piano, Rosina Lhevinne

Favorites, On AND Off the You Tube screen

This week reaped a set of Internet-channeled treasures along with an off screen, chance meeting with a Rosina Lhevinne student at a Berkeley bus stop.

The first On Air stop-off was Seymour Bernstein’s riveting hour-and-44 minute long interview that covered his Korean war service: a rekindled journey of interspersed infantry training, piano recitals and chamber music.

Seymour’s recorded account is part of an Oral History project that’s been conceived to educate and enlighten Korean youth about a faint and distant war era. In this regard, Bernstein describes a particular outdoor concert that he and violinist, Kenneth Gordon had presented together in the heat of war where bullets were flying overhead while two musicians were thinly protected by a hill that barricaded them in.

Bernstein’s nostalgic, drama-filled memoir pours forth effortlessly in his conversation with a historian tied to the Korean War Legacy Foundation. The focus is Seymour’s four separate touchdowns that included three post-war visits, eliciting his recall of turbulent political changes in the small Asian country. Naturally, he peppers his reminiscences with colorful musical anecdotes.

Most of the pianist’s followers celebrate his time-honored book With Your Own Two Hands along with his Big Screen appearance in Ethan Hawke’s documentary, Seymour: An Introduction. In the 90 or so minute film, a piano teacher is lifted out of the ordinary cycle of giving lessons, to iconic status. Playing himself, Bernstein, a once promising concert performer, retreats to mentoring in the face of crippling performance anxiety and resurrects himself as a doting, thoughtful teacher in a singularly carved journey.

Throughout his Korean Legacy Foundation appearance, Bernstein is on location in his thoughts, revisiting a war-torn Korea, determined to include a tender scene from his early days in uniform. As he tells it, a fawn appears in the fog on the countryside, making Seymour believe that he has died and gone to heaven. The flashback, also a moving segment in Hawke’s documentary, is worth a revisit with additional memories colorfully packed into the recorded Legacy interview.

http://www.kwvdm.org/detail_oral.php?no=751

***

On the You Tube Playlist, I was fortunate to have spotted two hot releases by pianist, Irina Morozova:

The following performances are beyond words to describe and speak audibly for themselves. I must admit, in all honesty, that the more I’m exposed to Morozova’s artistry, the more my heart aches that this pianist’s name is not a household word. The sheer poetry of her expression coupled with an effortlessly fluid technique, should invite the adulation of local and international audiences, if only the commercial packaging of musicians, and the social/political demands of making a career did not intercede.

Finally, to cap off my week, OFFLINE, I found myself waiting for the 25A A.C. Transit bus on an overcast weekday afternoon, anticipating an easy, uneventful route to gym. Little did I foresee an encounter with a perfect stranger, a petite senior, who had a pervasive connection to the music world–one that had its alliance to my own life as it unfolded during my New York City teenage years.

The woman had arrived ten minutes after me, thinking she might have missed the bus, but was reassured by my careful scrutiny of the bus schedule that we were both “on time.” I had added that we were clear to board within minutes, if the bus had not experienced delays.

Meanwhile, I kept checking 511# on my cell phone for updates once I realized that we’d passed the posted arrival time. And it occurred to me that delay after delay was the rule of the day, without any certainty of our common means of transport.

As it happened, we were given ample room to start up a conversation that was sparked by the woman’s allusion to an upcoming “Symphony” outing. That was my immediate cue to introduce myself as a “pianist,” which was her CUE to respond, “I’m a pianist, too!”

At this point in our alternate exchanges, I had acquired my rightful turn to squeeze out a stream of details from her past which she was amenable to share.

“I studied with Madame Lhevinne at the Juilliard School,” she announced, proudly. “It was in the mid 1950’s, but I never really graduated. Well, because I didn’t like the whole environment, and then I decided to go to Europe and earn my Ph.D.”

She admitted that she had never completed her studies, coining herself, an “almost there” individual, exposing her whimsical side–the extemporaneous, coy, and self-deprecating dimension of an emerging, delightful persona.

At this juncture, I wasn’t sure if she was going to veer off from our music-centered talk or re-focus on her studies with Lhevinne. I gently nudged her back to her Juilliard days.

In the ensuing conversation, I learned that Rosina’s crop of students were part of a tight-knit musical family and one particular pupil was my would-be bus companion’s favorite: “John Browning.” She insisted he was far more gifted than Van Cliburn. In rebuttal, I maintained that Van’s Tchaikovsky’s Bb minor Concerto, No. 1, was lyrical, straightforward and without eccentricity. She insisted that Gilels had held the crucial key to Cliburn’s thawed out Cold War victory. (He’d supposedly threatened to resign from the panel of judges if Van was demoted to Silver or Bronze)

I interjected that Nikita Kruschev was the deal-maker, having to rubber stamp the Gold pick! (it was notwithstanding his shoe-banging escapades at the UN)

Obviously, I wanted to milk my newfound musical traveler for any juicy gossip that surrounded Lhevinne, in particular, although I’d viewed one or two lengthy documentaries (on You Tube) that were better than any tell all gossip column. And as it turned out, the only uniquely colorful anecdote that gushed out of my awaiting bus partner’s mouth, was one about Lhevinne interrupting a lesson to talk in Russian by phone with the famed, and often dreaded piano teacher, Isabelle Vengerova. This well-known mentor had been characterized as a tyrant in Seymour Bernstein’s tome, Monsters and Angels, Surviving a Career in Music.

bigger-monsters-and-angels

(Yet, I dared not bring up, Seymour’s inclusion of the Russian icon in his list of “monsters,” aka emotional abusers.)

***
While the bus lingered somewhere OFF ROUTE, I had more space to impart my own Lhevinne-related memoir that rapidly shrank degrees of separation between two common bus riders.

As I recounted:

I had been present at Madame Lhevinne’s 80th Birthday celebration at the very Juilliard School that my newfound companion, who finally identified herself as “Francesca,” had attended. This was at a time when the homespun-looking building was located in the heart of Harlem on 125th Street. As a teenager enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts, I was bestowed a complimentary ticket to the event by my beloved mentor, Lillian Freundlich. The birthday fete featured soloist and honoree, Rosina Lhevinne playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, under the able baton of Jean Morel.

While I didn’t have the yellowed PROGRAM tucked into my backpack as hard core evidence of my attendance, I did assure Francesca that it existed, and that it had been embedded in my blog posting about my having “been there,” right smack in the center of an adoring audience.

R. Lhevinne program

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/an-ageless-pianist-and-her-historic-concert-i-was-there/

My story became expanded during our repartee when I described finding myself years later in the Oberlin Conservatory music library, listening with earphones to a turntable spun vinyl of Lhevinne’s very performance that day at Juilliard.

What memories were rekindled, stored safely in my repository of special musical moments, now shared with a common traveler.

Because the bus ended up being delayed by over an hour due to the driver’s apologetic admission of being lost in another city on HER FIRST DAY OF SERVICE, I had been serendipitously connected to a kindred “pianist” who tore off a snatch of her paper shopping bag with her scribbled name and phone number on it. She handed it to me as she disembarked.

“As fate would have it”… I uttered these words right after Francesca’s departure.

However faint they were, they carried over to the driver who glanced with a smile at the empty seat beside me. Without a shred of doubt, she had put two and two together.

duo pianists, Josef Lhevinne, Rosina Lhevinne, Shirley Smith Kirsten, shirley smith kirsten blog, Shirley Smth Kirsten, word press, you tube, youtube.com

Husband and wife pianists I have known and their legacy

This week’s practicing and You Tubing hearkened back to my student days in New York City. Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich was my Rosina Lhevinne. She, like her Russian counterpart, was married to a high profile husband, Irwin Freundlich who doubled as her 4-hand piano partner.

When Irwin passed away in his late 60s quite suddenly, as had Josef Lhevinne at about the same age, Lillian, came into her own as the great teacher she had been all along though she’d been otherwise hidden in the shadow of her spouse.

freundlich

Ena Bronstein, another powerful mentor of mine, was married to her duo partner, Philip Lorenz. Both were Arrau students, and Philip had edited the Beethoven sonatas with Arrau giving him his 15 minutes of fame. But Ena was the more expressive pianist though she dealt with second tier status until the marriage dissolved.

ena

Back to Lillian, my most influential piano teacher…

It just so happened that after watching the riveting documentary about the legacy of Rosina Lhevinne, I pulled up three works Lillian gave me to study at about age 15: Mozart’s Sonata in G, K. 283; the Chopin Nocturnes in Bb minor, Op. 9, No. 1 and E minor, Op. 72 no. 1.

The Chopin E minor had always been a sleepy piece, until I woke up to the burst of passion that Rubinstein and Ashkenazi delivered in their readings tempered by tasteful rubato.

As a reminder to myself, Andante in Italian meant walking and not at a snail’s pace.

Lillian Freundlich had selected the perfect Andante and Larghetto in Chopin’s vernacular that begged for a singing tone and fluid phrasing.

With Mozart’s Sonata, she focused on the operatic dimension of the composer’s works, singing throughout my lesson.

Finally, a musical retrospective that’s framed with Rosina Lhevinne’s inspiring words.

Rosina and Josef Lhevinne

“…discover the world through study, kindness, imagination, and through the integrity of your own quest.”

***
About Lillian and Irwin Freundlich
Irwin and Lillian Freundlich Collection

http://www.lib.umd.edu/ipam/collections/irwin-and-lillian-freundlich

“Irwin Freundlich (1908 – 1977) was an internationally recognized piano educator who taught at the Juilliard School in New York for more than 40 years.

“He studied piano with James Friskin and Edward Steuermann at the Institute of Musical Art (parent school of the present Juilliard), and took further studies in musicology with Paul Henry Lang and Erich Hertzmann at Columbia University.

“In 1935, he became a member of the faculty at Juilliard and continued to maintain a heavy teaching schedule there in the piano department. He was the co-author with James Friskin of “Music For Piano: A Handbook of Teaching and Concert Material,” published in 1954 and currently available from Dover Publications.

“His students have concertized throughout the world and have been prize winners in numerous prestigious national and international competitions, such as the Naumberg and Leventritt in New York, the Van Cliburn in Texas, the Mozart in Austria, the Busoni in Italy, the Enescu in Romania, the Liszt-Bartok in Hungary, the J. S. Bach in Washington, D. C. and the Kosciuszko in New York, among many others.

“For thirteen summers (1953 – 1965), Irwin Freundlich held master classes on the campus of Bennington College in Vermont. He also performed recitals and conducted master classes, seminars and workshops at many institutions of higher learning throughout the United States, as well as serving on important juries for national and international competitions. He appeared in many recitals of music for one piano four hands with his wife, Lillian Freundlich.

“Lillian Freundlich was a distinguished member of the Piano Department at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and was also a member, at times, of the faculties at Juilliard Summer School, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the North Carolina School of the Arts. Aside from her performances with her husband, Lillian Freundlich also performed solo recitals in the U.S. and Europe.”

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/an-ageless-pianist-and-her-historic-concert-i-was-there/

Chopin Piano Concerto in E minor, Frederic Chopin, John Browning, Juilliard School, Juilliard School Orchestra under Jean Morel, Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic, Mozart Piano Concerto no. 21 in C, Rosina Lhevinne, Rosina Lhevinne's 80th birthday concert, The Legacy Of Rosina Lhevinne: A Portrait Of The Legendary Pianist, Van Cliburn, William Schuman, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

An ageless pianist and her historic concert (I was there)

This is the program that I preserved from the event. It was contained in a boxful of musical artifacts that my mother sent me.

On March 28th, 1960, I was present at Madame Rosina Lhevinne’s Eightieth Birthday celebration concert held at the Juilliard School, and it was an evening to remember. I received the ticket compliments of Lillian Freundlich my piano teacher, through her husband, Irwin, who was then Chair of the Piano Department.

Jean Morel conducted the Juilliard Orchestra as Lhevinne played the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major like an angel. In the audience were many of her students including John Browning and Lee Luvisi. I’m not sure if Van Cliburn made it to the event, but there was a tribute to the pianist given by William Schuman, President.

Years later when I arrived at the Oberlin Conservatory, I discovered a recording on vinyl of this very concert in the Con Library. It re-awakened the magic of the ageless pianist’s memorable performance.

Sparkling passagework was cloaked in a beautiful singing tone, and if I had closed my eyes, I would have imagined an effervescent young pianist in the throes of musical passion.

I discovered a You Tube re-visit of Lhevinne’s Juilliard concert, 3rd Movement, Mozart 21. (recorded “live”) Keep in mind that she was 80!!!

Another inspired concert: Lhevinne was 82 when she performed the Chopin E Minor piano concerto under Bernstein’s baton, making her debut with the New York Philharmonic:

From the Documentary The Legacy Of Rosina Lhevinne: A Portrait Of The Legendary Pianist
Rosina Lhevinne, Van Cliburn, John Williams
Release Date: 11/15/2011
“Rosina Lhevinne’s remarkable solo performing career began at age 75 and climaxed at age 82 when she made her spectacular debut with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor.

“This extraordinarily beautiful performance, as well as her previously unreleased chamber music recordings, is heard throughout the film.”

Label: Kultur Video Catalog #: 4762
Encoding: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada)
Composer: Various
Performer: Rosina Lhévinne

Number of Discs: 1
Length: 56 Mins.

There are snatches of this film on You Tube. Here’s the trailer:

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Great Piano Teaching Moments

This remarkable piece of film footage inspired a stream of others.

Nadia Boulanger (b.1887-d.1979) the esteemed teacher, composer, theoretician, organist, pianist, taught and influenced so many great musical creators such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland, Virgil Thomson, Walter Piston and Philip Glass.

From Wikipedia:

“Boulanger’s teaching methods included traditional harmony, score reading at the piano, species counterpoint, analysis, and sight singing (using fixed-Do solfège). She disapproved of innovation for innovation’s sake: “When you are writing music of your own, never strain to avoid the obvious.”[7] “You need an established language and then, within that established language, the liberty to be yourself. It’s always necessary to be yourself – that is a mark of genius in itself.”

In this brief teaching encounter with a 10 year old student, Boulanger identifies a change of key or “modulation” in a Mozart Fantasy as a moment of poignancy. She illuminates a harmonic transition from the somber B minor tonality to the brighter D Major as the student draws closer to the composer and his intention.

Madame Boulanger’s teaching, albeit just a snatch, puts into perspective why a total musician cannot just read notes, learn proper fingering, and perhaps identify a few rudimentary chord progressions.

Layers of learning over years foster an in depth exploration of the musical art form.

Rosina Lhevinne

I turn to another influential teacher with a video sample from her studio. The wife of esteemed concert pianist, Joseph Lhevinne, Rosina came into her own after her husband’s death and subsequently joined the esteemed Juilliard faculty. Van Cliburn, John Browning, Misha Dichter, John Williams, and Edward Auer were among her well known students.

By way of anecdote, I heard Madame Lhevinne play at the old Juilliard School at W. 125th Street in Manhattan on the occasion of her 80th birthday. She divinely performed the Mozart Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major under the able baton of Jean Morel. It was a historic performance, surpassed only by her appearance at age 82, with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, playing the Chopin E minor Piano Concerto.

In the course of this film, Lhevinne helps the young Misha Dichter by singing phrases herself while artfully shaping them. She also demonstrates weight transfer between fingers in fostering a legato, or smooth and connected touch. In the introduction preceding the masterclass, Artur Rubinstein, John Williams, John Browning, Robert Mann, and Misha Dichter make compelling comments about Lhevinne’s approach to teaching.

Here are a few other snatches from classes of inspiring teachers:

Richard Goode shares his ideas about Chopin and Beethoven.

Murray Perahia: Words of wisdom about the music of Bach and mood setting.

Alfred Brendel presents a Masterclass at the New England Conservatory:

I was fortunate to have observed one of Brendel’s classes at the Oberlin Conservatory and he, like Rosina Lhevinne sang phrases to communicate shape, and stroked the keys rather than attacked them. He played with an immaculate singing tone, and encouraged the participating students to do the same. It was very inspiring, to say the least. The masterclass given by Georgy Sebok was as illuminating for the same reasons.

Finally, Lang, Lang, mentors young Derek Wang, who plays a Liszt Rhapsody. (The teacher fleshes out the color dimension of the composer’s work and demonstrates hands on, expressive possibilities)

If you have your own favorite teaching moments, please feel free to share them.

Footnote: I participated in two masterclasses that took place in Fresno, Calfornia with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. The first was more lengthy, and very memorable. Murray worked with me on the first movement of Beethoven’s d minor, “Tempest Sonata” and fleshed out the structural dimension. Yablonskaya did a lot of demonstrating herself, but was more focused on the singing tone as it applied to a Chopin Nocturne.