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Mozart memories, reflections and revisits (Videos)

Andante: second movement, Mozart Sonata K. 545 played on my Steinway, 1917, M.


My relationship to Mozart and his music began with the violin. At the Merrywood Music Camp in Lenox, Massachusetts, only a stone’s throw from Tanglewood, I encountered Eugene Lehner, first violist of the Boston Symphony when I played second violin in a string quartet. At the time, in 1960 I was simultaneously fiddling and tickling the ivories.

In the company of more seasoned chamber ensemble, I was privileged to rehearse and refine one of Mozart’s most divinely beautiful works:

The Quartet in G, K. 387 (first movement)

Lehner, in his 50s at the time, danced around us with a warm smile, conducted as we played, cajoled, hummed, gestured in every which way to make us “sing” with warmth radiating through our very beings. He wanted each of us to give everything we had, and we did, slipping into a universe of imagination, inspiration and pure beauty. I’ll never forget the experience.

At Performing Arts High School in the mid 60s, I had the unique experience of playing the first movement of Mozart’s piano Concerto in G, K. 453 at the Winter concert where a radiance flooded the stage creating a special ensemble between orchestra and soloist. It was my second Mozartean journey that followed my having studied the Mozart Sonata in D K. 311.

My teacher, Lillian Freundlich, the next inspiring individual to flow out of my music camp experience came backstage in the glare of the spotlight to remind me of what we had worked on for months, and how all my practicing was worth the effort. (Ironically, her nephew, Douglas, a Merrywooder had led me to his aunt when I most needed a teacher to guide me through the basics of producing a singing tone)

Mozart became the staple of my practicing as I branched out following my years as a student at the Oberlin Conservatory. Once settled into my own studio apartment on W. 74th Street and Amsterdam, I selected the Sonata in A Major, K.331 composed uniquely in Theme and Variations form, with a culminating Ronda Alla Turca as the final movement.

In my confined creative space that was dominated by an imposing Steinway grand, gifted by my father, I learned the Piano concertos in D minor, K. 466, and C Major, K. 525.

From there it was on to learn and teach more of Mozart’s sonatas.

The composer has always presented a special challenge for the performer. One cannot over pedal, or under pedal his music. The Alberti, “broken chord” bass must not sound monotonous or grinding, but supply a warm underpinning for an operatically spun melody, especially in Mozart’s slow movements.

Certainly the impetus for playing Mozart in a molto cantabile style was aided by suggestions from Eugene Lehner and Lillian Freundlich.

It has also been awe-inspiring to hear the composer’s trios played with a harpsichord instead of piano, creating a timbre, that perhaps Mozart intended. I’ve included a link to performances of this genre.

In a word, I thank those who’ve helped me realize the spirit and soul of the Master’s music so that it’s realized in a style that is convincing and aesthetically pleasing.

BIO (Eugene Lehner, Wiki)
Eugene Lehner (1906 – 13 September 1997) was a violist and music educator.

“Mr. Lehner, as he preferred to be addressed, was born in Hungary in 1906. Originally named Jenö Léner, he performed as a self-taught violinist from the time he was 7. When he was 13, the composer Bela Bartok heard him play, and arranged for him to pursue his studies formally. At the Royal Conservatory of Music in Budapest, he studied the violin with Jeno Hubay and composition with Zoltan Kodaly. In 1925, soon after his graduation from the conservatory at 19, he joined the Kolisch Quartet.

“Lehner was a violist with the Kolisch Quartet from 1926 until 1939, performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 39 years (the only player to be invited to join without an audition by Serge Koussevitzky), and continued teaching chamber music at the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University well into his retirement. Late in his life most coachings were given at his home in Newton. The modest upstairs room he coached in contained photographs covering every wall from all the quartets that he mentored – a real “wall of fame”. Lehner was widely regarded as one of the greatest living experts of the interpretation of chamber works by Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Arnold Schoenberg, and Béla Bartók, having been involved in the premieres of several of such works during his time with the Kolisch Quartet. As a member of the quartet, Lehner gave the premieres of Berg’s Lyric Suite, Schoenberg’s Third and Fourth String Quartets, Bartok’s Fifth Quartet and Webern’s Second Quartet.

“When the Juilliard Quartet was formed, they spent a summer in intensive coachings with Lehner. He advocated playing string instruments with tempered intonation, in the spirit of Bach.

“Lehner studied violin with Jenö Hubay and composition with Zoltan Kodály.”

Related Links:

A Breathtaking Camp Finale: About Merrywood

Mozart: The 1788 trios Elaine Comparone, Peter Seidenberg, Robert Zubrycki & The Queen’s Chamber Trio

Baltimore Maryland, Brian Ganz, D.C., Irena Orlov, Joanna Hoover former Director of the Levine School of Music, Levine School of Music in Washington D.C., Lillian Lefkovsky Freundlich, Pamela Sverjensky Director Levine School of Music Washington D.C., Peabody Institute of Music, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano repertoire, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano technique,, pianoworld,, playing piano, Santiago Rodriguez, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, studying piano, teaching piano, teaching piano to children, teaching piano to teenagers, technique, The art of phrasing at the piano, the art of piano playing, University of Maryland, word press,, you tube

REACHING BEYOND, a documentary about an inspiring piano teacher

The plentiful gifts of Irina Gorin and her brood of piano students captivated so many after You Tube postings of musical offerings revealed soulful, expressive playing by youngsters as young as 4 to the ripe old age of 14+. A treasured group of pupils gracefully approached a Steinway grand with a finesse and creative uniqueness that radiated through each performance.

Only a few days ago, Irina had dashed off an e-mail to me following the recital:

“By the way, someone just sent me an interesting video link. I’ve never heard of this teacher, but she reminds me so much of my teacher. I just wanted to share it with you.”

This note was incentive enough for me to investigate, and I wasn’t disappointed.


The word “creative” springs forth again in a documentary about Irena Orlov, a piano teacher with a mission to realize each and every student’s full range of “creativity.”

Having a passion to find each child’s well of artistic expression, she soul searches with them as they grow side-by-side as musicians and human beings.

The opening to this Arista Video Production is riveting:

“This is a film about a unique person, a musician with a quest not only to bring people into the beautiful and harmonious world of music but also to bring this beauty and harmony into everyday life.”

Known to many as “Irena,” we learn that she has a warm and endearing presence that has influenced the lives of so many inside and beyond musical universe.

The question is, from where did her passion for teaching spring?

To provide answers, she sat down with an interviewer and shared how it all started and where it began?

At the age of 14 or so, a singular teaching opportunity sparked Irena’s creative fire and illuminated her career path. As she tells it, her teacher at a music school where she had been enrolled for about ten years, gave her a chance to help a young piano student within a classroom setting. The experience was so engaging, that it had far-reaching implications. Irena excitedly raced to tell her teacher, “I want to do it all my life.” Not long after having this epiphany, Irena, just 15 at the time, was gifted her very own piano student by her mentor, and the rest is history.

The Backdrop:

In 1980 Irena had left the Soviet Union in response to its oppressive regime. Having graduated the esteemed Leningrad Conservatory, she had made an indelible impression on a Pedagogy Professor, Faina Bryanskaya, who taught at a musical college affiliated with the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Irena’s presentation there was memorable.

“She entered the room, very young, very small, very energetic with twinkling eyes. Her ideas were so unique and creative that I told my colleagues, ‘Pay attention to this girl, she’s a genius teacher.'”

Years before Irena had arrived in the US to join the faculty at the renowned Levine School of Music in Washington D.C., she emigrated to Israel where she broke ground in the field of Music Therapy. Working with psychiatric patients whose disorders ranged from major depression to schizophrenia, she was able to “enrich the lives of those whose existence may have seemed hopeless, proving that what may have seemed impossible was possible.”

A determination to dig deeply to find the soul of human beings, reach in, and bring expressive, creative beauty to the surface, became the theme of Irena’s life work.

As things played out, Irena relocated to the US, and began teaching in the Levine School of Music in 1988.

The Director at the time, Joanne Hoover, vividly remembers their first meeting:

“In came a small dynamic bundle of energy, emanating fire and determination. I don’t recall what she played for me as that was always something I asked of those who wanted to teach at Levine… But I do remember that unlike other applicants who insisted that they wanted to teach only the gifted and talented children, Irena said, ‘I will teach anybody.’ I knew from that moment on, that this was someone who was quite special.”

Others, including members of the piano teaching community, likewise praise Irena.

Brian Ganz, a teacher at the Peabody Institute says that Irena “uses humor and stories to cajole and coax the very best out of her students…”

Her professional colleagues suggest that Irina does not teach by any rules. She teaches and learns as well on her own–always open, willing and ready to receive something new.

Santiago Rodriguez, concert pianist, and former artist-in-residence at the University of Maryland, insists that Irena has “a combination of personality and passion that we can all learn from.” He goes on to characterizes Irena as a teaching “icon” in the D.C. area as evidenced by the consistently accomplished and expressive pianists that have come through her studio. Rodriguez, like Julian Martin have been pleased to accept many of her pupils as they continue their musical pursuits at the college or conservatory level.

It’s clear that Irena’s teaching has “a disciplined side,” Rodriguez says. “She won’t tolerate mediocrity…She wants to teach you how to do something very well–to excel and be better. And the students work hard because they like her.”

Elisa Virsaladze, a Professor at the Moscow Conservatory and Hochschule fur Musik und Theater muses that “Irena is like a child who is amazed by life and maintains a constant joy of living.” (paraphrase) This description would indicate a wide-eyed appreciation of a sunrise as the first, or a miracle of nature preserved fresh in the imagination.

Brian Ganz, views Irena’s students as being in a communal “rainforest” thriving amidst the lushness of the environment.


Others echo how Irena “understands people so well, knowing how to motivate students to nurture and develop their creativity.

One pupil says, “Irena is a unique person. She makes her students grow in so many ways…She’s like a friend.”

Another states that Irena makes you “feel the music, and see it as if you’re reading a book. It’s very special.”

A teenager emphasizes how Irena “explains the pieces in stories so I will be able to project the composer’s ideas as I am playing the music.” It’s like the composer is standing there telling me just how to play his work.

Irena encourages her students to take on formidable challenges and stretch their abilities.

A youngster who wanted to study a difficult piece, perhaps a bit beyond his technical skill, was not discouraged by Irena from pursuing it. She told the child to learn the composition “one measure a day.” With such words of wisdom under his belt, he had gone on to master a Bach selection in just 56 days.

Many of Irena’s pupils learn by her example: They say that she lives in the moment–in the here and now, and encourages them to embrace the same. “Live for today with no regrets about yesterday, or for what is to come in the future,” she wisely tells them.

It applies to music-making.


Married to Henry Orlov, musicologist, Irena and her chosen partner, appear to have a unique chemistry between them. Walking arm-in-arm, playing chess on the terrace of their apartment, sitting on a bench charming their prancing white dog, the two are observed in a harmonious relationship that emanates far beyond its own boundaries.

The film is a bundle of tender moments such as these and includes snatches of inspiring performances given by Irena’s piano students, some of whom have gone on to pursue professional careers.

To conclude I will admit that I had a piano teacher who in many ways resembled Irena. Mine, a Peabody faculty member for many years, taught me that studying piano was a metaphor for life, a soulful and expressive pursuit like no other. Like Irena, Lillian Lefkovsky Freundlich reached beyond the label, “piano teacher.”

Watching this documentary evoked her memory, and for many others it will touch the heart in a special place.


Lillian Freundlich



Irena Orlov

Graduate degree from Leningrad Conservatory; began teaching piano during student years; educator and lecturer at seminars throughout Russia. After emigrating to Israel in 1980, taught music and worked as music therapist in a psychiatric hospital. Has been teaching piano in Washington, DC since 1986 and at Levine since 1988.

Irena Orlov is a Levine Master Teacher.


A tribute to the work of Irina Gorin, piano teacher, Carmel, Indiana

Getting into the spirit of piano playing.. with references to Irena Orlov

Piano Teachers, Students, and Reluctant Farewells