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A remarkable, up close and personal documentary about Vladimir Horowitz (on You Tube)

A historic, 50 minute-long, Maysles made film gives a unique glimpse of the pianistic legend as he records Mozart concerto no. 23 (A Major) under the baton of Guilini (personally selected)

In between movements, Volodya schmoozes with the page turner, fawning journalists, plus an assortment of friends, hero-worshippers, whose conversations are permeated by off the cuff, sometimes awkward remarks. In one exchange, Horowitz bounces off a comment made by an attractive woman who likes his tie. Within earshot and well beyond, the celebrated pianist insists that the lady favors the tie over his playing. It’s a motif that endures repetition along with anecdotes that are cataloged in Horowitz’s personal memory archive.

A bit of ego massaging is intrinsic to the documentary, and one senses how the artist craves the adulation he’s rightly earned.

Working the room peopled with admirers, his manager, Peter Gelb, orchestra members, his wife, et al, Horowitz exclaims, “I’m the oldest person here!”

One zealous music critic asks Maestro about his relationship to Mozart. Horowitz responds he’s “number one,” my favorite. And then he sputters off with a recollection of Casals saying, “play Mozart like Chopin, and play Chopin like Mozart,” that tickles the crowd of devotees.

Not to forget, Horowitz’s impromptu renditions of his favorite movements by the Classical master. While playing the opening to Mozart’s Bb Piano sonata, in a recording session break, he insists it’s better than the A Major Piano Concerto.

Throw into the mix, Peter Gelb, personal manager, Guilini, a stately, mild-mannered, modest fellow, and sarcastic, brooding Wanda (Toscanini)and the repertory company is deserving of a special Oscar in a unique category of its own.

Naturally, the playing is compelling— noteworthy for its Classical and Romantic flair that will live on as pianists come and go. In the technical realm, I watched Horowitz tuck in the pinky of his right hand while playing rapid passage work, and I observed how he fleshed out voices (especially the bass) that most would ignore.

At the conclusion of the concerto’s first movement, Horowitz shouts, “only one false note!”

It epitomizes a candid view of the pianist in a rare cinematic form.

In summary, this wonderful video should not be missed!

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The business of copying the piano teacher: Who has the final say or PLAY?

The latest provocative teacher exchange is taking place on Facebook at the “Art of Piano Pedagogy” which has now become a private forum.

When it comes to teaching philosophies, many are intensely opinionated.

From my perspective, I passionately believe in sharing my ground-up musical insights with students to justify my presence at the lesson in the first place whether
“live” or by SKYPE.

That means I see my role as being a mentor and font of inspiration, while the student, on an equal footing with me, feeds back in kind what I have to carefully process and refine in my own studies so that we both come to common conclusions about phrasing and interpretation.

How often a student has “taught” me something that I would never otherwise have learned in my solo practicing cubicle.

Does that mean that I in some way, stored HIS idea and patented it as my own–copying him, in the negative sense?

In truth living life is copying others that came before us and likewise in the musical arena, gads of students will have studied the same pieces over decades, coming to varying interpretive conclusions with and without teachers.

Yet if I’m invited into a pupil’s learning environment, to be a guide or teacher, it’s my obligation to bring something original and unique, not carbon-copied, that ignites a student’s self-realization process.

So what is my teaching philosophy, and does it require a pupil to “copy” me?

1) I see myself as an eternal learner with a deep commitment to peeling away layers of a piece in a patient setting.

The student is simultaneously engaged, but may not have the experience to approach his music in a way that produces the most gratification for him.

He plays, I listen. I give something back about how to improve (from my perspective) a phrase or musical line. He may not have known there were three voices to isolate and study. I owe it to him to suggest that he delve into these separate lines.

He may not have realized that the fingering he has chosen has tripped him up. I feel obligated to offer a smoother fingering, while trying his out again. I watch him experiment with what I have in mind.

If it works for him, the music soars, not the teacher’s ego.

Which leads next to:

2) The music matters most, not who is leading or following.

I can be a follower if a student has a percolating idea that has enriched or changed my ideas about a phrase. At the same time, I can be a leader, helping a student map out the form, structure and harmonic rhythm of a piece.

3) The singing tone and how to produce it is my mantra.

I remember how I internalized the sound ideal I wanted from the piano as a young student but had no idea about the physical means to the end. My mentor led the way, working note-by-note, teaching me about relaxation, dead weight gravity, and relaxation. All sprung from the music itself and its organic substance.

In this creatively woven environment, I was not “copying” my teacher as a trade for self-initiated learning. I needed and hungered for direction and received it.

4) What about lessons and video follow-up?

I affirm that these amount to self-clarifications of my musical ideas synthesized with what “played” out during the lesson. In so many words, I can’t produce a custom-made video without having as its basis what the student “gave” me to work with.

Here again, I’m not on a podium of reserved perfection, but indebted to the pupil for stimulating thought about how to interpret, shape, or otherwise approach a piece so that it best realizes the composer’s intent.

To the contrary, here’s an example of a literal copying approach, that keeps the student in a boxed-in relationship with her teacher.

(The mentor is a fine pianist, and this example is not meant to discredit her playing samples)

On the positive side, the student and teacher are getting quite a bit of exercise in the spoon-fed, this-is-how-you-do-it, learning process.

To close here’s a sample of my conducting a student– an opportunity to teach and keep in shape.

Fundamentally, this interchange clarified the voicing of Bach’s A minor 2-part Invention, No. 13 on an animated level. In addition, the student had many videotaped lessons where she and I together explored counterpoint, and Bach’s various composing techniques that included inversion, modulation, etc. This was part of a layered-learning approach that increased the student’s playing enjoyment.

Lillian Freundlich, my most influential teacher was actively involved singing, conducting as I played and showed me piece-by-piece how to learn by increments. However, her biggest gift to me and all her students was how she imbued the singing tone through months of hands-on exposure. For her divine MODELING I am eternally grateful.

These videos represent the legacy she passed on to me.

The Art of Breathing and piano playing


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/piano-warm-ups-and-the-art-of-breathing-video/

Close-up playing models for J.S. Bach (over Skype)

***

To breathe is to “copy” every human being that ever came before us.

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Keeping up with a fast turnover of repertoire and reclaiming an old piece from the Classical era (Videos)

I always make it a point to advise students of all levels, to stay with a piece long enough to feel at one with it–to experience a fluidity of motion that comes from baby-step, layered learning.

Despite my admonitions, some pupils choose to remain in the fast lane, whizzing through one selection after another without a second thought.

Last night, I looked back on a Clementi Sonatina that I had a faint recollection of lightly “reading” in my formative years of study, though to reclaim it on a deeper level was a must if I planned to teach it.

As it happened, an adult student wanted to learn the opening Presto, which sent me scampering back to the score at an indelicate hour to carve out a layered-learning sequence in SLOW TEMPO that I could reasonably pass down to the pupil at his lesson.

Such a self-teaching opportunity, was just what I needed to advance my own understanding of Sonatina, Op. 36 No. 5.

(If a teacher can put herself in the shoes of a pupil, like a fledgling on a maiden musical journey, then both grow in creative directions)

As a start knowing the form and structure of a Classical era sonatina would frame the learning process. (Exposition: first and second themes, Development and Recapitulation)

And of course, FINGERING a piece from the outset was a high priority pursuit–making sure decisions made would artfully realize the composer’s phrasing and articulation.

My Discoveries:

1)The first movement was permeated with undulating groups of triplets, which suggested a “chordal” approach in practicing them. The way the piece flowed as a sequence of blocked chords, would amplify the melodic contour. Dominant chords to their tonic resolutions suggested a lean to relax sequence. Unexpected harmonic shifts needed to be “felt” and communicated.

2) The keys through which the composition passed had to be noted, especially in the Development section where modulations were the composer’s principle device.

3) Looking for counter-melodies, as they might appear in the bass, would direct the player to these lines that might be obscured in the fabric of redundant sets of triplets.

4) Voices needed to be balanced, with an ear toward fleshing out the melody, counter-melody, against the rolling triplet sequence. Dynamics and their contrasts were pivotal to phrase-shaping. Knowing where the climax appeared would give the Presto movement direction.

5) Playing the melody alone, even as it passed for some measures to the bass, was another baby step– feeling the underpinning of harmony to guide it. (BEHIND TEMPO)

6) Blocking chords derived from triplets, played along with the melody was another intermediary learning layer. (Once again, in slow tempo)

As to metrical framing, the movement was in alla breve, cut time, so ultimately, in tempo it would be experienced as two impulses per measure though divided by underlying triplets. (In the practicing phase, one might stretch to 4, but it might be better to sense a SLOW division of two beats per measure, to capture the flow and nuance the composer intended)

In the final analysis, the instruction was best communicated as I revisited the Presto movement last night on video, with my play-through following: