classissima,, Grigori Sokolov is a legendary pianist, Grigori Sokolov pianist, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, piano, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Sokolov at Theatre des Champs Elysees 2002, word press, word, you tube, you

The Gold Standard in piano playing (Sokolov IS a legend in his own time)

I was greeted by two e-mails yesterday that bore links to Grigory Sokolov’s digitized recital at the Theatre des Champs Elysee in Paris. (2002) The communication from Seymour Bernstein read as follows:

“Stop whatever you are doing! You are about to hear performances that
certainly must rank among the greatest examples of music making and piano
virtuosity. I would call this recital legendary. Most of us are of two minds
concerning modern technology. But with these performances, all negative
opinions must vanish. We have to be grateful that we are privy to such an
overpowering experience.”

A direct You Tube link:

To the second friend who e-mailed me a link to Piano Street’s feature on Sokolov, I wrote back confirmation of playing that sent me into a state of permanent ecstasy.

To a third friend, who happens to be a world-class pianist, I bubbled with unabashed praise raised to a higher, more articulate level.

“Everything about the playing, from every perspective is awesome!

“I’m now listening to the 2-hour recital via you tube, and will no doubt re-watch and re-listen.

“The technical command is drop dead phenomenal.. an extraordinary tonal palette at his easy disposal… the orchestral range, and then a sense of voicing in a chamber music dimension when needed…don’t forget the opera…. This fellow is something else! Phrasing to melt the heart and rouse the passions in us.

“Why have I not been made aware of him to this point?

“Now I’m into finding out MORE! Worth many blogs into the night and the following day.”


Impassioned and inspired, I raced to the official website:

Grigory Sokolov (My emphasis in BOLD)

Grigory Sokolov (born April 18, 1950 in Leningrad)

“In the 40 years since the 16-year-old Grigory Sokolov was awarded first prize at the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1966, the world has been blessed with what one American critic recently called “a kind of pianism, musicianship and artistry one thought had vanished forever”. Championed at a young age by Emil Gilels and a prominent figure on the Russian music scene since his early teens, Sokolov has gained an almost mythical status amongst music-lovers and pianophiles throughout the world. He is considered by many today to be the world’s greatest living pianist. Ever since his first major piano recital in Leningrad at the age of 12, Sokolov has amazed everyone again and again with the enormous breadth of his repertoire and his huge, almost physical musical strength. Using little pedal, and thus superior finger-work, he draws from the concert grand an immense variety of sounds; he has an unlimited palette of colors, a spontaneous imagination and a magical control of line. His interpretations are poetic and highly individual, and his rhythmic freedom and elasticity of phrase are perhaps unequaled among pianists today.

“Those who are used to his art are most particularly attracted by the naturalness of his performing manner, which is part of his artistic credo. His playing betrays no influence from past masters, his style and approach are entirely his own, and are completely unique. Whatever Grigory Sokolov performs, be it a Pavane of William Byrd, a Bach Fantasia, Chopin Mazurka or a Prelude of Ravel, it suddenly sounds completely new. Even a familiar Beethoven Sonata can be rediscovered as a new piece. But all this magic has its earthly roots: Sokolov knows more about a Steinway than many piano technicians, and before he sits down to play a strange instrument, he first examines its inner mechanics, taking it to pieces. He is used to studying for many hours every day, and even on the day of a concert, practices on stage for hours, “getting to know” the piano. That he prefers his CDs to be recorded live is not surprising, since he likes to capture the sacred moments of a real, live concert and avoid the sterile atmosphere of a studio.

“Grigory Sokolov is a regular guest of the most prestigious concert halls and festivals of Europe. He has performed in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Madrid, Salzburg, Munich, Rome, New York, and worked with many of the world’s most prominent conductors including Myung-Whun Chung, Valery Gergiev, Trevor Pinnock, Neeme Järvi, Herbert Blomstedt, Sakari Oramo, Alexander Lazarev, Moshe Atzmon, etc. He has worked with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Münchner Philharmoniker, Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Philharmonia and Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Sokolov has made a number of live recordings for Melodya and Opus 111 labels. These include works by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Schubert, Schumann, Scriabin, and Tchaikovsky. The most recent publication is a DVD directed by Bruno Monsaingeon filming a recital of Grigory Sokolov at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.


NO more need be said except that great pianists may not come in big commercial packages!


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The Transfer Piano Student

I would hate to pigeon hole all “transfer” students in one way or another. It would be unfair, and unfortunately many piano teachers shy away from prospects who were immersed in learning environments where little progress was made over a period of years.

Some reluctant piano instructors might say, “there’s just too much work involved in reversing bad habits, so I’m not up to the task.”

In my own experience, where a student is at least on a common page, dedicated to receiving a new set of ideas that will help him improve his technique and musical expression, wedded together, of course, then I’m up for the collective journey. (even with its built-in challenges)

Just the other day, I was delighted to meet a “new” adult pupil who had studied for five years with another teacher. The shift, springing from a schedule issue, brought more than a blessing in disguise. I was pleased to discover that the young woman had been exploring the great piano literature with method books being a things of the past. (Thank Goddess!)

In fact she played a gorgeous Haydn Minuet and a Mendelssohn Children’s piece which both offered opportunities to probe the singing tone, and ways of phrasing in two contrasting musical periods. (Classical and Romantic)

Of interest was the motif of the Mendelssohn composition that could have sounded like Schumann’s famous G Major March (Album for the Young) but for the difference in notated slurs. The former had the march spirit, while the other had to be executed as if sung expressively. This second piece required yielding to the upper voice of two, and letting the common thumb go a tad early. In this way a legato melodic line was preserved. (smooth and connected notes)

What a nice entree to style and interpretation.

In the realm of technique, I noticed that the pupil needed to play with supple wrists and more freedom in her arms which we worked on from the very start of her lesson. Scales that were a bit locked by tension, gradually gave way to a curvaceous spill of 16ths to four octaves.

Had I harbored a prejudice toward meeting with a “transfer” student, I would have lost a treasured opportunity to grow as a musician along with a willing student.

Another situation, but less appealing:

I’ve had moms bring Middle school children, in the main, who’ve bounced from teacher to teacher. This can be a RED FLAG, but not always, depending on the individual circumstance. (Family relocations can require a teacher change given the high rate of job transfers and home foreclosures)

However, where the grass is greener mantra infiltrates each and every teacher consult, I tend to shy away from being the next trial and error instructor.

In the Bay area, there are an abundance of gifted teachers, and each offers a well of musical wisdom. But an instructor and a student need TIME to develop a relationship, and not be subject to espresso evaluations.

However, in the Fresno environs, the musical landscape is a bit different, and often the “transfers” are neighborhood driven, or a student has devoted little if any time to practicing, and blames it on the piano teacher. Mom keeps talking about the “right or wrong chemistry” ad nauseum, and while this could be a valid reason for a shift in instructors, it’s often just the opposite. She will insist that the turnover of pieces is too slow, and that junior has spent too much time learning one selection.

Example, an 11-year old was brought to me who had studied for 9 months with one teacher, and barely a year with another. Mom said her child was not playing enough “popular” music and needed someone to make lessons “fun.”

Upon examination of the child’s musical skills, I observed that she was barely note-reading at a satisfactory level and she couldn’t play a one-octave scale up and down. In fact, she’d never been exposed to a scale or anything resembling, including five-finger Major/minor positions.

Was I braced to be the next mentor in line, accused of NOT making lessons a bowl of cherries?

I passed up the chance.

Obviously there are all kinds of circumstances in which we meet up with transfer students, and each should be separately evaluated. One, for example, may circumscribe an emotionally abusive situation, a cosmos I explored in the following blog:

A student may be fleeing an unwholesome learning environment that has stifled his progress and reduced him to feelings of overwhelming inadequacy.

Seymour Bernstein, author of MONSTERS AND ANGELS describes this very abuse that drove him to request another piano teacher at the distinguished Mannes College of Music. The story is well capsulized in this blog posted by Harriet:

Bernstein’s experience among others must be carefully assessed, or with our cultural blinders on, we could overlook a blessed musical relationship with a transfer student that will grow and ripen with time.

If my beloved teacher, Lillian Freundlich, had viewed me as just one of those garden variety “transfers” who came through her door so ill-prepared to play what I had been assigned by a previous mentor (the Chopin Scherzo in Bb Minor, for example) then I would have given up the piano in sheer frustration.

What I heard in my inner ear, I couldn’t express as a player due to inadequate technique and phrasing. These hallmark musicianship skills had to be learned from the ground up and I needed a willing teacher to guide me. (starting with an awareness of the singing tone)

Teachers make such a big difference in our lives if we let them do the work needed. Support and respect for the instructor and learning environment must come from the pupil, and in the case of youngsters, also from their parents.

Whether students are “transfers” or not, these basic ingredients of a positive teacher/pupil relationship underlie musical growth and development.


Please share your experience as a transfer student, or if in a role as teacher, how did you proceed with students from other learning environments?


The Neighborhood Piano Teacher Lives On

How Long Should a Piano Student Stay with a Piece?

Pulls and Tugs between students/teachers/and parents in the piano learning cosmos

Beethoven Sonata Appassionata, Charles Alkan, Chopin, Conversations with Arrau by Joseph Horowitz, Conversations with Arrau by Joseph Horwitz, Faschingsschwank aus Wien by Schumann, fingering and phrasing at the piano, fingering and piano technique, Frederic Chopin, Gershwin Prelude no. 2, Gershwin Prelude no. 2 and fingering changes, Intermezzo Faschingsschwank aus Wien by Schumann, Philip Lorenz, pianist, pianists, piano, piano technique, player piano, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein author With Your Own Two Hands, Seymour Bernstein composer, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, swindle, word press,, you tube, you tube video

The Piano Repertoire: Does making fingering/hand adjustments constitute a “swindle?”

Seymour Bernstein, author of With Your Own Two Hands, remarked that “Chopin wrote out an outline for an intended method of teaching piano. And when he died he left it to Charles Alkan who never finished it. Wouldn’t you think that Chopin would stress at the beginning that everything depends upon a deep emotional involvement with the music, or something like that? Well at the outset, Chopin wrote, ‘Everything depends upon the correct fingering.’ He knew that unless you were comfortable, there was no music-making.”

Bernstein had forwarded me a few of his tried and true fingering/hand shuffles as he’d notated them in a Romantic era composition. Did they amount to “swindles,” tongue in cheek, of course, incubating for a full length volume on the subject?

I’ll get back to that later.

In Conversations with Arrau, by Joseph Horowitz, the pianist weaves stories about fingering, and how his specific choices or those of his teachers, unlocked the mystery of playing bravura passages smoothly and effortlessly.

As testimony, one of the maestro’s former students, the late, Philip Lorenz, who assisted him with editing the complete set of Beethoven sonatas commented that fingering appeared to be “a conspicuous editorial feature” of their collaboration.

For example, in the opening of the Sonata Appassionata, Arrau’s autograph is revealed by these choices.

As Lorenz described them: “They insured tremendous security by keeping the hand balled and totally relaxed. It was like lining up the fingers in a natal position.

“The right hand makes a little circle down to the thumb; the left hand does the opposite, starting with a low thumb and circling up to the fifth. This way you don’t have to play with the hands spread open, which already risks tension or nervous trembling at the very beginning.

Horowitz then prompted Lorenz to discuss Arrau’s fingering of staccato bass notes in measure 10, where the pianist assigned fingers 3 to 5 in a stepwise interval, instead of ending with 4.

True to the form and attitude of his mentor, Lorenz emphasized that Arrau believed the sound could be “more controlled with the fifth finger than with the fourth.”

He elaborated:

“Because the fourth finger doesn’t have a separate tendon in the hand—you can’t move the fourth by itself.

“Going from the third to the fifth–you have more possibility to rotate.

“So throughout the Beethoven Sonata edition, you find that he goes from the third to the fifth finger skipping the fourth.

“The fourth he eliminates quite rigorously for being weak and hard to control.”


Seymour Bernstein disclosed his own particular fingering secrets as applied to playing various measures of the Faschingsschwank aus Wien Intermezzo by Robert Schumann. It was with an eye and ear toward executing extremely tricky passages that would otherwise be incomparably challenging. Above all, phrasing and nuance were at the top of his list of considerations.

In any case, the Romantic era composer, by and large composed music for solo piano that frequently appeared to require more than a single pair of hands. Inevitably, performers would have to make fingering/hand accommodations as needed.

Here’s Nikolai Lugansky playing the Schumann Intermezzo in its original form followed by Bernstein’s page 1 fingering changes and hand re-assignments as pertained.

In the same spirit, I found myself scoping out scores, often changing the editor’s fingerings, etc. so I, too, could more easily achieve technical/musical mastery.

My decisions were driven by what felt comfortable together with how these choices improved phrasing.

For example, I might take a whole section of music denoted for the left hand, and shift it to the right, largely because it sounded better and was easier to execute. Some might say, I was guilty of a swindle. (There’s that verboten word again) Or perhaps, a strict, conservative teacher would argue that I would more efficiently spend time improving my left hand.


In Gershwin’s opener to the Prelude no. 2, many pianists cannot reach a tenth between C# and E in the bass, yet the composer doesn’t show a roll for these notes. And to make it doubly challenging, Gershwin has indicated a smooth flowing legato in these introductory measures. The bass, in an ostinato form, will recur at various points of the piece, except in the contrasting middle section. Breaking the tenth would be less noticeable within the fabric of other voices as the composition progresses. Yet the very naked and exposed opening could definitely use a fingering fix. (Seymour Bernstein again titillates by using the term “swindle.”)

One solution, at least as applies to the beginning, is to re-finger a whole set of measures, with a hand/finger shuffle as demonstrated by this pianist in a You Tube video performance.

You can get a good close-up of how he avoids the broken tenth from C# to E scored for the Left Hand, and then the way he continues in later measures. Once the piece adds more voices, the shuffle is no longer possible.

Here’s the original scoring before adjustments were made:

This video could not be embedded:

His alteration worked and smoothed out the opening.


So now that I’ve delivered my brief sermon on why these “swindles” are just innocent, well-intended fingering adjustments meant to improve musical performance, I can relieve myself and other pianists of any guilt attached to them.

Feel free to share your own personal finger/hand shuffles, and don’t be afraid to come out of the closet.

Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118 no. 2, Debussy Arabesque no. 1, Facebook, Impressionistic music, Nikolai Lugansky, Romantic music, Schumann’s “Faschingsschwank aus Wien”, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Uncategorized, word press,, you tube, You Tube interview with Lugansky from Israel, you tube video

Nikolai Lugansky, pianist, plays chess and loves poetry

The nearly 7-minute You Tube interview was telling. Luganksy waxed poetic about poetry, and recited one of his favorites by Boris Pasternak. It was in Russian, but it’s lyrical lines stole the show. No translation needed.

He was seated beside a conductor named Petrenko, and both were being queried by the first bassist of the Israeli Philharmonic.

Lugansky: “In poetry and music there is no win, no loss, it’s like life….chess, it’s a game.”

Location: Israel, where a good percentage of the population speaks Russian.

I must admit that I was led to the You Tube interview after sampling Lugansky’s artistry on Facebook. (I can hardly summon the right words in English to describe the listening experience)

Perhaps an ever flowing reservoir of emotion and nuance: когда-либо проточном водоеме нюансов и эмоций

If pressed to further enunciate what I loved about the playing, I would say the pianist’s phrasing is liquid, and overall his approach is magical. It’s one of those rare encounters with the soul of a pianist and composer meet.

Debussy’s Arabesque no. 1

And as icing on the cake, Seymour Bernstein forwarded me this link to the Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 118 no. 2:

If this isn’t heaven on earth, then what is:


Nikolai Lugansky
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nikolai Lugansky

“Nikolai Lugansky (Николай Львович Луганский; born 26 April 1972) is a Russian pianist from Moscow. At the age of five, before he had even started to learn the piano, he astonished his parents when he sat down at the piano and played a Beethoven sonata by ear, which he had just heard a relative play. He studied piano at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow Conservatory. His teachers included Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky.

“During the ’80s and early ’90s, Lugansky won prizes at numerous piano competitions. At the same time he began to make recordings on the Melodiya (USSR) and Vanguard Classics (Netherlands) labels. His performance at the Winners’ Gala Concert of the 10th International Tchaikovsky Competition was recorded and released on the Pioneer Classics label, on both CD and video laser disc formats. This was followed by more recordings for Japanese labels. He went on to make recordings for Warner Classics (UK), Pentatone Classics (Netherlands), Onyx Classics and Deutsche Grammophon.

“Lugansky has performed together with Vadim Repin, Alexander Kniazev, Anna Netrebko, Joshua Bell, Yuri Bashmet, Vadim Rudenko and Mischa Maisky, among others.

“In addition, Lugansky has collaborated with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Valery Gergiev, Neeme Järvi, Kurt Masur, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Simonov, Leonard Slatkin, Vladimir Spivakov, Evgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Temirkanov and Edo de Waart.

“As well as performing and recording, Lugansky teaches at the Moscow Conservatory.”


About Lugansky’s teacher:

Birds, Birds Book 1 composed by Seymour Bernstein, Birds Book 2 composed by Seymour Bernstein, Manduca Music Publications, music with bird themes, piano teaching repertoire, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein composer, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, With your own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press,, you tube, you tube video

Birds spring to life in these collections for piano!

Here’s a case of music composed by a pianist who has an abundance of talent in so many directions that it’s dizzying!

If I thought LEONARD Bernstein was the renaissance man, with gifts as a conductor, pianist, composer, and mentor, well here comes SEYMOUR Bernstein in a shimmering spotlight of his own!

I’m awestruck!

Having composed my own collection of miniature character pieces (Moonbeams and Other Musical Sketches) they are no rival to Seymour’s well developed Birds tableaux. I say well developed, because though some are quite short in length, they all have musical substance.

Birds, Book 1 attaches a fascinating anecdote which Bernstein relayed to a receptive audience at the University of Missouri. He described and played the compositions as he went along.

The opener was worth a chuckle and a gulp of emotion.

As Bernstein wove the story, during a composing summer in Maine, he met up with a neighbor’s child of 10-years old who was a beginning piano student and played for him. Bernstein being very impressed with the child’s progress in such a short time was inspired to compose 3 pieces in the frugal space of one hour that could be taught by rote. One of these called for smashing fists over a series of notes to imitate the raucous sound of The Seagull.

As it was charmingly related, when the child excitedly returned home to play this delightful musical morsel, he managed to pound away on his piano, promptly shattering hammers in the treble range.

Bernstein woefully reported that the cost of repairing the hammers exceeded the price of the piano so a new one was no doubt on the horizon. (It took a year for the family to forgive the teacher)

Apparently, on a whim, Bernstein submitted the three composed pieces to a publisher. Though well received, they were needing expansion to a larger set, so Seymour hopped to the task creating five more that filled out the delightful first collection that includes The Purple Finch, The Humming Bird, The Woodpecker, The Sea Gull, The Chickadee, The Vulture, The Penguin, and The Eagle. (Upper Intermediate to Advanced Level repertoire)

Once this first group is sampled, it’s enticement to check out Birds, Book 2 which comes with surprising special effects.

Here are both links to Seymour Bernstein’s performances:

(Performed at the 92nd St. Y)

Birds 2
A Second Suite of Nine Impressionistic Studies for Piano Solo
Seymour Bernstein

“The nine masterful studies are somewhat more difficult than the pieces in Birds 1. There is a great variety in articulation. The piano is used as a echo chamber in the Phoenix. Musically the trills, glissandi and clusters give a wonderful picture of each bird. The pedaling is very specific and will teach pianists a great deal about resonance. The birds included in this set are Myna Bird, Swan, Robin, Owl, Roadrunner, Condor, Nightingale, Guinea Hen, and Phoenix. These pieces have been used by students and teachers worldwide for their evocative qualities.”

Available at Manduca Music Publications

A young student plays Birds, Book 1
Note the use of fists in SEAGULL–1:43 into the video

If you’re curious to discover additional repertoire composed by Seymour Bernstein, run to check on RACCOONS!

George Gershwin Prelude no. 2, George Gershwin Preludes 1 to 3, Gershwin Virtuoso Selections played by Irina Morozova, Irina Morozova, Krystian Zimerman, Leonard Bernstein, music, music and heart, pianist, piano, piano playing and phrasing, piano repertoire, Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, you tube, you tube video

My favorite Gershwin performances (Videos)

Surfing the Internet, I discovered four inspired readings of my favorite Gershwin selections. These included performances of “I Got Rhythm,” the three piano Preludes and Rhapsody in Blue. (I’ve already regaled Yeol Eum Son’s riveting “Embraceable You” in a few previous blogs)

First, Irina Morozova delivers a show-stopping, “I Got Rhythm,” track 13 of Gershwin Virtuoso Transcriptions:


Seymour Bernstein, Krystian Zimerman, Leonard Bernstein, and Irina Morozova are in their own unique category, having re-awakened the composer’s spirit with styled sensitivity. The rubato of the era, in a merged jazz, classical, impressionist language is what is so captivating.

Zimerman and Seymour Bernstein really get it, with the Preludes. The first and third are so characteristically jazzy, but can’t be banged out without nuance, dynamics, and taking a bit of reasonable liberty. Just staying within a strict rhythmic frame won’t capture the fancy free space the composer afforded in his music. There’s room for give and take which is the soloist’s opportunity to be creative and compelling. Tone color changes, phrasing, and tasteful rubato (flexible time) make one reading shine over another.

In Prelude 2, which is by contrast, a melancholic lullaby, Zimerman and Bernstein immerse the listener in a hypnotic trance from which they are barely released in the final measure as two notes divinely dissolve in a telling harmonic 7th relationship.

Zimerman tends to rush a tad in the middle section, however, which has a built in cello solo, (some players cross the hands) whereas Seymour Bernstein milks it and is in no haste to wind back to the opening. The recap is stunningly magical.

Krystian Zimerman

Seymour Bernstein:


In the same vein, Leonard Bernstein shines playing the Rhapsody in Blue as he conducts from the piano in a concert that took place in 1976 at the Royal Albert Hall. It’s like he had shared DNA with the composer, knowing genetically want he wanted to say.

Words cannot amply describe Lenny’s talent. What a shame, however, that the You Tube video was cut off only minutes from the climactic ending, leaving the listener musically frustrated.

In any case, his performance as well as those critiqued provided the inspiration I needed to touch off a New Year!


"When do I Play my Best" by Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein, Seymour Bernstein pianist, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, whole body listening, whole body music listening, With My Own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, word press,, you tube

“When Do I Play My Best?” An inspiring message from Seymour Bernstein

Seymour’s playing in this tableau is divinely beautiful. And having sampled the pianist’s artistry through many of his posted You Tubes, I wonder why he didn’t get the recognition he deserved during his formative years, playing in public.

At least now, at 85, he’s enjoying a renaissance of interest in his teaching, music-making, and musical/life philosophy.

Words fail to describe this inspired outpouring of poetry to the music of Bach. It arrives as we approach the New Year with renewed hope for Peace and goodwill.

Again, Happy Holidays!

A Lesson with Seymour Bernstein, “You and the Piano,” Part 4

Be sure to sample Seymour’s many performances on You Tube:

One of my favorites: (From the Schumann Fantasy Op. 17)