The Benefits of Piano Lessons for the Aging student

Despite the raging battle on Capitol Hill over health care legislation that threatened the loss of insurance to millions if enacted, a particularly vulnerable population of SENIORS engaged in music study, found sanctuary in a daily connection to the piano. Their “escape” to a universe of loving immersion became a mental prompt at the start of many long distance lessons. With a redirection of anger and frustration into expressive keyboard channels, these “aging” pupils braved a difficult transition of power in Washington (D.C.) without skipping a beat.

From my hub in Liberal, activist Berkeley, while imparting instruction to a Kentuckian at the polar opposite end of the political spectrum, a common musical journey was forged that neutralized our differences within the safe boundaries of a Beethoven Adagio (Sonata Pathetique) As a result, a rapprochement played out despite a house pet’s intrusion upon our conciliatory moments.

The following week, a “Make America Great” Trump rally moved into Louisville, triggering a lesson cancellation and temporary feelings of ill will.

Yet the fleeting relapse of relations was offset by Ludwig’s signature outpouring that promoted an enduring peace over the long haul.

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Musical sublimation to new heights of distraction from Fake News and attendant political shenanigans, are not the only benefits of piano study among the over 60 set. Tenacious seniors are awakened to improvements in short and long-term memory as a direct result of a carefully built, layered learning foundation that’s composed of baby step advances.

Decisions and trials related to fingering, for example, tease neurotransmitters out of passivity, creating new “connections” that can have long-lasting effects–that is, if students stimulate them on a daily basis. For seasoned music travelers who fall into the advanced level category, analyses of a J.S. Bach Fugue within the woven texture of interactive voices, is equal to a brain massage generating convolutions to the exponential. Even mapping cadences, dynamic shifts, and noting rudimentary phrase markings, spark neurological gains that carry over from the practice room to life’s many diverse activities.

A cognitive/affective/kinesthetic triad imbued in consistently MINDFUL practicing demands riveted concentration that chases away demons of fuzzy recall and forgotten names of friends who elude aging adults at the supermarket. In a struggle to make word associations in order to retrieve “tip-of-tongue” identities of concerts attended a few months back, or to dredge up the latest telecommunication breach on the Do Not Call list, tenacious, returning-to-the-piano seniors are thankfully assured that the piece placed on the piano rack is the one assigned to them from the previous week. This is a harbinger of promise, since a new composition that has acquired a sacred status among those previously tossed aside prematurely, will survive any *abortive attempts.
(*Right to Life, or Choice partisans, notwithstanding)

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In conjunction with a senior’s committed regimen of quality keyboard explorations, many self-labeled “troopers,” will exercise their mind and body away from the piano, in healthful walks, or forays to the local gym.

(“Gym…for the body machine…and Music for the soul is a good Duet.”)–Comments attached by a Facebook friend.

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In fact, social interactions in a musical context can transpire in chance meetings on the Yoga mat or in the locker room.

By way of a personal anecdote, I bumped into a NYC High School of Performing Arts (“P.A.”) grad, class of 1958 (a bit before my time), who shot the breeze at the Downtown ‘Y’- forgetting my name only the second time we met at the Gravitron. I returned the fuzzy favor at our third serendipitous encounter by the Universal Gender rest room. She happened to be looking for an able technician to tune and regulate her C3 Yamaha grand, so in a blink, I tapped into my memory bank with rhyme scheme assistance, and retrieved the name of one surviving practitioner who broke a chain of plundering assaults on my Steinway.

Upon my fourth run-in with the “P.A.” alum at the Pull-Up machine, she had voiced gratitude for my sterling referral, but couldn’t quite remember the fellow’s name or what he did. In response, I urged her to practice more regularly given the activity’s benign crossover effect on her brain and memory function.

(For most seniors, the cardiovascular effects of a Mindful focus, with attendant respiratory benefits, are enough to draw them back to the piano bench with alacrity and enthusiasm. It’s a no brainer!)

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The Aging piano student and Isolation

Loneliness, an associated cause of unhappiness in the life of a senior, is positively addressed in the sphere of music study. Students far and wide, not only find a human “connection” to music of the Masters, but they often join Piano Clubs to share their love for music. One of my pupils from Edinburgh who relishes the quality of her retirement, is eager to brief me on her latest play date in the convivial community environment of kindred pianists of all levels. Apparently, they listen with empathy and affection, creating enduring bonds that spill over into the Internet transmitted lesson environment. Dreaded “nerves” that might have been a curse in a former life, seem to diminish with each experience of benevolent camaraderie. And it’s worth mentioning, that some retirees, still on detox from grilling, pressure-cooker corporate work environments find relief in an amateur music-making milieu.

Finally, the perks of studying the piano as we age are part of the totality of a life committed to beauty and personal nourishment. In pursuing creative development through patient, graduated steps of musical discovery, seniors become more OXYGENATED and alert, with a renewed appreciation for the bonds they make with friends and family during their reluctant breaks from the keyboard.

LINKS:

“The Relation Between Instrumental Musical Activity and Cognitive Aging”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4354683/

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Oliver Sachs: Thoughts about music and Alzheimer’s disease/Dementia

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Recommended:

Musicophelia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sachs
https://www.amazon.com/Musicophilia-Tales-Music-Revised-Expanded/dp/1400033535

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Student: “I get so nervous when I play for you!” The Teacher responds!

As mentors, we can easily recall our student days when well-practiced pieces tanked upon arrival at our piano teacher’s home. Even ascending the staircase to the threshold of the apartment, our heart rate quickened, and we felt cold, clammy and faint. It was automatic over-drive for the first 20 minutes–an adrenaline crisis of magnitude.

Yet the stimulus, our kind-looking, empathetic mentor who appeared in the shining glow of her Zen-like environment, welcomed us with unconditional love and acceptance. She was draped in a HERE and NOW, mindful learning mantra, leading us to a grand piano, with neatly stacked, Blue urtext editions that she embraced with reverence and affection. At least, when she thumbed through its pages, locating the Mozart amoroso we had practiced– propping it neatly on the rack, her warm, inviting gesture should have transported us to a peaceful cosmos of awe-inspired music-making.

But we resisted, embracing our own enslaving mindset regardless of what existed in reality. And with a self-imposed distortion of what a lesson should be about, we were guaranteed a disappointment universe, bundled in autonomic jitters and keyboard-plagued land mines.

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From my perspective, these tension-loaded recollections had been associated with a time when lessons were LIVE and bristling with person-to-person interactions. These would be tempered by a wise and patient teacher who walked us down from our mountain top of anxiety to a level ground of relaxation: In a gradual decompression, we became detached from our EGO-heavy, high expectations– wooed, instead, into ONE-ness with the creative process.

My most beloved NYC based-teacher, Lillian Freundlich, who’d mentored me with this very approach, knew, like a psychotherapist, how to refocus my attention on the music and not MYSELF. Her nursed immersion was progressive, in baby steps, as she shook the kinks out of my shoulders, forearms, wrists, and ushered in the second twenty minutes of my lesson, with natural, effortless breaths fueling a resonating singing tone. By her persistently patient efforts I was able to flow quite naturally through my scales and into the loving lap of Mozart’s middle Sonata movement. (K. 281)

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Today, decades past my early student experiences, and in full bloom as a piano teacher of adults, I often find myself sitting thousands of miles from the epicenter of a pupil meltdown, wondering why my ONLINE presence can instigate a volcanic eruption!

It’s of concern because I’m NOT a looking-over-your-shoulder, or IN YOUR FACE mentor by any stretch of the imagination!

Nevertheless, this important glance at the world of teaching from near or far readily exposes the same issues of how we relate to our music and creative selves. Do we stunt our own growth with learning DEAD-lines and unreasonable EXPECTATIONS? What unattainable STANDARDS do we affix to each lesson that portend our own sense of FAILURE, when failure is our particular invention.

I certainly don’t view any part of a musical journey as a “failure” of any kind.

And here’s where I’ll defer to a well-written blog, (though I would have omitted any reference to “failure” within it.) The “guest” creator, known as the “Cross-eyed pianist,” sets forth a self-compassionate framing for music learning and performing that I’ve forwarded to my gaggle of ONLINERs who often shake in their in their booties the moment we’re face-to-face on FACE TIME! (Should I exit to the next room, at the next SIGN ON, listening to a pupil from a dark, hidden closet?)

Regardless of my on or off-screen persona, a distressed student is often heard moaning a familiar chant via her Internal Mic: “You must have told me to dip that cadence a thousand times, and I’m still at it! Maybe I should just quit the piece.. But, I’m not a quitter! You know that, so let me try it again!”

This soliloquy may play out with innumerable repeats and variations as I sit under a webcam, wondering if I should put an end to the perseveration that’s going to sabotage each and every subsequent hit the dirt effort.

It’s a no-brainer that if a student is playing with a loaded gun of confidence-shattering bullets, there’s no way that she’ll settle into a judgment-free, safety zone of ONE-ness with her J.S. Bach Sarabande.

And Who’s Counting my suggested revisions to a phrase, or the reminders to a pupil about fingering, etc.? It’s not I who’s in the Accountancy Office!

This is where fact and fantasy need separation, just like blaring FAKE NEWS demands a constant REALITY CHECK!

So I happily refer to the previously referenced blog that puts everything into perspective:

https://pianodao.com/2017/03/13/the-pianists-self-compassion/

My favorite quotes:

“Self-compassion can protect us from the negative thoughts, self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy that the life of the musician may provoke, but it can also encourage us to open ourselves up to the full spectrum of our experience which is the starting point for truly compelling and mature musicianship.”

“…Mindfulness helps us to be non-judgmental and to take a balanced approach to our emotions. Being mindful allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, and for the musician it encourages a positive attitude towards mistakes (learning tools) and setbacks.”

An Online student in Kentucky responded positively to this posting:

“Perfect! I love it, self compassionate. My new mission!”

“Amen,” I replied, from my bunker in Berkeley.

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Experiencing the first Sunrise in your playing

I had intended to title this posting, “Falling in Love Again”-a tribute to the music of Alexandre Tansman. It would highlight an affaire de coeur ignited by Amazon. (No Saturday Night Live script in progress) I would encapsulate the day I’d ordered what was supposed to be a copy of a new adult student’s album of Tansman miniatures that he’d brought to his first lesson. It included the familiar “Arabia” that was a memory prompt in my worst senior moment. What did I know of the composer’s output beyond the perfunctory inclusion of his picturesque modal morsel within an anthology of Late Beginner level offerings.

My Amazon purchase arrived with no sign of the hallmark piece, and to add to my disappointment, there was just “one” Collection instead of “4” as advertised by the seller: Pour Les Enfants (A bundle of Children’s compositions included 4 sets.) It had been my intention to explore the graded music in one package to assess the contents for teaching purposes.

(I’ve not yet referenced the “sunrise” aspect of this encounter, but it’s on the horizon.)

With only the frugal arrival of Book 1, (“Very Easy” level), I thumbed through its pages, sampling a few phrases of each title, growing more immersed in the music as I “read” along. It was an early blossoming love that was growing in intensity as I delved more deeply through appealing melodic and harmonic threads.

In less than 20 minutes through a sight-reading journey, a resonating epiphany sprang from this earliest exploration: It was my having experienced the “first sunrise” in my playing. (What we often lose in our redundant daily practicing)

I confessed to my adult student in the sanctity of my studio that I had not yet received a copy of his exact album, but the one obtained turned out to be a blessing in disguise, a set of heavenly pieces that were in a divine space I’d inhabited on the FIRST day I learned a few, and then permeating the rest, on the second and third day. It was a Here and Now, in the moment experience of childlike enchantment that I insisted must be retained in our daily practicing no matter the length of our stay with a particular composition.

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How else can I express this spontaneous wonderment than through the music itself that’s in the imagination even as fingers are not engaged with the keys.

Day 1 (I fingered these four selections carefully; put in phrase marks that were omitted; scanned the harmonic rhythm of each) and sailed off with the prompted fantasy of the titles.

Naturally, in a personal, unabashed surrender to the music, a natural flow of energy through relaxed arms and supple wrists is needed. But such fluidity is always tied to attentive listening, where the ends of caressed notes, give direction to the beginnings of others.

It’s apparent that Tansman’s music as represented in this collection, Pour Les Enfants, has a bounty of teaching value. Each one, even designated as “VERY EASY,” encompasses a musical/technical challenge that incrementally grows musicianship.

My Day 2 highlighted favorites:

A Hanon-like charmer

An Old World ear-grabber

Another gem

Day 3 preferences:

A French-style Waltz

Finally, Tansman’s “Conclusion”

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All 12 pieces in this collection were assimilated in 3 days of pure elation and joy. It sent a clear message that we need to preserve this sense of primordial love in all our practicing–embedding phrase after phrase with the awe of a first encounter.

About the Composer

Wiki summary:
Alexandre Tansman was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of Jewish origin. He spent his early years in his native Poland, but lived in France for most of his life, being granted French citizenship in 1938. Wikipedia

Born: June 12, 1897, Łódź, Poland
Died: November 15, 1986, Paris, France
Education: University of Warsaw
Albums: Polish Violin Concertos, Chamber Music with Clarinet

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From the Naxos Website

ALEXANDRE TANSMAN
(1897 – 1986)

“Few composers in the twentieth century have such an exceptionally far-ranging career as Alexandre Tansman. Born in Poland in 1897 at Łódź, also the birthplace of his friend, the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, Tansman studied at the conservatory there and in Warsaw. He had as a fellow student the famous conductor and composer Paul Kletzki, who, as a violinist, took part in the first performance of Tansman’s now lost Piano Trio No. 1 and later conducted also in Paris his Fifth Symphony [Marco Polo 8.223379]. After winning in 1919 the three first prizes in the national composition competition organized in the newly established Polish Republic, Tansman settled in Paris, where he had the support and encouragement of Ravel and Roussel.

“He established friendly relations with composers of his own generation such as Milhaud and Honegger and was a member of the Ecole de Paris, a group of composers from central and eastern Europe that included Bohuslav Martinů, Marcel Mihalovici, Tibor Harsányi and Alexandre Tcherepnin. His compositions were conducted by the most famous conductors of the period, Serge Koussevitzky, Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Monteux, Vladimir Golschmann and Dimitri Mitropoulos.

“In 1927–28 he made his first tour of the United States, performing, with Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, his Second Piano Concerto, a work dedicated to Charlie Chaplin, who was present in the concert hall. In 1932–33 Tansman embarked on a world tour during which he had the opportunity, in India, to meet Ghandi. In New York he had the surprise of hearing his Four Polish Dances programmed by Toscanini with the New York Philharmonic. Later it was thanks to a committee established by Toscanini, Chaplin, Ormandy and Heifetz that he and his family were able to leave France, occupied at the beginning of the Second World War. During his exile in America his career underwent considerable development and his works were played by the best American orchestras (New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, St Louis, Washington, and Cincinnati). He lived in Los Angeles and counted Stravinsky among his closest friends. From this almost daily contact later came a book on the Russian composer that is still regarded as authoritative.

“When he returned to Paris, his European activity resumed. His works were directed by the most renowned conductors of the day, such as Rafael Kubelik, André Cluytens, Jascha Horenstein, Ferenc Fricsay, Charles Brück, Jean Fournet and Bruno Maderna. There were regular commissions from French radio and this final period brought an important number of compositions, among them the oratorio Isaië le Prophète, the opera Sabbataï Zevi and the Concerto for Orchestra [Marco Polo 8.223757].”

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Teaching the Language of Debussy in Reverie

Yesterday afternoon I found myself mentoring a student about the nuances of a composer’s language and style in the Impressionist genre.

Claude Debussy’s Reverie, with its palette of blended colors was on display–naturally intoned in vowels rather than consonants, while its liquid phrases begged for supple wrist and relaxed arm infusions of energy. My pupil’s steely bright Yamaha upright piano which was far from the purr–fect vehicle for the creation of a veiled effect, had to be “tamed” through compensatory physical motions. These precluded any form of an articulated legato that would upset the outflow of horizontal lines.

As the lesson unfolded, the activity of SINGING–(myself and pupil echoing measures between California and North Carolina) provided the most significant translation of how we could shape notes/phrases without obtrusive accents. Through many repetitions in the opening bars and a bit beyond, we accomplished incremental refinement that was satisfying for its progress toward natural grace and fluidity. In addition, prompts fueling the imagination filtered down to the keyboard in soft, cushioned landings, advancing expressive playing.

The exchange, captured on video, communicated far more than words could express.

Below is a prior “dreamy” teaching encounter that explored rolling arpeggios in Reverie’s bass, with an infused harmonic analysis.

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Finally, here’s an additional sample of Debussy’s veiled expression wrapped in tonal colors:

The Girl with the Flaxen Hair.

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A Motivated adult piano student with an International profile

Right now, as I’m posting these words in Berkeley, CA, my student, Claire, (an international lawyer) who avidly practices the piano in two different time zones, is perched high up in her apartment overlooking Sydney Harbor. It’s 19 hours past Pacific Standard Time over there, or the next day in Australia. As a consequence, we have to factor in the time disparity when she leaves Edinburgh, her home base, to avoid its bitter winter. At the Scottish location, we’re distanced by 8 hours.

In Sydney, I greet Claire with a paradoxical ‘top of the mornin'” though I’m in fuzzy culture shock even at 3 p.m. my time, and 9 a.m. hers, the following day. In Edinburgh, it’s a hearty “good afternoon,” as the time zone is reversed, but without an extra day hanging out.

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Claire’s Sydney apartment overlooks the Harbor with a breathtaking view:

Sydney Harbor

In Edinburgh, her neighborhood is speckled with historical architectural edifices that she showcased in a post-lesson webcam-guided tour.

Claire’s colorful Scottish brogue, so conspicuously revealed in the narrative, reminded me of percussionist icon, Evelyn Glennie as she delivered a TED TALK. Yet it took several senior moments, bundled in associative strategies, to make the “connection.”

During our Australian cycle, I might be exposed to a distinctly different ambiance:

One week, Claire had taken an interval to visit a friend in a more rural part of the country, so I was treated to a LIVE kookaburra concert as a bunch of colorful “native” parakeets settled onto the porch.

This particular location had introduced a “third” piano into the prior mix of two.

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Claire hosts a wonderful Yamaha grand in her Edinburgh apartment while a Clavinova graces her place in Sydney; finally, a loaner piano turns up wherever her extra travels take her.

About two years ago, I received a lesson inquiry from Claire that was very detailed. Her MOTIVATION to learn resonated, and she had a nice prologue of experience at the piano and in a choir, the latter that I sampled on You Tube. It turned out to be a group with an able choral conductor who selected diverse repertoire of many eras. The level of musical expression was at its peak.

Claire had also offered a Wish of List of pieces she wanted to learn in her introductory letter that included the works of Beethoven, Burgmuller, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Mendelssohn among others.

From there, a progressive journey ensued that has accrued shared epiphanies about:

Tchaikovsky’s “Sweet Dreams”
Schumann “Of Foreign Lands and Peoples,” “Traumerei,” “A Curious Story”
Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 119 No. 1
J.S. Bach Little Prelude in F
J.S. Bach Invention 8 in F Major
Burgmuller “Tarentelle,” “Tender Flower”
Mendelssohn Venetian Boat Song in F-sharp minor
Chopin Waltz in B minor, Op. 64

Here’s Claire watching the proceedings during one of our International Skype beamed piano recitals. She’s was settled into her Australian hub readying to play the Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119:

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-8-18-21-am

Not to forget that this very devoted student is immersed in Scales and Arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths and has developed an enviable supple wrist, relaxed arm technique.

You can easily discern her fluid approach in this most recent lesson sample beamed from Australia.

Technique snatches: (from Edinburgh)–Yamaha acoustic grand piano

From Sydney Australia Yamaha Clavinova



Back to Edinburgh
on the grand piano.

Claire is a JOY to work with, along with my lovely group of ardent piano lovers!

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World Piano Competition Winner, Marianna Prjevalskaya shares thoughts about Recording

mariannas-pic-for-blog

A pianist’s stunning win at a Major Competition held in Cincinnati reverberated through the international music cosmos with a singular, attached recording opportunity. The first place winner, Marianna Prjevalskaya, who had already put herself on the map as a globe-trotting recitalist of major import, added to her list of kudos with a notable recording of Rachmaninoff’s two sets of Variations. (Her previous disc release on Naxos, 2012, contains the works of Haydn, Scarlatti, Schumann and Zarate.)

Prjevalskaya’s most recent, Rachmaninoff-centered CD comes with an added perk of the pianist’s own inserted Program Notes that shed light on the form, structure, and musical essence of the two epic sets of Variations based on themes of Chopin, and Corelli.

Put in clear historical context, these Notes are a reflection of the performer’s dedication to communicating the composer’s intent through her well-conceived artistic lens.

Recently, I framed a set of interview questions around the pianist’s recording experience in Cincinnati, and how it compared to LIVE music-making.

1) You took on a great challenge when you decided to record two monumental sets of Variations composed by Rachmaninoff. How and why did you decide to select these particular works for a CD that was produced as part your first prize award in the World Piano Competition?

M.P. I have always felt that very special relationship with Rachmaninoff’s music. I should probably say that his music for me is like breathing, it is very natural, and at the same time so genuine.

I was about 18 years old when I first heard Variations on a Theme of Chopin. I was still a student in London, and I remember it left a tremendous impression on me. It was probably, at least at that time, one of the most beautiful compositions by Rachmaninoff I had ever heard. Instantly, I fell in love with the piece, and immediately started working on it. Some years later I performed it in major cities in Italy and in Salzburg in the big hall of the Mozarteum. After this tour, I decided to set it aside, but a few years later I realized it was a piece I would always return to. When I found out I would be recording a CD as winner of the Cincinnati World Piano Competition, I firmly knew I would record this set of Variations. The question was, what else would go together with it? As it happened, at this time I was working on Variations on a Theme by Corelli. Obviously, it was perfect timing. 


2) How would you compare the recording experience to presenting a LIVE recital?

Incidentally, in this regard, Pletnev and Perahia have both weighed in negatively about recording. Pletnev likens a disc revisit to perceiving his ugly reflection in the mirror. Murray Perahia expresses similar disdain for an interpretation that’s fixed in time and inalterable. He insists he would play nearly everything he’s previously recorded in a new and novel way, not stratified by CD and Mp4 technology.

Do you possess some of the same feelings about the recording process?

M.P. Yes, I would strongly agree with Perahia. Whenever I made a recording and would listen to it some months later, I would always feel that now I would play that passage differently! Or I would think: “Why haven’t I taken time here or there?” And the feeling would be quite unbearable because you can’t change it. It’s there forever!

In a live recital it is different, you share your interpretation of the score in the moment and then you’re finished–it is gone!

It was your honest and spontaneous interpretation, and you do not have the option of going back to redo it to the level you are satisfied. Performing on stage is creating in the moment, and that is what I love about a live recital. Recording, however, nowadays is different than what it was before. You cannot release a CD with wrong notes. We live in an age when everybody is obsessed with very clean playing, and that obsession is very stressful and unnatural, in my opinion.

3) How is preparation for recording different from that which applies to giving a recital? Is your concentration interrupted by retakes? Did you have more than one day to record nearly 52 minutes of music?

M.P. I had several days to record, but surprisingly we finished a bit earlier. Yes, I do think the concentration is often interrupted, and sometimes it feels like you cannot get into the right mood after repeating the same section several times. I also think that preparation for a recording is somewhat different. In my experience, I realized that some ideas that worked on stage in concert did not work for a CD. On a few occasions, I changed my interpretation of a certain passage or section after listening to my first take. This happens because very often what your ears hear is not what comes out in a recording, and you need to have a certain flexibility to adjust your interpretation accordingly.

4) Were there any big or unexpected surprises within the recording environment?

M.P. No, I don’t remember anything unexpected or surprising. I should say everything went very smoothly. I will be always immensely grateful to my team – producer, Elaine Martone and recording engineer, Chelsea Crutcher who made it a fantastic experience. I was greatly supported throughout our sessions together, and had the freedom I needed.

5) How do you adjust to a contrived, techno-supported setting without an audience to communicate with? (except for the producer and recording engineer)

M.P. For me it is similar to practicing in a room without an audience. When I practice, I dive deeply into music. I don’t care if there’s an audience or not, so that was never an issue, or at least that is what I think and how I felt. What is important for me is to maintain strong concentration for many hours. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that if these works were recorded live, my performance would be different.

6) How did you select your piano? Did you have a choice of instruments to try before embarking upon this undertaking?

M.P. It was a Steinway grand that I had performed on during the Cincinnati Competition. I remember this piano pretty well and I liked it, so I was happy that it was available for the recording sessions.

7) I noted that you have a Naxos disc (2012) that was a maiden solo recording venture. You recorded the works of Haydn, Scarlatti, Schumann and Zarate. How did this particular experience compare to the more recent one.

M.P. It was definitely a very different experience. The disc was recorded in Jaen Music Conservatory. They had a wonderful Steinway and a beautiful concert hall with fabulous acoustics, however the team did not give me sufficient time to record all those works, and it was quite a stressful experience, to be honest. The fun part was that I was told the bells of the church next door would ring on every hour, and I had to manage to record between their ringing. In the end, it was not an issue, because eventually the bells were not heard, but I thought it was quite an unusual setting.

8) What is your overall preference: to record or present LIVE recitals? And why?

M.P. Of course, my preference would be presenting live recitals, because it is less stressful, and much more natural, and I can communicate with my audience, something that is really important for me. Being on stage is a very special feeling that cannot be experienced during a recording session even if you record on stage and not in a studio. But I also want to have good quality recordings published; so far, I have three, including Naxos CD released in 2012 and another album with works for violin and piano by Spanish Romantic composers that was released many years ago, in 2002.

9) I admired the detailed Program Notes you prepared which help the listener navigate through the many variations in each set. You have a thorough understanding of the music from a theoretical, harmonic, and structural dimension, and you’ve included historical context.

Did you approach the initial study of these variations with framing perspectives that you reveal in your commentary? 

M.P. I would say yes and no. There were many things I discovered while working on the Variations. It is like a two-way street, you discover from learning, and you also apply your knowledge while working on the piece. I also think that when I was younger I did not appreciate this music in the same way as I do now, and as I mentioned earlier, I started working on Variations on a Theme of Chopin for the very first time when I was much younger. I don’t think I perceived the structure in the same way, and I also did not work on Corelli at that time in order to realize how different these works are and how his language developed throughout thirty years.

10) The Variations seem to be well-ripened. Did your mother (your first teacher) mentor you on these variations, or were there other formidable teachers who did?

M.P. I had a chance to learn Variations on a Theme of Chopin with Alexander Toradze, and Corelli with Boris Slutsky. I am tremendously grateful for their time, their help, advice and inspiration. I also always play for my mother, and of course she had put her seeds into these works too.

11) What are your plans for the future as far as balancing LIVE recitals with recording?

M.P. Making recordings is not something I do very often, so most likely I will concentrate on performing concerts, and hopefully there will be another CD coming in the near future, I definitely have many ideas about what would be my next recording project.

12) How does your teaching expand your musical understanding, especially when you might be working with advanced piano students on this music?

M.P. When I teach, my concentration primarily is to expand a student’s musical understanding by sharing with them my knowledge and my experiences. We explore together the musical score and discover the treasures. It’s a mutual collaboration that works for them as well as for me.

13) Have you given any Masterclasses on these two sets of Rachmaninoff Variations, and do you plan any in the future?

M.P. Not yet, and if I do, that will be dangerous I am afraid of teaching pieces that have grown deeply in my heart.

Thank you, Marianna, for your generous time and thoughtful answers.

***

Samples of Prjevalskaya’s exquisite performances at the International Chopin Piano Competition in Poland. (2010)

Links:

The Pianist’s Website

http://www.prjevalskaya.com/index.html

My previous Word Press postings about the artist:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/awe-inspiring-playing-at-the-alaska-international-piano-e-competition/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/prjevalskaya-soars-as-a-world-wide-pianist/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/a-big-new-york-debut-recital-for-pianist-marianna-prjevalskaya/

***

RECORDINGS with the performer as soloist

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01G7QZVFO/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_hcnQybY0W8X3H

mariannas-rachmaninoff-variations-cover

***

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B008DWFZVQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_2cnQybWADXQEM

mariannas-naxos-recording-cover

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Run to hear Pianist, Lucas Debargue!

A rising young pianist who placed 4th in the grueling 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition, but earned special RECOGNITION by the Moscow Music Critics Association, scored a unanimous victory on stage at Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. (February 12th, 2017 at 3 p.m.)

lukas-debargue-program-3-revised-crop

Without question, the 27-year-old French pianist, Lucas Debargue made an indelible impression on members of a full-house audience that included a diverse community of Classical music lovers.

Moscow Conservatory grads, local and international music teachers, piano students, and a stash of pianoforte mavens rose to their feet at the program’s conclusion, applauding for long intervals with interspersed “Bravo’s,” forming a loud choir of approval.

It was a visceral response to music-making that rose above the instrument, elevating itself to cosmic proportion. The pianist became a vehicle for the transmission of the composer’s ideals in his nuanced mosaic of impeccably sensitive phrasing that encompassed a diverse palette of tonal expression and colors.

In a journey through varied historical periods (Baroque, Romantic, Impressionist and Romantic Expressionist), Debargue’s expressive poetry synchronized beautifully with what belonged to each era. He possessed tonal flexibility; a repository of articulated and seamless legato, and sonorous chords that never slipped into offensively percussive attacks. In summary, he produced beautiful passage work, liquid trills, shimmering glissandi, and a wide dynamic range that served the highest musical ends. It was as if Debargue had carefully crafted various dialects of a common musical language to unify his program.

In essence, the pianist’s imagination had free-reign while it respectfully adhered to the composer’s intention in phrase peaks to climax and soulfully rendered resolutions.

As one concertgoer put it who stood on a long post-recital reception line: Lucas Debargue became a “co-creator” as he channeled the works of Domenico Scarlatti, Frederic Chopin, Maurice Ravel and Medtner. (The commentator turned out to be a Moscow Conservatory grad, married to a winner of a distinguished Piano Competition.)

***

Following the maestro’s remarkable display of virtuosity wedded to pure poetry, I had quickly joined a stream of audience members who had poured into the artist reception area and had immediately shared their unabashed enthusiasm for the performance. Naturally, with a blog in gestation, quickened by my intensified excitement, I broke out the iPhone and filmed the pianist during his reflective moments. At one point he talked about how a composition must “mature” and ripen in the course of YEARS, echoing the inspired words of his beloved Russian teacher, *Rena Shereshevskaia.

I was so “overwhelmed” by the whole panorama of events that streamed out of an awe-inspiring concert, that my adult student who’d joined me for the occasion, preserved a safe distance from me– promising to come forth at the right moment to snap of few photos of her teacher in the presence of musical royalty.

debargue-and-me-profile-me

And so the icing on the cake amounted to a gush of praise that did not falter. Candidly, I confessed that I’d heard Gilels, Richter and Ashkenazy as a child growing up in New York, but that Debargue’s playing by far, had moved me the most.

lukas-and-me-front-view

So, Run, Run, Run to hear Lucas Debargue by first checking his website for a list of his scheduled recital appearances.

http://www.lucas-debargue.com/

IMPORTANT LINK (From the blog “Slipped Disc”)
“The French pianist who caused a sensation at the Tchaikovsky Competition has given his first in-depth interview to Bertrand Boissard, at Parlons Piano.

*”Among other topics, he discusses his Russian teacher Rena Shereshevskaia; his two years working at a supermarket till, his preference for learning Prokofiev by ear and his favorite pianists of all time, singling out among French artists the little-known Marcelle Meyer.”

Read the full, in-depth interview here.
Ismene Brown has generously created an English translation:
http://ismeneb.com/blogs-list/2015-other-stories/150724-parlons-piano-with-lucas-debargue.html

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