piano, piano competition

An Ear-grabbing Cliburn 2017 Piano Competition!

I couldn’t tear myself from my big Mac, savoring a big serving of tantalizing musical artistry via Medici TV. The sparing LIVE performances that I’d ingested through the opening days of the celebrated Fort Worth-based Cliburn event, had been other worldly, though a few pyrotechnically efficient players, had, for me, not risen beyond note-perfect playing.

Of course, such an aesthetic judgment is deeply personal and subjective–even validated by Cliburn Jury Chairman, Leonard Slatkin in a pre-recorded message to competitors that’s been aired publicly during intermissions, or at a weighty interval of jury tabulation that produced a quarterfinals roster. The original list of 30 Preliminary entrants had been whittled down to 20–a number that will shrink at the Semi-Finals juncture, and further dwindle down when Finals competitors are announced. (The Cliburn event runs from May 25 through June 10)

http://cliburn2017.medici.tv/en/

This year Anderson and Roe, two creative, powerhouse pianists, known far and wide for their duo collaboration, have added a touch of class to the competition–interspersing in depth comments that reveal their Juilliard-based immersion in music history, theory, and performance. What a pleasure to have two education-spreading messiahs at the helm, enriching the listening experience. In the visual universe, multi-cam views of the keyboard provide an eye-catching view of the performers’ hands, wrists, and arms in varied choreographies.

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Do I dare go out on a limb and cherry pick a few of my favorite competitors to date, with an avowed disclaimer that I may not have heard ALL 20 who made the cut from the Preliminary round. (In short, I’ve been revisiting Preliminary Recitals and the most recent round contenders at the quarterfinals level)

For me, a handful of players have possessed unique gifts of artistry and communication that were transformative during their ENTIRE recitals. (A reminder that logging onto the Cliburn Competition site, will produce recent and past performance videos of all competitors)

MY SHORT LIST may expand as the competition unfolds:

Yuri Favorin: A Bravissimo for today’s recital!

http://cliburn2017.medici.tv/en/performance/-30

What I posted on Facebook about Favorin in the afterglow of this evening’s remarkable performance was probably an understatement:

“…Russian pianist, Yuri Favorin, played beyond words to describe in today’s Cliburn quarterfinals. It’s going to be tough to outshine this uniquely gifted pianist.. Without doubt, he produced a jaw-dropping performance of challenging program offerings. And talk about the BREATH.. he had total mastery–breathing through tough transitions– from impassioned, bravura passages, to tender, lyrical sections. A good example for all of us who are eternal students of the piano, or any other musical instrument. And to add kudos to his artistry/accomplishments, he was appointed to the Moscow Conservatory faculty at the tender age of 29. He’s now turned 30, perhaps the Millenium’s new 20.”

A Facebook Friend corroborated Favorin’s “MATURITY” as unique among the crop of competitors, to which I wholeheartedly agreed.

My bubbling enthusiasm could not be contained in a follow-up post:

“The Rachmaninoff/Corelli Variations were just amazing.. I’m still hearing the Variations right now as Favorin permeated my very being through his abundantly communicative playing.. and structurally, he was right there, with threads going through all the variations. This fellow has enormous dimension and depth.” (synonym: MATURITY)

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Quite a captivating surprise: The artistry of 20-year old pianist, Martin James Bartlett. His playing from Scarlatti to Prokofiev, had a fresh, spontaneous energy, yet grounded in thoughtful musicianship. He possesses immense tonal variety and projection. Definitely a big DISCOVERY in this competition, and one that will be talked about to its very conclusion. Keep an eye on this young man!

http://cliburn2017.medici.tv/en/performance/-20

Another favorite:

Yekwon Sunwoo, age 28

Sunwoo’s most recent performance at the Cliburn 2017 can be located at the website.

Here’s a flashback to his Cliburn 2013 Preliminary Recital: It’s sheer musical poetry wedded to impeccable technique:

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A Very sensitive and lyrical pianist followed Yuri Favorin:

YuTong Sun (age 21)

His Chopin canvas was particularly beautiful

http://cliburn2017.medici.tv/en/artist/yutong-sun

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Not to overlook competitors, such as Daniel Hsu, age 19, and Alyosha Jurinic
28 years old, who have risen above collections of fast paced notes, to “sing” poetically from phrase to phrase. Their talents and gifts are treasured regardless of the flow of rounds and results.

Peaks in performances, as well, can be intermixed with occasional valleys of technical imperfection, making it often humanly impossible to please every jury member. Interpretations being be varied and controversial add another ingredient of complexity in assessment.

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A convergence of musical talent is by no means the equivalent of a sports event where points are deducted for fouls, or spills on the ice. Note errors of course, are a reality in all endeavors, but an efficient note-wise performance will not necessarily produce expressive or memorable playing. Therefore, selecting a so-called “winner” in a musical universe, can appear to be an oxymoron.

Many commentators, like the sagacious pianist, Seymour Bernstein, assert that it’s basically unfair and unjust to place musicians in a COMPETITIVE environment on any terms. And there’s additional doubt harbored about the wide age range of participants in numerous concours–where a 19-year old’s performance, for example, is juxtaposed with that of a 30-year old.

Finally, while many pianists, teachers, and others may hold differing opinions about placing pianists on a stage of comparison, we can at least collectively wish that all “entrants” will enjoy an ongoing journey of musical growth, development and enrichment as their lives unfold.

piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano scales

Two-timing scale practice

I appreciate two-timing piano students who practice their scales with acutely sensitive ears. They are made keenly aware of what it takes to repeat a faulty step-wise sequence that’s been thrown out of rhythmic alignment along a 4-octave route. (Auditory memory is a vital ingredient through repetitions that require retrieval of a consistent underlying pulse.)

In a journey from 8ths to 16ths to 32nds, many pupils will underestimate the end game tempo, losing technical control in the final spill. To avoid a pile-up in the speed zone, they will put on the breaks, losing their initial framing beat. Ironically, a good proportion of two-timers who find themselves in such a jam will “think” they’ve doubled-up in the 32nds range, only to discover by a teacher’s real-time demonstration, that 16ths to 32nds were out of synch. (A metronome can be just as helpful in clarifying rhythmic disparities.)
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Ways to deal with rhythmic disorientation

I prompt students to back up by “half” from what they can realistically manage in 32nds. After a few retrograde repetitions in this practicing mode, they can revisit 8ths and then move forward in doubled sequence to peak destination. In most cases, a pupil comes to grips with what he can safely control at the 32nds level, knowing that the underlying pulse will increase through incremental learning stages.

A recent lesson sample illustrated rhythmic disproportion and remedy. (It’s excerpted at the juncture where a student zoned in on 16ths to 32nds in a D-sharp minor Harmonic form scale) A brief second segment focused on a “rolling into” effort in a more fast-paced staccato-rendered scale in Melodic form. It was a confidence-building effort that represented a “rite of passage” for this pupil who realized that she could, in fact, play brisker 32nd notes without faltering. Breathing, pacing, mindfulness, and lack of PANIC all kick into controlled, peak tempo playings.

piano, piano lessons, piano recital, Uncategorized

A Happy Day for a 9-yr. old piano student playing on her first recital

Maeve, aka “Liz” was welcomed into the universe of music sharing in the beautiful Oakland Hills of California. What better backdrop, cloaked in nature, as breezes wafted through branches, shaking out leaves in graceful patterns. The images, extracted from the East Bay’s gorgeous panorama are in Maeve’s mental repository, as they feed relaxed energy down her arms into supple wrists. Many Russian piano teachers draw on the “weeping willow” tree model, in particular, to inspire fluidity of movement. Graceful approaches to the keyboard that are in synch with phrase contours do not happen by chance. They are nurtured along by mentors with great care.

Maeve has learned in this spirit for a bit over a year’s time, having been exposed to the singing tone and how to physically produce it. From the very start of lessons we have integrated composing, ear-training, theory, structure, with an underlying MUSICAL framing. Sound is imagined before it can be channeled into the keyboard in physical motion. This very sensitivity begins from day 1 continuing in increments through developmental phases.

Maeve’s own journey has been logged in videos from late February 2016 to the present. These can be found on You Tube under “LIZ’s” piano lessons.

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Today was a Rite of Passage as all first recitals are. Can we remember our own? In my day, there were no cell phones, camcorders, computers, etc.–perhaps just old-fashioned home movies generated by what would be considered antiquated hardware—Nothing like the mega-technology of the 21rst Century. I have no personal recollection of playing in a group recital at my humble music school on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx. Not even a Brownie camera captured my first Diller-Quaille, two-note “Ding-Dong” piece that required my Russian teacher, Mrs. Vinagradov to accompany me to make the music sound full and resonant. That’s why I hungered constantly for our rich harmonic collaboration, having to wait for too many years before I was allowed to play with TWO hands–ADD in the White NOTE obsession of this era’s teaching, and delayed exposure to the Bass Clef which instilled fears of moving forward.

Thankfully the state of the teaching art is different today, more progressive than regressive, breaking down inhibitions of the past associated with MIDDLE C fixated madness and black note avoidance.

The fortunate beneficiaries of this new learning/teaching consciousness are Maeve and many of her contemporaries.

Today’s recital revealed the fruits of collective labors. Maeve was poised and determined to SHARE the pure beauty of the music she had so thoroughly learned. It was her entry into the world of giving and receiving that will propel her studies along with heartfelt commitment.

A big Thank You to the host of the group recital, Betty Woo, on behalf of the Music Teachers Association of California, MTAC.

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Flashback: Maeve’s First Piano Lesson (parts 1, 2 and 3)

There are many more sample lessons with Liz on You Tube.