichstein noted, "What you want to work in a piece like this, which is nonstop, is to not to build up [muscle] tension, so whenever you get a chance, if Liszt gives you a millionth of a second, that's when you relax. Because it is so exciting, it's so easy not to, and then you're stuck." Give yourself space, and time, and think about placement of new harmonies.
In closing our recap here, there were two topics Mr. Kalichstein touched on with the players throughout the morning: left hand practice and rubato. He encouraged a lot of left hand alone practice for all of these pieces, as they all have technical challenges that tend to pull your focus to the left hand and away from where the music really wants you to be. Hands alone practice will help the left find it's positions, keep the shifts relaxed and quick, and let the fingers do their work without the eyes and head watching over them. "If something doesn't sound the way you want, practice it - watching it won't help. Always go with your ear." On rubato he noted, "All rubato, the minute it becomes automatic, is useless. It takes control of us instead of us using it. It's a tool, but we have to decide when to use it for expressive reasons. It doesn't always add, sometimes it takes away from the music. The player should be the master, deciding how and when use rubato. Don't let it become automatic."
Thanks to Beverly Shea for designing the elegant Master Class program we held in our hands today, with fascinating bios of our players and Master Teacher. Finally, thank you Kai, Cherwyn, and Sophia and for tremendous playing of these wonderful and demanding diverse works, after hours and hours of preparation. As they brought to life the music of four composers who are no longer with us, I was reminded of the intriguing lyric from Broadway's "Hamilton" that poses the question, " Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" Chopin, Piazzolla, Brahms and Liszt would have been proud of the way their musical stories were told today.
Writer, Lisa Gonzalez
Photography and layout, Nancy Modell
Pianist and Juilliard professor Aaron Wunsch presented a fascinating lecture-concert "Piano Music of Klimt's Vienna," exploring influences and aesthetic similarities in art and music of that period.
The turn of the century was the age of "golden Vienna," when music of Brahms and Strauss Jr. was popular. The cover painting for the presentation was Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I(1907) by Gustav Klimt - the subject of the movie "Woman in Gold." Mr. Wunsch explained that Viennese architecture is reflective of historical periods and is an eclectic mixture of styles. Many buildings are in Greco-Roman neoclassical style (Parliament), neo-Gothic (City Hall), neo-Renaissance (Opera). Commonality of these styles was illusion, sensuality, decoration and historical allusion.
Klimt had the utmost respect for Viennese history painter, decorator and designer Hans Makart, who was an early proponent of aestheticism, a late 19th century movement. Both Klimt and Makart were interested in music. In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to design three murals for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. These works, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, although grounded in mythology, were in a different style which was severely criticized; academicians and the public complained of "unclear ideas through unclear forms" and "pornographic" expression. The paintings were not displayed. In 1897, Klimt became one of the founding members and president of the Secession, the breakaway Viennese Art Nouveau association that opposed the conservative historicism of the Vienna Künstlerhaus. It included realists, naturalists and symbolists: Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Max Kurzweil, Otto Wagner, and others.
Art Nouveau or Jugendstil (and named differently in other countries) was most popular during 1890-1910. It is style of art, architecture and decorative arts. It reflected ideas that art should be "a way of life," without pretense, inspired by natural forms and modern life with harmony between art and purpose. It should not succumb to popularity, but reflect the truth. In architecture, smooth lines, hyperbolas, parabolas, and moldings in surface decorations are characteristic of this style. Posters, advertisements, labels, etc. were drawn in two-dimensional form and bright colors.
During the course of the lecture, Mr. Wunsch showed many works of Viennese Art Nouveau artists and talked about composers of that period. He played the following compositions accompanied by the slides of paintings that are similar in style.
Franz Schreker: "Melodie"
Kolomon Moser - Early Spring (for the Secession magazine, Ver Sacrum, 1901)
Similar limited use of color, materials; recognizable figures (in Schreker recognizable melody), but makes a modern impression
Carl Otto Czeschka - Prints for Die Niebelungen (1909)
Similar theme of legend/stories; limited decorative figuration, single aesthetic throughout
Alexander Zemlinsky: Fantasies, Op. 9
Gustav Klimt - The Kiss (1908)
Similar theme of love; sensual (harmonies, in Zemlinsky); highly decorative; escapist
Alban Berg: Sonata, Op. 1 (title in Berg's own Art Nouveau script)
Gustav Klimt - Judith 1 (1901)
Combination of beauty and fatalism/darkness; extreme (intense) subject matter
Mr. Wunsch performed throughout the U.S., Europe, and Asia, had chamber music performances with clarinetist Charles Neidich, violinist Rolf Schulte, cellist Lynn Harrell, and the New York Woodwind Quintet, among others. He had numerous premieres and radio broadcasts; collaborated with composers Thomas Adès, Charles Wuorinen, Kaija Saariaho, Fred Lerdahl, Steven Stucky, Chen Yi; recorded works by Anton Webern and Nico Muhly. He appeared in Tanglewood, Verbier, Sarasota, and Norfolk Festivals and lectured on American Music in Europe and Asia. His awards for written work in musicology include the Henry Hart Rice Prize and the Richard F. French Prize. Mr. Winsch is artistic director of the Skaneateles Festival, (Finger Lakes), and Music Mondays concert series, (New York City).
Sophia Agranovich, Program Chair and Hostess
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
George Rothman, co-founder and conductor of the Riverside Symphony, presented "The Art of the Interpretation and Discovery of New Music."
The discovery and interpretation of "new" music is the cornerstone of the impressive program built by the Riverside Symphony, now in its 35th year of delighting and surprising classical music audiences in New York City. (See links below.) George Rothman first spoke about musical experiences in his formative years that led him to choose his career path. Mr. Rothman then discussed the Riverside Symphony and one of its finest discoveries: works by Marius Constant. He outlined his approach to arrive at the interpretation of an unfamiliar score. Finally, he described the marvelous Music Memory program of the symphony, which serves over 8,000 NYC elementary school students.
A son of the principal oboist of the Radio City Music Hall orchestra and a lyric coloratura soprano, George was destined to be a musician. He improvised on his parents' upright piano and began taking piano lessons at age four. Mr. Rothman emphasized the importance of having a good teacher. At around the age of seven, he began to attend his dad's CBS Symphony Orchestra rehearsals, a major influence on his life. He later took two years of oboe lessons. During his high school years he studied jazz and jammed with his band friends, but was uncertain about choosing a college. Fortunately, he was then studying with an excellent piano teacher who encouraged him and prepared him to audition for the Manhattan School of Music. Later, in MSM and on his own, George explored a wide range of interests. As he would often improvise, he came to believe that a well-rehearsed performance should still sound spontaneous.
At MSM, he joined the Contemporary Music Ensemble, which led to his study of conducting with the inspiring Anton Coppola. George decided to form his own groups of four or more people. In his final year at MSM, he conducted his own orchestra with chorus. Following graduation and graduate school, his conducting jobs were few and far between. In his twenties, he won a scholarship to Tanglewood to study with Leonard Bernstein. His first assignment was conducting Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," a composition Bernstein said was overdone. This remark reinforced George's ideas about creative programming.
Innovative programming has helped to distinguish the Riverside Symphony from other orchestras. George Rothman and co-founder Anthony Korf designed a singular profile for the new orchestra: new music would be a constant program feature. "New" music means unheard music, including neglected music. They would choose one "new" composition, and construct a concert around it, adding pieces that would offer contrast and balance. A relationship might be drawn between selections on a program to give the concert a theme or cohesiveness. Talks and performances before concerts would help audiences to understand and appreciate the new music. Instead of contacting the agents of established soloists, the new orchestra would directly offer opportunities to young performers. Carter Brey and Christopher O'Riley made their debuts with the Riverside Symphony.
The choice of repertoire has included unheard compositions by well known composers: a symphony from Haydn's middle period, world premieres of Ravel's five songs for the Prix de Rome competition, small pieces by Prokofiev. The Riverside Symphony also commissions works. In addition, it receives two to three hundred submissions from composers every year.
The directors' search for new music is virtually worldwide, extending to musical venues, organizations and libraries in other countries. It was in the Cité de la Musique (City of Music) in Paris that George Rothman found neglected scores by the Romanian composer Marius Constant (1925-2004). Although Constant's theme for the television show "The Twilight Zone" is well known, most of his beautiful, imaginative music had remained unheard. George Rothman selected some works for the Riverside Symphony concerts. The composer, a longtime resident of Paris, attended the premiere in New York.
Constant said, "I don't use forms, I use my imagination." Mr. Rothman explained, "He invented new forms; he would plunge into the development, any section could be short and compact. In contrast to composers who open a composition with a theme, Constant might begin with a dense musical texture that he later breaks down into elements, or he may use one musical cell or a set of cells in inventive ways. His works may seem governed more by instinct than by intellect." George Rothman hears periods of tension and release in Constant's music.
The conductor recommended that new music be experienced on its own terms. Mr. Rothman begins by silently studying a score, "hearing it" as he reads. Next, he plays it on the piano. Then he examines the details. The conductor attempts to grasp the essence and details of the new work. He "finds the story" before bringing it to his ensemble. The score may evoke some imagery that he may share with the orchestra. In the several orchestral rehearsals that follow, the musical character of the piece emerges and the interpretation of the piece is established.
Mr. Rothman played excerpts from the Marius Constant CD (Riverside Symphony Records, 2014). We were astounded by the sonorities, rhythms, and textures of the works. Inspired by three paintings by Turner, Constant composed "Rain, Steam, and Speed," "Self-Portrait," and "Windsor," (translated from French), three distinct expressions. The music varied: legato or pizzicato, pulsating or dolce, spasmodic dynamics or gentle shadings, forcefully gripping or hauntingly eloquent. A short video accompanied the poignant violin concerto, "103 Regards dans l'eau" ("103 Visions of Water"). George Rothman opened our minds and our ears to new musical experiences. Even if you missed the MEA program, you can still view the video on YouTube: Here
In addition to the concert series, the Riverside Symphony offers events designed to increase the audience's understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of music. It's extensive educational program for school children, Music Memory, has been awakening the musical interests of young audiences since 1999.
Please refer to the website below for George Rothman's impressive biographical information and fascinating Riverside Symphony materials.
Written by Bertha Mandel
Hostess, Joan Bujacich, President
Photos and layout, Nancy Modell
Terry Eder, award-winning pianist and scholar of 20th-century piano music by Hungarian composers, presented a cogent talk and exciting performances of Bèla Bartók's piano folk music at the November General Meeting at Elefante Music.
To demonstrate the evolution of Bartók's genius, Ms. Eder delved into three major piano works: 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs, written between 1914 and 1918; 8 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, 1920; and 6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythms, the last pieces of the 6-volume Mikrokosmos, finished in 1939.
Born in 1881 on the Hungarian/Romanian border, Bèla Bartók first studied piano with his mother, who with his father, were fine amateur musicians. At age 7, after Bartok's father died, the family was forced to move frequently. As a result he was exposed to diverse ethnic groups and to different teachers. He studied during the era of the "big-sounding" Germanic composers - Brahms, Mahler and Wagner - but he did not feel an affinity to their heavy, grandiose type of music. He chose to study at the Budapest Academy (with a student of Franz Liszt) even though he was accepted into the Vienna Conservatory. By 1901 at age 20, his pianism had advanced so much that he made a solo debut in Budapest, playing Liszt's B minor Sonata.
Bartók was moved by the nationalistic spirit of the times and began to delve into the songs of his native people. Zoltán Kodály, also a major influence in this genre, met Bartók in the early 1900's and urged him to study folk songs more seriously. Together they collected folk songs in Hungarian villages and traveled widely throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire and beyond. These sojourns had a profound effect on Bartók and his music. He was an introvert who loved the simplicity and earthiness of the countryside and its people. Some peasants doubted him - they thought he was an academic, so gaining their trust took a long time. He wanted to listen to the songs they sang in their daily lives - while baking bread, tilling the soil, tying up a horse, for example, songs that harbored their basic emotions, personal songs that came from the heart, full of melancholy.
15 Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz.71, are based on simple, daily activities using parlando rubato, the rhythm of the Hungarian lyrics sung by the "peasants." One can hear the inflection of the Hungarian language in the music. Having translated these from the Hungarian, Ms. Eder was able to capture the character of each piece on the piano and express their wide spectrum of emotions: happily sitting with a sweetheart, sorrow, humor (the rooster and a hen), dancing. Overall, the musical style is sparse, one song per piece. A basic harmony is introduced the first time, and when the melody repeats Bartók changes the harmony to change the expressivity. Never a slave to conventional tonality (triads), Bartók employed more adventurous chords, with 4ths, 2nds, 7ths and 9ths. Ms. Eder calls them "delicious" because they are so different.
In 8 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz.74, Bartók again uses one song per piece, but makes a creative leap into 20th-century contemporary sound that transforms the songs entirely by the last repetition of the melody. Using the same re-harmonization techniques as in the original 15, he goes far beyond by developing fragments and varying them.
6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythms, Sz.107, are the most often performed in concert for their rhythmic content and pianistic challenges. These contain Bartók's own original melodies. They sound folk-like, with irregular rhythms: 2 + 3 + 4, 2 + 5, etc., but they also comprise jazz elements, contrapuntal techniques, canons, inversions, propulsive rhythms with rapidly changing meters, and more. By 1939 when these were completed, Bartók had evolved into a 20th-century composer of renown with his own unique style. To perform these dances on piano, and certainly the 8 Improvisations, requires a deep understanding of this complex music as well as very confident performance skills.
Terry Eder not only presented profound insights into Bartók and his music, but brought to life his imagination through her powerful, sensitive performance of these selected piano works.
After studying at Oberlin Conservatory and graduating from the Indiana University School of Music with a Master of Music with Distinction, Terry Eder won a research grant to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. There she specialized in 20th-century piano music, working under the tutelage of Zoltán Kocsis. She immersed herself in Hungarian life and culture, learned to speak the language and developed a deep understanding of their soulful music. Bartók, she discovered, is highly revered in Hungary (he and Liszt are considered the greatest Hungarian composers), but greatly underappreciated worldwide. Today Ms. Eder is recognized as a leading advocate of Bartók's music. For more information, go to www.terryeder.comand Bela Bartók.
Written by Charlene S. Step
Hostess, Ruth Kotik
Photography and layout, Nancy Modell
This was the intriguing title for the presentation by James Irsay - pianist, musicologist and a host at WBAI 99.5 FM in New York.
Mr. Irsay has encyclopedic knowledge and specializes in historical recordings with an emphasis on piano music. He studied with world-class performers and composers Jorge Bolet, John Ogdon, Sasha Gorodnitzki, Peter "PDQ Bach" Schickele and Jacob Druckman. He has performed with Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Raymond Lewenthal, Alan Titus, and many more musical luminaries. His work at WBAI has received wide recognition, including The Major Armstrong Award, several Corporation for Public Broadcasting Awards, and for National Public Radio, The Ohio State Award.
In his opening statement, Mr. Irsay stated 'There is a limit to mere beauty: sound, pedaling, technique might be almost perfect, but there is no soul. There should be a musical statement, narrative, like in a novel.' To illustrate, he played a recording of Chopin's Nocturne in B minor. The recording was very clean, but had nothing special; Mr. Irsay subsequently analyzed the 'missed opportunities'. He didn't want to name the performer, except to say she was a 16-year old from the recent Chopin Competition. In contrast, he played two recordings of the same piece by Raul Koczalski (student of Anton Rubinstein and Karol Mikuli, who, in turn, had studied with Chopin himself) and by Leo Sirota (a student of Paderewski and Busoni). In each case, this Nocturne sounded highly individual, with surprisingly beautiful voicing and deep artistic nuances, as if it were not 'learned', but improvised.
Then Mr. Irsay played three different versions of the opening bars of Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto. Van Cliburn was very good, but something was missing; Joseph Hoffman (a student of Ignatz Friedman) had much more meaning and inspiration; Ernest Hutcheson was different from Hoffman, but equally expressive.
Mr. Irsay illustrated that the concept of 'perfectly correct' playing is not what great composers and musicians were and are looking for. Next we heard Bach's Violin Sonata in G minor played by George Enescu in 1948 and Isaak Stern in 1962. Enescu was more Romantic and there was color in every note. Stern was more 'modern' with sharp edges between the chords and somewhat less expressiveness.
Mr. Irsay played Mendelssohn's Songs without Words Op. 36 No. 6 and No. 2 by Joseph Hoffman. Each voice was personalized and there was a sense of orchestral playing with different instrumental timbres. Although Mr. Hoffman followed the composer's notation, there was a distinct individuality in interpretation. This is what all composers really want!
We also heard interpretations of Brahms' Intermezzo in A-flat Op. 76 No. 3: by Myra Hess - the gentlest sound, like a lullaby; Carl Friedberg - gracefully expressive; and by Hungarian pianist Etelka Freund - here follows Mr. Irsay's description as an example of his unique and engaging analysis:
"The recording was made in 1951. A very unorthodox interpretation to our ears, but orthodoxy is not necessarily the answer, and not necessarily "authentic". Orthodoxy is a result of a process passed along through time by performers (and by apostles of various schools!). It is ironic that an interpretation we hear as "unorthodox" was influenced and guided by the composer. That's not to say the composer played the Intermezzo like his young friend Etelka Freund did, to whom he was an admiring mentor. But her freedom, ease and momentum were qualities that were often observed in Brahms' playing. An approach may be applied to widely disparate interpretations."
Mr. Irsay stressed that there is a kind of mummification of Brahms and other composers, going so far as to check exact timing of performances. We should be immersed in the actual message of the music. He illustrated all the musical examples with scores and emphasized that part of musical education today should be listening to the old masters.
'Morning Irsay' can be heard at WBAI.org or 99.5 FM on Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to noon. In his broadcast of Friday October 16 (following the MEA meeting), Mr. Irsay mentioned the MEA presentation several times and he also thanked the MEA for the invitation.
Written by Sophia Agranovich,
Program Chair and Hostess
Photography and layout, Nancy Modell