Beth Levin is more than a pianist. She not only concertizes, records, presents symposia and teaches, but devotes quality time to arts commentary. At La Folia.com, she critiqued Schumann’s Kreisleriana in tribute to an era she embraces in her spread of LIVE performances and recordings.
(Imported photos and video produced by Randolph Pitts)
And not surprisingly, even her FACEBOOK entries rise above run-of-the-mill social networking updates. They’re engaging snippets of poet laureates, distinguished authors, great composers, golden age piano pedagogues and memorable musical performances.
With her inquisitive mind in high gear, I thought to tap into her thoughts about piano competitions since she’d once been an entrant at a celebrated European venue.
1) What are your feelings about piano competitions? Of what use are they in today’s cultural universe?
I think the desire to be heard is very strong in almost any talented young person and a competition can be an excellent goal and outlet for those artistic ambitions. But a teacher should be careful in judging the personality of his or her student- if she might be scarred by losing and not able to take it in stride I would say not to enter that pupil. I remember being so perfectly prepared by my teacher for a Philadelphia Orchestra Young Person’s audition. I won and it fueled many years of study, performing and the love of playing.
As an aside I went to the Leeds Competition on my honeymoon! Not something I would recommend.
2) Did you have to enter a competition along your journey as a performing
I don’t think competitions are necessary to a career. I remember at Music from Marlboro a very promising cellist deciding not to enter the Tchaikovsky Competition simply because losing was too great a risk. Today he has a flourishing career and achieved it without a competition. Each case is different. If one has a burning desire to enter then it is the right thing to do- otherwise I think one can find alternate paths to a career.
3) What is the best way to expose your art to the public? Are LIVE piano recitals a thing of the past? (Being so costly to present, etc.)
Personally I like to both perform LIVE and record. Recital series seem to be shrinking but New York City has a few intimate (and economical) halls and there are excellent piano festivals around the country. Chamber music is a large part of my musical life and performing it LIVE is always a thrill. Nothing can replace a LIVE performance.
4) How do you feel about Mp3s and Mp4s as vehicles for your music?
Mp3′s and Mp4′s can be very useful in certain cases and provide another way to be heard. But I think it is still worthwhile to make a good CD.
5) Would you prefer to play LIVE than make recordings?
Playing LIVE and recording are two sides of the same coin. Presenting a recital program in several venues and honing it; then recording it down the road makes sense.
(Beth revealed a lighter side, by inserting a colorful quote of Sergiu Celibidache, distinguished former conductor of the Munich Philharmonic. He said, “Recording was like going to bed with a picture of Brigitte Bardot ;->”)
Our conversation steered quickly back to the serious side of music-making and its career challenges.
6) How can a gifted musician survive economically given the competitive cosmos of pianists who win competition after competition and still find themselves spinning wheels looking for more contests to enter?
I think that having a full musical life is more important in the end than making a huge living from it. Luck may play the largest role in that particular sphere. But if one can keep learning, studying, teaching, playing and loving their art- the benefits will come. Competitions should never become the reason for making music.
7) What is your current creative undertaking?
I’m preparing a recital program to play and record in Munich and Vienna in the Fall of 2014. The repertoire is Kreisleriana of Schumann, the C minor sonata of Schubert D.958 and an unpublished work, Versione, by the Swedish composer, Anders Eliasson.
8) Can you provide background on why you have chosen particular repertoire
I think my main influences, Rudolf Serkin and Leonard Shure contributed greatly to my love of Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, etc. The recording I made of the Goldberg Variations was a complete anomaly. I’ve always been a kind of big, romantic player.
9) What do you see in your future as far as playing, teaching, and
I hope to keep recording, performing live and perhaps even to a greater extent in the future. I hope I will teach more and more in older age.
Many thanks for the chance to think about these important topics.
Beth Levin’s Website
Her album, A Single Breath: Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas is listed among others.