Happy Birthday, Seymour Bernstein!

I just sent the following message back East!

“Seymour, May this be the best year ever with continued celebration of your wondrous achievements as a pianist, teacher, composer, author, philosopher, and global musical ambassador.”

While gratitude is expressed far and wide for what Seymour Bernstein has advanced in the musical and interpersonal communication universe, he is the first to be humbled by the adulation he has received for his big screen presence in Seymour: An Introduction.

In this spirit, Seymour gave me permission to copy a set of e-mails that sprang from his recent appearance at the Eberfest that honors Roger Ebert and showcases selected films of unusual artistic merit.

ABOUT EBERTFEST
http://www.ebertfest.com/index.html

Founded in 1999 by the late Roger Ebert, University of Illinois Journalism graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest) celebrates films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs. The festival gives these films and their filmmakers a well-deserved second look.

Ebertfest takes place in Urbana-Champaign each April. Chaz Ebert, Roger’s beloved wife, business partner and fellow film-lover, is the festival host.

While Roger passed away in April 2013, his influence on the Festival continues. True to Roger’s vision, the twelve films screened during the five day event represent a cross-section of important cinematic works overlooked by audiences, critics and/or distributors. Some films come from lists of possible films that Roger drew up over the first 15 years of the festival. Chaz Ebert and Festival Director Nate Kohn select additional films based on Roger’s established criteria for an Ebertfest film. Both Chaz and Nate worked closely with Roger for fifteen years on programming the festival.

The Festival brings together the films’ producers, writers, actors and directors to help showcase their work. A filmmaker or scholar introduces the films, and screenings are followed by an in depth on-stage Q&A discussion among filmmakers, critics and the audience.

Ebertfest is a special event of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, and the festival, in conjunction with the College, hosts a number of on-campus academic panel discussions each year that feature filmmaker guests, scholars and students.

All the festival films screen in the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a restored 1920s movie palace with state-of-the-art 35/70mm and digital projection. A portion of the Festival’s income goes toward on-going renovations at the theatre.

***

From Seymour:

“See below a note from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert the world-famous film critic. After the death of her husband, Chaz created what is now considered to be one of the world’s major film festivals. The projection technician, James Bond (what a name) has to be a genius. I was simply in awe of the visual and aural aspects of the film in that magnificent auditorium. I told Chaz that I could not get over the sound of the piano. She took me into her arms where I sobbed for minutes on end. She was crying, too.

“Andrew Harvey was there, and so was Bill who came with me. As we entered the stage for the Q and A session, the entire audience of 1,500 rose in one gesture and roared their approval for a full 2 minutes. Two of the world’s most distinguished film critics were the moderators. After the Q and A, they rolled out a Steinway and I gave a masterclass right there and then to two fabulous students from the University. All told, this was the most rewarding screening I have attended.

“Open the attachment and see the photo of Chaz and me. I believe it tells all.”
Seymour

Chaz Ebert and Seymour

From: Chaz Ebert
To: Seymour Bernstein
Subject: Re: Deep gratitude

My Dear Seymour:

Having you close Ebertfest with your film and Masterclass and the music from the students brought together the whole week for me with grace and beauty. You were absolutely divine and I knew you would be from the first moment we spoke on the phone. Also, Andrew told me to prepare for the absolute beauty you would bring and he was right.

You did my heart good when you said you had never heard it like that before. One of the things we pride ourselves on at the festival is showing movies in a way that the filmmakers don’t get to see them these days of the multiplex theaters. We have this restored movie palace and hired James Bond to help us because he is the best! We all have a deep respect for the films and for the guests who come to the Festival. Thank you.

I want to make sure we get the Golden Thumb to you. Please send me your address so that we can get it out to you right away.

And please thank Bill for me. He was so kind. I would love to hear his music! And I hope he had a first class ticket too! Please let me know.

Big Hugs,
Chaz

From: Seymour Bernstein
To: Chaz Ebert
Subject: Deep gratitude

My dear Chaz,
Words cannot possibly express my emotional response to everything that occurred yesterday. I was so deeply touched by what you made possible for me, plus James Bond’s genius engineering that resulted in my seeing/hearing the documentary in a way I had never before experienced, simply cracked me up. The rest was as you remember: I sobbed in your arms. The audience response, receiving the “thumb” award, the Q and A session, and the master class were all highlights in my life.
And you are at the center of it all. Darling Chaz, my deepest thanks for everything.
Much love and admiration.
Seymour

***

Finally, how Chaz described Seymour: An Introduction in her blog prologue to its Festival inclusion:

Seymour at the piano

“The other documentary is the very charming “Seymour: An Introduction,” directed by Ethan Hawke. It introduces us to Seymour Bernstein, a classically trained pianist who struggled with how to honor his art when it conflicted with the anxiety in his life. It raises questions about the role and responsibility of the artist to himself, to the audience, and to his fellow travelers. Ethan started the project because he questioned whether his life and art had the authenticity he desired. He did a wonderful job coaxing the philosophy out of Seymour as Seymour demonstrated his gift for coaxing the best performances out of his students. Seymour Bernstein will be with us in person conducting a masterclass. Even in the movie, his music transported me. Rumi Scholar Andrew Harvey put Hawke and Bernstein together, and I am hoping he will join Seymour on stage after this beautiful closing film.”

LINK:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/love-the-second-time-around-seymour-an-introduction/

Posted in documentary, Eberfest, Ethan Hawke, film, piano, Roger Ebert, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour: An Introduction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Climate control and Pianos: A conversation with Sam Bennett (Piano Works in Duluth, GA)

I’m very concerned about my Southern USA students’ pianos that are subject to warbling unisons, or wavy, beating octaves. A case in point is my Kentucky Online pupil who owns a well-regarded Charles Walter upright that was tuned about 5 months ago. Yet it now has “beating” notes due to extreme vacillations of humidity in the area. In addition, the sound board that swells and contracts in response to summer moisture overload and winter dryness, is at structural risk.

Kentucky upright screens shot

Here’s a sample of what the piano recently sounded like:

***

My beloved childhood Sohmer upright met its demise after decades of exposure to New York City weather extremes. I played it at my mother’s 100th birthday celebration this past October, and it was without doubt, ready for the scrap heap.

Sohmer upright

In my riveting phone conversation with Sam Bennett of Piano Works, Duluth, Georgia, I was fortunate to amass a wealth of information about how to sustain and maintain pianos in high humidity parts of the country, and what specific measures can be taken.

LINK: http://www.pianoworks.com

***

Russell Kassman, Purveyor of Fine Pianos in Berkeley, CA also chimed in with some valuable ideas on the subject.

R. Kassman

http://www.rkassman.com/

“Certainly, a simple hygrometer can be very useful in monitoring the conditions in a room.”

MY COMMENT: I own a hygrometer that reads the temperature and humidity here in my Berkeley apartment. So far the readings are stable as shown below.

hygrometer

Mr: Kassman: “The more stable the environment is (both in temperature and humidity), the more stable tuning will be. Pianos are living, breathing instruments and when it is humid, soundboards and rims expand, often causing pianos to go sharp; when it is dry, pianos often go flat. Heat makes metal (steel strings) expand, cold makes steel contract. These fluctuations cause great instability with unisons.

“While there is nothing wrong with a properly operated and installed “damp-chaser” system, I prefer to control the room temperature and humidity levels. We keep the shop at 42-47% humidity and 70-72 degrees. To do this consistently requires a delicate balancing act (and quite a bit of money to PGE): Our HVAC system (heating and air conditioning) is capable of removing humidity but not adding it. So, we have several humidifiers, strategically placed, to add moisture when necessary. However, a home user doesn’t have to go to this expense to add moisture: a simple (cheap) way is to purchase a “cool air vaporizer” from any Walgreens and run it when the needle of a hygrometer drops below 40%. Usually, running it once a week is more than sufficient to get the needle into the desirable percentage, but when the heat is on in a home, it may be necessary more often. To remove moisture, one just has to turn on the heat (in most homes today – not the old STEAM heat, which causes other problems).

“If one wants to purchase a self-contained automatic humidifier, such as ours, there are MANY on the market and I can’t say one if necessarily better than the other. Home Depot carries (online) a very nice selection of them, and their cost and size would be based on the size of the room it is conditioning.”

Posted in Dampp Chaser system, piano, piano maintenance, piano technician, pianos and climate control, Sam Bennett | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Domenico Scarlatti’s music that’s within reach of the Intermediate level student

Scarlatti Halford better

Margery Halford via Alfred publications has compiled a nice assortment of Domenico Scarlatti’s Menuettos and Sonatas (essercizi) that’s a satisfying “Introduction” to the Baroque era composer’s music. (Scarlatti, An Introduction to his Keyboard Works)

In fact, I snatched at least five of these binary form sonatas for my two-part disc in 2007, combined with the more technically challenging ones I selected from Vladimir Horowitz’s treasured Scarlatti CD.

Horowitz championed Domenico Scarlatti’s works during a time when many concert pianists were not programming the composer’s body of works, so Domenico’s rebirth was a blessing to performers, teachers, and students who realized not only the beauty of his music but its relevance to developing technique and musicianship.

Scarlatti, in fact, is considered the forerunner of the virtuoso school of keyboard playing, and in these less complex examples from Halford’s collection, one can readily flesh out arpeggio and scale passages that easily transfer from Circle of Fifths Scale and Arpeggio study. (Note Scarlatti’s own translation of his Sonatas as Essercizi per Gravicembalo–or exercises)

The other day, I sent this particular gem to my students with the tag, “That’s why we study arpeggios!” Surely such an exemplary beauty cross-fertilizes and enriches their daily technical regimen.

In this second example from the Halford edition, more arpeggios and broken chords permeate, but there are a few selected arpeggio and scale-like passages that are worth examining for their focus on particular wrist forward motions that I will separately examine in my attached sample:

First, a play through:



Snatching measures from this sonata for technical study and fluency:

Scarlatti segment from Sonata in G

***

A most recently learned delightful miniature:

***

Here’s annother Halford selected gem (a Menuetto, once again) that was rendered on my formerly owned Baldwin Hamilton grand piano (known as the “blind date” beauty) To be sure, it had a brighter timbre which proves that each piano has its own unique character.

(I’m definitely enjoying my new Baldwin 165 model grand with its more mellow character)

***

Not contained in Halford’s collection, but snatched from James Friskin’s edition, is the celebrated C Major Sonata L. 159 that my late teacher, Lillian Freundlich gave me to study decades ago when I first began lessons with her. (At the time, I was about 13, enrolled at the New York City High School of Performing Arts)

This certainly poses a challenge in the universe of trills, providing an ample practice opportunity for a student needing such focus.

LINK:
Scarlatti’s LIFE, CAREER, and MUSIC
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domenico_Scarlatti

Posted in Alfred publications, Domenico Scarlatti, esercizi per gravicembalo, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Margery Halford, Margery Halford collection of Scarlatti's Keyboard Works, Margery Halford editor, piano blog, piano blogging, Scarlatti, Scarlatti Sonatas, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Happy Birthday, Irena Orlov, Murray Perahia, and Yevgeny Sudbin!

Berkeley flowers

Today is a super-reblog day as April 19th rings in the Spring birthdays of three musical giants!

First to update a documentary that I originally critiqued about Irena Orlov.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/reaching-beyond-a-documentary-about-an-inspiring-piano-teacher/

And now the sequel:

Reaching Beyond: Seven Years Later

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GwckybMRXlg&feature=em-uploademail

As for Murray and Yevgeny, their artistry has been spread far and wide through my many posts.

So just to say in the simplest way, that all of you immensely enrich our lives with each passing day!

In Gratitude, and with Love….

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/murray-perahia-pianist-is-in-a-league-of-his-own-videos/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/yevgeny-sudbin-still-another-russian-pianist-topples-my-day/

Posted in birthdays, Happy Birthday, Irena Orlov, Murray Perahia, musician birthdays, Yevgeny Sudbin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Playing a Bach Invention: Say what you mean, and mean what HE said

My latest awakening occurred during a piano lesson last night with a student who loves Bach and nearly dotes upon his compositions exclusively. And that’s fine with me who’s a companion traveler sharing a comparable love for the composer and his diversity of keyboard works.

Invention 1 in C, BWV 772 is one of my favorites for its saying so much in two pages, and yet it can be played mechanically, without insights into its ingenious form.

Not only does the composer traverse the keys of C, G, D minor, A minor, F Major, returning to C, but the devices he uses with the Subject are worth probing to gain a deeper perspective of form, structure and interpretation.

And that’s what is meant by not only playing with a clear understanding of a composition’s ingredients, but communicating what the composer intended on multiple levels.

A few years ago I mapped out Invention 1, discovering more than I expected about the Subject and its development in the course of 22 measures, so I will let this blog and its embedded video lay the foundation for this discussion.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/revisiting-j-s-bachs-invention-1-in-c-bwv-772-video/

But beyond the pure Analysis of a work comes inspiration springing from knowledge and this is where a teacher and student can bond together in pursuit of playing that reaches to the stars, as Seymour Bernstein well said in his inspired book, With Your Own Two Hands.

Flash Forward:

My play through:

Lesson excerpts with a Bach aficionado in Chico, California:

PART ONE

PART TWO:

J.S. Bach Invention 1, page 1

J.S. Bach Invention 1, page 2

Posted in Bach, Bach Inventions, Bach Two-part Inventions, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano lessons by Skype, Two-part Inventions, word press, you tube | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

J.S. Bach Prelude No. 1 in C, Voicing and Harmonic Rhythm (my ideas and Seymour Bernstein’s)

J.S. Bach

A musician’s understanding of a masterwork is a composite of ideas derived from many sources. In the course of piano study, perceptions change and grow, enlarged by a combined theoretical and musical examination of a composition that invites mentors into the mix.

In this tutorial, I realized how I synthesized the contributions of harpsichordist, Elaine Comparone and pianist, Seymour Bernstein (with whom I conversed about the Bach Prelude in C, BWV 846–WTC Book One) with my own, coming forward with a “voiced” harmonic/musical portrait.

***

Flashback: October, 2012

My visit with Seymour Bernstein at his Manhattan apartment and our interchange about Bach’s ethereal Prelude No. 1 (Well-Tempered Clavier)

LINK:
Love the Second Time Around
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2015/03/30/love-the-second-time-around-seymour-an-introduction/

Posted in piano, pianist, Shirley Kirsten, piano instruction, J.S. Bach, piano pedagogy, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano blog, Well-Tempered Clavier, Bach Prelude in C from Well-Tempered Clavier | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Approaching a brand new piece with spirit and emotion

When piano students first encounter a fresh page of music, they will often wade through the notes as best as they can, fumbling here and there without an adjusted framing pulse or investment of animated interest in what the notes are saying beyond their humble, accurate identity.

In this early stage “reading,” tempo is usually far too brisk (and erratic) for the new learner to experience any emotional response to a cascade of dizzying dots and beams. They are consumed with finding the right pitches and nailing them down.

For this reason, I insist that my pupils separate hands, and slow down the pulse to frame a “deep” in the keys, mood-matching connection to a new score because every playing registers a profound imprint in their consciousness. So throw away trials that breeze over the character of a given composition only divert the learner from the essence of the new composition.

By example, I’m working with a student who’s enraptured by the intensely rhythmic and bi-tonal energy of Kabalevsky’s “Clowns,” yet there’s the same propensity to overlook the character/mood of this piece in the initial hit or miss the notes, baby-step learning process.

A changed perspective:

In this video sample, the student takes the right approach, working assiduously on the first section, paying attention to spring forward staccato releases, and notated accents that he manages in a slow tempo framing. It allows him to capture the “feeling” and emotion imbued in this miniature. Naturally, his being “connected” to the circus atmosphere of “Clowns” from the very start makes his learning engagement deeper and more satisfying.

Since Kabalevsky’s two-page composition has notable harmonic patterns, symmetries, agogic accents, inverted motifs, ostinato bass, etc. these present an opportunity to examine theoretical context as an aid to interpretation, noting that no dimension of learning is a pedantic side bar.

Every examination of a piece becomes part of an integrated whole, of which the very first note ignites a rich emotional, cognitive and kinesthetic experience.

Clowns play through:

Early “Clowns” lesson with my student in London, England (first section)

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 1

Kabalevsky Clowns p. 2

Posted in adult piano instruction, Dimitri Kabalevsky, Dimitry Kabalevsky, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Kabalevsky, Online piano lessons, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano lessons by Face Time, piano lessons by Skype, Shirley Kirsten | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments