Grigory Sokolov, Irina Morozova, Livia Rev, Murray Perahia, piano, piano methods, piano teaching

Does any one piano method or playing approach work?

Most piano teachers get inquiries from parents who are riveted to “methods.” The most frequently posed question is, “can you tell me how you teach?”

Under duress and painted into a corner, a prospective mentor’s perfect, all-encompassing answer seems unattainable. And upon closer consideration, a boundary limited approach for every student who crosses the threshold or logs in by Skype is virtually impossible.

In the larger sense, I respond with the “singing tone” as my point of departure…interspersing my music vocabulary with “relaxation, fluidity, fluency, the joy of learning, exploring, experimenting.” While I can’t attach myself to a specific method, I can say that I don’t teach Taubman, or represent a pure Russian School approach if it exists. Yet considering all the powerful musical influences in my life including Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, Ena Bronstein, Eugene Lehner (my chamber music coach); Murray Perahia, my classmate, cruising through the High School of Peforming Arts, and in the past few years, the artistry of Irina Morozova and Grigory Sokolov, their overall contributions synthesized in some way to make my teaching and learning process a never-ending repository of revelation, reflection, and refinement.

Therefore, when I hear about rigid do’s and don’ts encapsulated in a fixed teaching METHOD that’s disseminated for mass consumption, I have my doubts.

Surely in the pedagogical realm, students need guidance about what causes tension, strain, rigidity in their approach to the keyboard, and how the breath can affect phrasing, nuance, swells, resolutions. And the context of a composition, its historical period, structure, theoretical dimension are all part of the creative learning process. But when various choreographies are considered, the music itself is the best guide.

As a perfect example, Livia Rev, a Hungarian pianist, residing in France, performs here in 2010 at age 94. Notice how each Czerny etude with its particular musical landscape is well realized by the pianist through her diverse physical motions that include supple wrist dips (“breaks”) that are frowned upon by strict Taubman method followers. (According to Taubman tenets, these motions are supposed to cause injuries such as carpal tunnel) Yet far as I know, Rev has not been afflicted.

If Livia Rev inhibited her organic response to Czerny’s music, we would be denied the gift of her artistry.

In a touching flashback at age 43 (in 1959) Lev serenades a group of enraptured children with two of Schumann’s Album for the Young pieces. These are charmingly played with impeccable phrasing and nuance.


Various great pianists have different styles and physical approaches to the piano. Sokolov and Perahia are both poetic players with postural and playing contrasts.

Perahia’s motions are somewhat more economical than Sokolov’s.

In the teaching universe, Perahia’s masterclasses are structurally and theoretically charged in his musical cosmos with little in the way of technical guidance, whereas other artists fuse the technical dimension of playing with matters of phrasing and dynamics.

Snatch of a Perahia Masterclass

Finally, as piano methods abound, one must be circumspect about any approach that is now and forever a perfectly spelled out route to so-called piano mastery. Strike that last word since no one arrives at the golden juncture of perfection simply because there’s always room for growth and development.


Lívia Rév
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lívia Rév (born July 5, 1916) is a classical concert pianist.

Rév was born in Budapest, Hungary. She started her studies with Margit Varro and Klara Mathe. Aged nine, she won the Grand Prix des Enfants Prodiges. Aged twelve she performed with an orchestra. She studied with Leo Weiner and Arnold Székely at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, with Professor Robert Teichmüller at the Leipzig Conservatory, and with Paul Weingarten at the Vienna Conservatory, having left Hungary in 1946.

Rév lives in Paris, with her husband Benjamin Dunn.

She has won the Ferenc Liszt International Record Grand Prix.

Rév has performed across Europe, in Asia, Africa, and in the United States. She has been the soloist with conductors such as Sir Adrian Boult, André Cluytens, Jascha Horenstein, Eugen Jochum, Josef Krips, Rafael Kubelík, Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Constantin Silvestri, and Walter Susskind.

Her first US appearance was in 1963 at the invitation of the Rockefeller Institute.

She is well known for her light touch and clarity. Her recordings vary from complete Debussy Préludes, Chopin Nocturnes, and Mendelssohn Songs without Words.

Carnegie Hall, classissima,, Grigory Sokolov, having a career as a pianist in NYC, Vladimir Horowitz, wordpress,, you tube, you

Ruminations about why some virtuoso pianists book on the continent, leaving the US behind

I couldn’t help but obsess over why Grigory Sokolov, for example has no foreseeable concert appearances in the US. Surely I would have flown to NYC, perhaps for a LIVE main course plus a dessert of encores at Carnegie.

Horowitz said on camera, circa, 1987, that the 57th Street Hall of musical fame was NOT satisfactory.

“Too much resonance,” he proclaimed.

carnegie-hall-address two

It reminded me of the opposite as it applied to Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall when it was first built. Sounded like the soloists were muted in a box within a box. All those steely, over-hanging structures created a paradoxical effect.

But that’s not why Sokolov, and a few others of pianistic distinction shy away from the Big Apple’s dome of musical tradition, along with the 66th Street complex. (The latter houses the Met, Juilliard among other INSTITUTIONS)

I asked myself what kind of social networking is required for distinguished pianists to make it these days anywhere in the HOMELAND?

It couldn’t be a casting couch environment.

From having sampled the private confessions of a few big talents whom I respect, I discern that one has to do more than practice religiously and bedazzle musically, to draw a sizable audience in the cultural mecca of New York City–emanating out.

I don’t want to stoop to mention names of those who’ve acquired “careers” without necessarily coming near the musical caliber of others more deserving, but I can only come to the following conclusions:

1) In the US, pop star status helps..(add in good looks, flamboyance, and a glittery, MEDIA-driven persona)

2) Making a couple of behind the scenes movie appearances (that is, getting a booking to play the Classical music that drapes a swooning Liszt, in a Hollywood production, might be a springboard to a bigger limelight) But who knows?

3) Having a relative (parent, spouse) who has an established career is a valuable head start enjoyed by the lucky few who come with the pedigree. (I knew a very gifted pianist at the NYC High School of Performing Arts who married a Korean actress which lifted his off shore profile. He won’t jet to Manhattan anytime soon)

Competition wins NO LONGER guarantee the long, substantial exposure that brings bookings in the glaring cosmopolitan spotlight. Many super-technically proficient/athletic pianists fizzle out along with those who preceded them.

So what’s the best answer to my questions? I welcome closet responses from those who are braving a rocky terrain in the Apple and elsewhere–the very gifted pianists who fly off to Italy, Spain, and elsewhere to acquire the recognition they deserve.

Certainly, now that the mp3 and You Tube revolution are in full bloom, attendance at LIVE recitals may be dwindling. But where these same ONLINE exposures spawn flesh and blood audiences in Europe and Asia, the homeland is left behind.

That may be why Sokolov is content to stay away from a futile rat race here. He prefers to nest on the continent.

What’s the answer?

(P.S. I don’t believe, IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!)