Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ravel's Kaddish performed today at the European Parliament

I'm so honored that Clémence Poussin and the Quatuor Girard used my transcription of the Ravel Kaddish to open the European Parliament on Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2019.

The Me2/Orchestra

Last night I was reminded of Ronald Braunstein, a fellow Juilliard student (we were not friends, but we did work together occasionally). Ron was studying conducting there, though he had entered as a composition student. He was an interesting person to me, partially because he was clearly talented, but mostly because he allowed himself to be vulnerable. The operative strategy at Juilliard in the late 1970s was to give the appearance of being highly successful and invulnerable. The 21st-century term that would apply would be "bulletproof."

Ron was not bulletproof, but he was a serious high achiever. Immediately after graduating from Juilliard in 1979 he went off to Berlin and won the gold medal in the Herbert von Karajan Conducting Competition. He worked with Karajan as an apprentice, and conducted orchestra all over Europe and Asia. After returning to America, he conducted the pre-college orchestra at Juilliard and the preparatory orchestra at Mannes. In 1981 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and, like other people with the disorder, he has had challenges navigating his way through professional and personal life.

Braunstein now lives in Vermont. In 2011 he formed an orchestra in Burlington for musicians living with mental illnesses to play in, and in 2014 he started one in Boston. Here's a link to the Me2/Orchestra's website. There's a page there with links to articles about the orchestra as well as a link to their YouTube channel. The orchestra does not require an audition. Participants can choose to reveal the nature of their mental illness if they like, but it isn't necessary. It isn't even necessary to have a mental illness to participate! They welcome people of all ages: patients, family members, friends, physicians, counselors, people recovering from addiction, and caregivers.

It makes me very proud to know that Ronald Braunstein is doing something truly good with his life and his talents.

Here's a clip of the orchestra playing at the King Street Center in Burlington, VT.

I was surprised, when going through some of my brother Marshall's writings (which I keep mostly private), to find that Marshall knew Ronald Braunstein too. Here's an excerpt from Marshall's memoir (SSO would be the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, which was having a conductor search in October of 1984):
Braunstein actually got to meet us by a fluke before rehearsals ever started--he got on the same plane with us. We were returning from Boston, and Elaine’s wedding, and he got on at LaGuardia, a day early so that he could have a break before meeting the SSO management. That gave him a chance to look over the first movement of Alien Landscapes, which I’d just finished scoring. Unfortunately we never heard from him again.

I disagreed with some of the things he did in rehearsal--taping, for instance. (With IRIS, and Michael Stern, there is an excellent reason for it: we record commercially.) But his Barber Adagio for Strings (with his parts) and his Beethoven Fifth (with all the repeats) had stunning musical conviction. Also featured was the Ginastera Harp Concerto, with Heidi Lehwalder as soloist.

There you have it!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Michel Legrand Plays Bach!

[The Bach begins 47 minutes in.]

This is a 1978 variety-style television show that someone posted on YouTube yesterday. It is an excerpt from one of the Concertos that Bach wrote for either keyboard or violin. The segment begins with Legrand playing the solo on piano and Ivry Gitlis conducting, and it ends with Gitlis playing the solo on the violin and Legrand conducting:

Stick around after the Bach because Legrand sings music from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Danielle Licari, the singer who dubbed Catherine Deneuve's voice in the film. Their singing is set against images from the film.

I Believe in Michel Legrand

I spent much of my day re-working a string quartet arrangement of one of my favorite Legrand songs. Legrand reminds us that we must believe in spring. I keep believing in spring because of Michel Legrand. I am so thankful for his music. His was a musical life well lived.

Here he is playing and singing "I Will Wait for You" (in English), the theme from the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, with Nana Muskouri:

Schubert and our Winterreise

Last night the viola section of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra had a wonderful moment (or rather, a wonderful half hour) playing Schubert's Fifth Symphony. And the viola section love spread itself throughout the orchestra (the heart is in the middle of the body--any body). Or maybe we were just responding to all the ebbs, flows, and unnamable subtle shadings that happen when everybody has an open heart and is really feeling the music.

The Schubert love spread to the rest of the program too, particularly in Pulcinella.

It was a very enjoyable concert to play, and to hear.

There was more snow than predicted for our 50-mile trek home on a two-lane highway (we opted for the two-lane highway rather than the interstate because we didn't feel like driving with trucks, as we did the night before).

There was snow falling from the sky and snow drifting all over the road. About five miles into our journey we noticed many flashing lights ahead of us, and it turned out to be a snow plow. It swept away the snow, salted our path, and provided light to guide our way. After about fifteen miles it went off to plow another rural road, and, like magic, another snow plow appeared directly in front of us. That plow led us about ten miles more, and then stopped to let us pass once its help was no longer necessary.

I felt the spirit of Schubert all night.

Wrist Rosin

As we were about to rehearse Pulcinella yesterday, I noticed my stand-partner's wrist watch sitting on the floor. This idea popped into my mind.

Remember, you saw it here first.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Kunc, Kunc, and More Kunc

Sunday's concert has passed and John David and I have moved on to new repertoire. But I now have the piano score on my desk, and have been entering it into Finale and learning a great deal about piano writing (and about the piece!) in the process.

I have also started questioning the sparse record of the lives of the Kunc family. It seems that Pierre Kunc's younger brother Aymé Kunc did not win the "second prize alongside Maurice Ravel" in the 1902 Prix de Rome. Aymé Kunc won the first prize that year. Ravel was, according to Arbie Orenstein, a finalist, but he did not win any prizes. The second prize went to Albert Bertelin, and the third prize went to Jean Roger-Ducasse.

Aymé Kunc completed in the Prix de Rome four times before winning the Grand Prize (a generous four-year stipend and lots of fame).

Ravel won the third prize in 1901. Ravel is a household name, and Aymé Kunc remains a footnote in Ravel's biography (and a thorn in his side). Aymé's work is not yet entirely in the public domain, but there is an entry for him in the IMSLP that has two pieces.

There is an entry for Pierre Kunc (whose work is in the public domain) as well. And there's also an entry for Aloys Kunc, the father of Pierre and Aymé.

I'll go back to my engraving work now.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Talia Trio performance at Lawrence University

I'm so proud to share this review of a concert given last week at Lawrence University, where violist Matthew Michelic, oboist Leslie Michelic, and pianist Anthony Padilla played my Talia Trio.

Excitement, Excitement, Excitement

It is always an exciting experience to play viola and piano concerts, but the concert of long-neglected music that John David and I are playing tomorrow (see the posts about it below) is especially exciting because until tomorrow the only people to hear our program (aside from John David's son and daughter-in-law, who got a special preview performance a couple of weeks ago, and a group of people who heard the first movement of the Ashton in November) have been John David and me.

The experience is kind of like planting seeds in a secret garden, tending the plants, watching them flower, and, suddenly, as if by magic, seeing them burst into fruit. Tomorrow we plan to harvest our fruit and share it with whoever happens to come to the concert. The one thing I know for sure is that we both love these pieces (to pieces), and we are both very eager not to keep their secrets and charms to ourselves any longer!

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina Plays Chopin

It is just amazing how a bow that is perpendicular to the string can make even an automated violin (or set of violins) sound human! The finger levers are powered by small bellows, and the wheel is made from 1,300 horse hairs.

There is a lot you can learn about 19th-century style from this interpretation, once you remove your lower jaw from the floor.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Paulo Bellinati Jongo and Lira Brasileira

Out-of-Body Experiences with Bach

Someone posed a question on Reddit wondering if anyone had "out-of-body" experiences playing Bach.
So this one time in a rehearsal space I was playing Bach's Cello Suite #1 in G Major on the marimba.

I had been rehearsing it for weeks, thinking constantly about how I felt about the piece and what it meant to me in order to put my very own emotional spin on it. I probably played it at least 20 times a day for three weeks. I started the piece for the umpteenth time that practice session... and then when I finished I came out of some weird trance or something: I had no memory of playing the piece, but I did have a... well, like a vast and empty, yet fulfilled, place inside of me. I remember knowing that I had played well, but that's it. It was a weird experience, and I'm still not sure what happened.

The best way to describe it would be from Matilda by Roald Dahl "It made me feel lovely,' Matilda said. 'For a moment or two I was flying past the stars on silver wings."

In my conversations with other Bach players this does not seem to be an uncommon experience. So I'm here because I've finally built up the courage to ask these weird questions here:

What are your out-of-body experiences with playing Bach?

What is it about Bach that facilitates these experiences in our brains? Is music math, and math music? Is there truly music in the spheres? Or is it just that repetition encourages deep meditation? Let's talk!

But mostly I want stories about 'going somewhere else' while you were playing Bach. DAE?

I thought I'd share my response here:
My question is how do you tell an out-of-body experience from an in-body experience? Bach is my "go to" when I have feelings I cannot otherwise process. My mind can follow the pathways and accept their logical (and often surprising) destinations. The process of following them helps me to feel clearer about taking whatever next step I need to in any given situation. His choices bring me satisfaction.

There are moments in Bach pieces I heard my father playing while I was growing up that bring me "right back" to a moment and a physical place in my childhood. There are pieces of Bach that generate almost a "taste" in my mouth (Cantata 78 is one). There are pieces of Bach that do the opposite of an "out of body" thing for me. They make me feel more physically grounded, more comfortable in my skin, more able to move, and more secure.

I would not say that Bach is "music of the spheres" because I believe that Bach draws upon things that are very physical. The way Bach feels under the hand, the way it feels to sing Bach, and the way his long phrases are like physical constructions make me venerate Bach for his deep humanity.

I play Bach every day. Since I play viola, I alternate between the Sonatas and Partitas and the Cello Suites. My daily routine involves the reward of playing Bach after I play my scales. And for a while (maybe a year or so) I was going through the WTC on a daily basis. These days when I have time at the keyboard I have been playing the Partitas.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Pierre Kunc

In addition to the Viola Sonata by Algernon Ashton, John David Moore and I will be playing Pierre Kunc's Viola Sonata on our January 20th concert. We got hold of the music purely by accident. John David requested something from interlibrary loan, and the Kunc Sonata came in its place. I like to think that a savvy librarian knew that we would like the piece and that we would perform it. That librarian was right!

There is close to nothing written about Pierre Kunc in English, but I did come across a French webpage dedicated to Kunc. I brushed aside the huge number of names dropped in this article, and learned that Pierre Kunc was the third of twelve children who were part of one of the most important musical families in France. He had several celebrated teachers, including his parents and the violinists Paul Viardot (the son of Pauline Viardot), and Charles de Beriot (the husband of Pauline Viardot's sister Maria Malibran).

[The Kunc family in 1905]

In spite of being overshadowed by his younger brother, Aymé, who won the Grand Prize in the 1902 Prix de Rome, Pierre Kunc had a great deal of success in France. From 1899 until 1925 he taught piano and organ at the Ecole Sainte-Genevieve in the rue Lhomond in Paris, and he held several important organ positions including one at Notre-Dame of Bercy in Paris and one at Saint-Suplice, which was also in Paris. He also served as the choirmaster at the Monte Carlo Opera, and in 1909 the Institute de France gave him the Prix Trémont. His work has fallen into obscurity because so little of his music was published. This Viola Sonata and his Rapsodie, also written for viola and piano, were Pierre Kunc’s only pieces of chamber music to see publication.

Kunc wrote his Viola Sonata for Paul-Louis Neuberth to play on his “Viola Alta,” a nearly 19-inch viola with proportions more like that of the violin. The instrument was developed in the 1870s and was abandoned (probably because of its unwieldly size) in the early 1920s. The work was completed in 1921, and Neuberth gave the first performance in 1922 with the pianist Rachel Blanquer.

I made a new edition of the viola part and uploaded a PDF into the IMSLP. After this concert I will start the piano part, which I hope to have completed by March or April. My hope is that our performance will be the first of many!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Exploring New Musical Worlds!

Since leaving Facebook I have been exploring new online musical worlds. As a result of my exploration I have found treasure troves of musical discussions through reddit. Some of those wise musicological voices that used to comment here in the blogosphere seem to have migrated to the classical music groups there. Reddit reminds me of the usergroups that I used to take part in before the blogosphere was invented.

I enjoy reading posts from young people, people new to "classical music," and people with questions that provoke interesting answers. It is, as far as I can tell, a "place" where discussion is both anonymous and civil. I'm still learning my way around this new way of using the internets.

I happened upon an intriguing subreddit today:

I love the repeat sign graphic in the upper lefthand corner, and if you look down at the bottom left you will see a sharp sign and a flat sign that replace the usual up arrow and down arrow (which allows users to anonymously up-vote or down-vote a post). Very clever. The name of the subreddit is also appropriate because it improves upon "100 days of practice" meme that young musicians use to keep themselves motivated.

Anyone learning to play an instrument knows that a mere hundred days of practicing is not going to get you very far on a journey towards proficiency. One thousand days of consistent practice is a healthy commitment.

(And a nice hello to anyone arriving at this blog through links I have put on reddit!)

Monday, January 07, 2019

Algernon Ashton

John David and I are playing a concert later this month that will include Algernon Ashton's Viola Sonata.

Algernon Bennett Langton Ashton was born in Durham, England in 1859, and moved to Leipzig with his family at the age of four. At the suggestion of Ignaz Moscheles, Ashton entered the Leipzig Conservatory, where he studied with Carl Reinecke, Ernst Richter, Salomon Jadassohn, Benjamin Papperitz, and Theodor Coccius. He graduated in 1879, and entered the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt where he studied with Joachim Raff. Ashton settled in London, and taught piano at the Royal College of Music from 1885 until 1910. He died in 1937.

In addition to being a prolific composer, Ashton kept a 58-volume daily diary. He was famous for finding graves of distinguished people and writing letters to the Musical Times to comment on the condition of the gravestones. These letters were published in two volumes by Chapman & Hall (Truth Wit and Wisdom, and More Truth Wit and Wisdom), but his diaries were lost.
Ashton's 160 published works include four cello sonatas, three violin sonatas, two piano quintets, eight piano sonatas, works for choir, songs, salon pieces, and fantasie pieces. Many of his unpublished works, including 24 piano sonatas, one in each key of the chromatic scale, 24 string quartets, and four symphonies are believed to have been destroyed when German bombs hit his family home during the Blitz.

Here's a link to his Fourth Piano Sonata, Opus 164 and a link to one of his Phantasiestucke, Opus 12.

Lost Boundaries: Movie Recommendation

Michael and I were extremely impressed by Alfred L. Werker's 1949 film Lost Boundaries. I offer no spoilers, just a sincere recommendation and a YouTube link. The music, written by the Canadian film composer Louis Applebaum (1918-2000), is exceptional.

Applebaum also wrote terrific music for Werker's 1952 Walk East on Beacon

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Dan Golding's Video about Film Music

I learned a great deal about film music from watching this, so I thought I'd share it here: