Okay, so I borrowed a snatch from a movie title about a woman’s baseball team keeping the diamond percolating with energy during World War II. And Geena Davis did a superb job as the lead, but in all honesty, Murray Perahia does one up on her at the piano. His playing field encompasses 88 keys in black and white combination, and never have I experienced anything better in the way he channels Mozart. Watch the You Tube video attached. (I’m wearing out my pointer finger on replays, but it’s worth every mouse poke.)
Murray is interviewed about the Mozart Concerto no. 21 in C Major, K. 467, by Sir Dennis Forman, and both have engaging voices in a riveting dialog.
What jumps out at me, like a bulls-eye line drive between second and third base, is what Perahia says about rubato in lyrical movements–particularly the second one of Mozart 21.
Forman launches the discussion by asking “How much rubato should there be in a Mozart piano concerto?” (Rubato means flexible time)
Murray replies like he’s known the answer since birth.
“It’s a difficult question because rubato is just a natural rhythm. It’s the way one sings the pulse. It’s almost necessary for all kinds of lyrical music. The question is how much?” (Please, piano students, pay attention to this. Music cannot be metronomic. One must phrase like a singer.)
You can be sure when listening to Perahia play, as sampled in interspersed segments of rehearsals with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe that he means what he says. He translates his personal sense of rubato in all his music-making. (Bach, Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms to name more than a few composers he has communicated in an incomparably spiritual way)
And in this spirit, I’ll recount my memories of Murray when he was a classmate at the New York City High School of Performing Arts in the mid 60s.
He had no doubt a gene for playing the piano. It was so inborn, you could feel it like the placenta shed in a birthing room.
Murray, when asked to realize the Continuo for a Corelli Concerto Grosso would do it so lusciously that all heads turned in his direction, except for the conductor who was no rival to Perahia. When Murray, then a conducting student ascended the podium one day for his exam, we in the orchestra were catapulted into a region of music-making never experienced before.
In a word, we didn’t know what hit us. It was Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 and I was in the violin section, right up front within reach of Perahia’s hand. I don’t think he used a baton. I recall that Murray was red in the face as he drew every bit of blood and passion out of us–the same pathos as is revealed in rehearsal clips interspersing the Forman interview.
When Murray left the podium back in high school, we were sadly back to the usual hum drum baton-waving of our resident music director. Ugh. I won’t mention his name. May he R.I.P.
But many students couldn’t wait to stay after school for a snatch of Murray’s frequent chamber music rehearsals. I remember the Beethoven Triple Concerto practice as well as the Mendelssohn D minor Piano Trio.
On one occasion Murray was asked to sight read the Chopin E minor Piano concerto during an orchestra rehearsal in place of an absent student soloist. Needless to say, his performance was pulsating with passion, where it had otherwise been delivered in a mechanical way.
Not to forget Perahia’s easy reading of a symphonic score as he was perched at the piano. Imagine one pianist gulping all those instruments, and rendering a composite of sections in a masterful way.
As observers, we were awestruck!
Here’s a Perahia anecdote just for good fun.
One day, our high school conductor asked Murray to pick up a viola (where on earth did he get one?) and play in the orchestra.
Oh my, what a sight to behold. Murray looked extremely ill-at-ease with the over-sized violin, I mean viola, under his chin. And as quickly as he managed to hold it in place with his left hand on the scroll, the alarm went off for a fire drill and thankfully the instrument was neatly tucked back into its case. I think Perahia was relieved–perhaps saved by the bells!
Flash forward to Fresno, 1981. Perahia came for his one and only concert to the boonies here, and it was memorable for us, but probably a big pain for him. The unkind Fresno Bee reviewer at the time, went off on a tangent about Murray’s posture at the piano and devoted little space to the substance of his performance.
What else could I expect?
The Bee has since relieved all music critics of their duties, probably due to budget trimming. Instead, the newspaper assigns one arts editor to interview those booked for Keyboard Concerts or the Fresno Philharmonic.
You might say that I’ve appointed myself as a volunteer music commentator through my occasional Letters to Editor which have been published about performances that filled my ears with pleasure.
The last pianist I qvelled about was Nareh Arghamanyan who played magnificently, with Schumann’s Carnaval as her tour de force featured selection.
But back in the 80s, I made sure to challenge the reviewer who wasted time ruminating about Perahia’s comportment at the piano. (Nothing to speak about compared to Lang Lang). My Letter got into the Bee without a hitch and the rest is history.
So after Murray performed on our now defunct Community Concerts series, which also featured Bulgarian acrobats and puppets from Transylvania, he was scheduled to give a Master Class, and guess who popped up at the recital hall at Fresno State University.
Yours truly, 3 weeks short of delivering baby number 3, and intending to play Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, movement 1 for Murray. You might say it was a “staged” class reunion, though Perahia was a year ahead of me at Performing Arts.
I can’t precisely recall everything Murray said about the composition, but I do remember meeting him the night before at a dinner party held in his honor.
As an invited guest, I ambled over to Perahia, and showed him, in advance, the Master Class list of students and pieces.
He gazed down at the roster, quickly noticing the composer Wilbur Straight.
Thinking quickly on my feet, I asked Murray what he might offer in the way of advice about playing this music.
Wryly, he said, “I’ll tell him to play it straight.”
In a New York Times review written about Murray’s 2009 recital in Avery Fisher Hall, Anthony Tommasini took Perahia to task for not programming contemporary music. Would this same arts editor have listed STRAIGHT among neglected modern-day composers?
From what I heard of STRAIGHT’s music, I would draw a straight line right through his name and substitute J.S. Bach.
Speaking of, listen to the Bach’s E Minor Partita performed by Perahia in Berlin, December 20011.
After sampling this display of consummate artistry, I’m convinced more than ever that the pianist is in a league of his own.