Big piano playing, incorporated

Big piano playing defines most dead pianists, or, more specifically, the great Romantics like Alfred Cortot, Josef Hofmann, Josef Lhevinne, Sergei Rachmaninov and Benno Moiseiwitsch. Even Egon Petri, who was more of a modernist, but a big pianist, just the same.

Big piano playing means a kind of artistry that takes chances, projects across the footlights, and is not afraid of its own vitality.

Happily, we have a good number of big pianists today.

Two events of big piano playing are just about upon us in New York. One is the third installment of Carlo Grante’s Masters of High Romanticism series at Alice Tully Hall. On Tuesday February 10th at 7:30 PM he plays no less than four big Brahms variation sets, including the (really big) Handel Variations and the (really hard) Paganini Variations. After the extraordinary concentration, mindful virtuosity and effortless stamina that Carlo displayed in his December 15th concert devoted to all three Schumann sonatas, I have no doubt that his Brahms will be a special event.

The following evening at Spectrum (121 Ludlow Street) at 7:00 PM, Marilyn Nonken’s Voluptuous Virtuosity series devoted to virtuoso performers and provocative programs presents Thomas Rosenkranz in Charles Ives’ Piano Sonata No. 2 (“Concord”). This is dense, complex, craggy, funny, simple and often moving music that demands as much from audiences as performers, and, in the end, leaves you uplifted and fulfilled. I haven’t heard Thomas in some time, which is why I’m especially excited about this concert. His debut solo disc comes out this spring, called Toward the Curve, and promises to be a formidable musical and audiophile experience.

As I’ve been slaving away at my latest ComposersCollaborative, inc. grant deadline, I’ve been playing some big piano performances on record to keep sane, no matter how insane some of the interpretations might be. For example, the fascinating and often controversial Russian pianist Maria Yudina’s Schubert Impromptus from 1964. Her almost aggressive, power tool version of the D. 899 No. 1 C Minor will catch you off guard and hold your attention. (check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8V964wP1Pw). I’m connecting anew to the nervous energy and gaunt textures of Alexis Weissenberg’s Rachmaninov’s Sonatas; he clarifies the often thick writing like lye cutting through grease, to quote my late colleague Harris Goldsmith. You can buy his amazing DG recording here:http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=151025. And Egon Petri’s brilliant Busoni Fantasia Contrappuntistica is included in a box set that I was fortunate to annotate several years ago; you can buy it here: http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=593827.

Looking forward to seeing you at the concerts, and watch this space about my upcoming performances and a new radio adventure…..

Piano Dreams: Liberace teaches me to play Boulez!

I don’t remember my dreams unless I write them down immediately after I wake up. Whenever I have a musical dream, I try to remember to write it down, but often forget to do so.

Fortunately, I did write down the most memorable piano related dream I’ve ever had, or at least remembered. It happened back in 1987, not long after Liberace died. Perhaps his demise triggered the dream, as well as the fact that during that period of time I often got hired to play the piano part for the Pierre Boulez Sonatine for Flute and Piano.

The dream went like this. I was backstage somewhere in Las Vegas, sitting at an upright piano. Liberace was going to coach me on the Boulez Piano Sonata No. 1. First he asked me to warm up with Satie, because that’s what he always did before making his entrance on stage in a Rolls-Royce, or flying, or whatever. Then Liberace started to point out certain measures in the Boulez:

(imagine Liberace’s voice)

“Now Jeddy, here, you really have to jump off that note quickly so that you can make the leap from bass to treble in one hand without losing the rhythm. Now, I gotta tell you, with my rings, I can’t really get this passage up to the written tempo, but, you know, Pierre always lets me do what I want!”.

It was a long and focused session. I didn’t want it to end, but then I woke up, and it was over. Boy, was I angry that I couldn’t fall back to sleep and continue with the dream, maybe have another lesson with Liberace, this time on Milton Babbitt’s Post-Partitions!

Please share your piano dreams with me here!