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“Listen to the Long Notes”

Five words resonated profoundly through a Masterclass given by Pianist, Andras Schiff at the Juilliard School. They framed a myriad of movements in Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras.

Three students offered selections by Bach, Schubert and Schumann. (The event was Live-streamed)

While Beethoven did not grace the program, Maestro Schiff’s mentoring had far-reaching implications for piano teachers sifting through suggestions about attentive listening, phrasing, spacing, harmonic rhythm, instrumentation, voicing and much more. They flowed into repertoire well beyond the limits of programming.

In my domain of mentoring and eternal music-learning, the words, “Listen to the Long Notes” struck a riveting chord. The idea of hanging with a note, especially one that stood out as a destination in an unwinding melodic thread, was pivotal to beautiful phrasing. By coincidence, such instruction nicely trickled into a Classical work I’d been poring over.

The recurrent, heart-throbbing theme from Beethoven’s Adagio Cantabile, Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (“Pathetique”) was a Masterclass beneficiary.

The well-known middle movement, framed in Classical terms, but reaching toward full-blown Romantic effusion without over-exaggeration, requires “attentive listening” that underlies many dimensions of playing expressively.

The opening melody recurring in many musical “attires,” has a directional pull toward the very long notes that can be easily over-anticipated, or played before their time. (i.e. the dotted quarter note) Time, in this case, is not metronomically measured. It is has a breathing pulse that hearkens the arrival of a note in a fulfilling place. (The decay of a preceding one must be felt to its last in order to “know” kinesthetically and affectively what comes next.)

Instrumentation and voicing also apply to this universe of peak musical expression. (Schiff made many references to strings, trumpets, even percussion through his class that ignited the imagination of students who refined their thinking about phrasing.) His prompts and metaphors gave more context to their musical expression.

As pertains to the opening of Beethoven’s middle Adagio movement, a “violin” plays the lead melody within a Trio that includes a viola and cello. The viola renders wavy broken chord-like figures, while a significant underlying cello bass line provides a necessary Fundament-driven richness to the texture. Voicing decisions encompass how to balance the “instruments” especially as the “score” shifts to 4-voices, adding a “second violin.” By increasing the voices, the dynamics shift upward.

What needs formidable mention, notwithstanding Long Note to Long note emphasis, is an understanding of how harmonic flow or rhythm influence the crafting of phrases. (shaping, sculpting lines, etc.) A Dominant to Tonic progression suggests a dip down, but it can become a cliche if over-observed. Because there’s so much repetition of the theme, the idea of varying each statement, even with an unexpected diminuendo can create a heart ripple that is otherwise lost by rigid harmonic thinking.

And finally, without reference to supple wrists and relaxed arms, expressive music-making would be under-“played.”

While I’ve veered for a moment from the LISTEN to the LONG NOTES rubric, I’ve best communicated the value of Schiff’s all-embracing wisdom in my two video offerings.

1) A Play through of the Beethoven Adagio Cantabile

2) An analysis of theme repetition in the context of attentive listening that includes LONG NOTE awareness, scoring, notation, sequences, harmonic rhythm, dynamics, etc.

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Note: Juilliard Masterclasses (Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia) can be revisited at Medici-TV

Davies Hall, piano,

A worthwhile Journey to George Li’s triumphant Davies Hall piano recital

Facebook was abuzz with reminders of George Li’s touchdown in the Bay Area’s glittering Davies concert hall, a venue that absorbs a splash of pastel beams from the neighboring flagship government building. Glass panels reflect back montages of color that provide a rush of excitement for ticket holders slipping into seats right under the bell.

FB “friends” and faithful George “followers” were PAGE alerted to a MEET and GREET event in the lobby following the recital. It would be a shower of support for a pianist we’d seen and heard by LIVE-Stream from exotic locations including Moscow and Verbier. Frames in progress had included George’s Silver Medal triumph at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, magnified on computer screens around the world!

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The Back Story

From my humble perch in Berkeley, I’d set aside 75 conscientious minutes to get to Davies Hall. It was a conservative travel measure, given lax Sunday train schedules and my propensity to get mired in Civic Center traffic as a clueless pedestrian in foreign urban terrain. (San Francisco’s maze of complex street crossings and intersections, bundled in congestion, had always seriously confused me, impeding on-foot progress in any direction).

Yet, despite well-intended, precautionary travel efforts, I couldn’t have anticipated a vexing single platform BART crisis that launched a crescendo of complications right up to my shaky finish line arrival at Davies. There, at its entrance, my concert companion/adult piano student stood patiently, dispatching block-to-block text messages to keep me on track.

With good luck and concerted teamwork, we made it to our first tier balcony seats just as George advanced toward a shining model D Steinway grand.

It was a pure bliss erasure of prior travails:

Melted deceptive cadences rippled through a crystalline rendering of Haydn’s B minor Sonata (No. 30) as trills and ornaments immaculately decorated clear melodic lines in a liquid outpouring of phrases. The middle Minuet movement was charmingly played passing with grace to a culminating Presto in brisk, bravura tempo with unswerving attention to line, shape, and contour.

Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata in F minor, op. 57, followed with tonal variation and keen structural awareness. The performance was both gripping and directional, wrapped in ethereal tonal expression.

Li’s singular sound autograph permeates his performances amidst an array of varying nuances and articulations. He has what pianist, Uchida terms “charisma” and a singular tonal personality.

Meaning and musical context are core ingredients of Li’s artistry and his wide palette of colors are at his liquid disposal through deeply felt effusions of expression. (While Li is a natural, intuitional performer, his sensitive fusion of aesthetics and intellect is always on display, exposed, as well in media interviews.)

A Presto Classical set of queries elicited thoughtful responses.

http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/interview/1893/George-Li-Live-at-the-Mariinsky

***

The Davies Hall recital, continued after Intermission with a rippling roll-out of works by Rachmaninoff and Liszt, all imbued with a permeating spirit of mature music-making that’s intrinsic to Li’s ongoing ripening process. And as a cap to a memorable evening of inspired artistry, George played his final encore–a pyro-technically charged Bizet/Carmen transcription that drove listeners to their feet in a chorus of BRAVOS!!! (This snapshot was provided by a friend who had permission to publicly post it, thanks to Li’s generosity and that of his representatives)

In a culminating MEET and GREET event, post-recital, audience members had an opportunity to share IN PERSON enthusiasm and appreciation of George’s artistry, while purchasing the artist’s newly released CD.

For me, a tete a tete with George, provided an opportunity to thank him for his generosity as a teen when he delivered well-conceived responses to my reams of technically framed questions about practicing, technique, and repertoire.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/my-interview-with-george-li-a-seasoned-pianist-at-16/

Finally, here’s an encore of gratitude to George for his inspired love of music, and for his reach into our hearts with each memorable performance. Come back soon!

piano

The Importance of Analytical Practicing

Needless repetitions that are unfocused, without attaching an analysis of what requires improvement will impede a piano student in the advancement of a composition. And while a tricky, isolated passage or complete section of a piece may have been carefully learned by layers in slow tempo, the very same area of the piece can develop finger traps, stumbling zones, and voicing problems as the tempo is inched up.

This is when the teacher patiently intervenes to clarify what retro-baby steps must be taken to smooth out shaky measures so the march toward more brisk playing is an attainable goal.

Unfortunately, many students will say, “You must have told me about that same problem in those measures a 100 times, and I just haven’t paid attention.” Added to such a pupil’s self-humiliation, is the belief that he/she is being LEFT BACK or is not up to the challenge of GOING FORWARD at the pace expected. EXPECTATION is the pupil’s self-made burden that inhibits progress and growth.

To bring a self-punitive, guilt-ridden pupil back to reality is to reassure him/her that even the most advanced players BACK UP, and revisit passages that can become riddled with unexpected glitches. The difference is, they usually have the insight from experience to apply an objective, methodical approach to extricate themselves from the doldrums of despair.

In so many words, there’s always a way dig oneself out of a pit if presence of mind and thoughtful analysis are applied.

Today, I worked with a student who’d been nicely upping his tempo in Fur Elise, until he reached the “stormy” tremolo framed section through measures 61-77. At this point, he lost the thread of the melody through the chords, and muddled a few measures by over-pedaling them. The arms and wrists also needed enlistment in a way that prevented tension and tightness. (Some of the movements were jerky inhibiting a GROUP flow of notes in horizontal procession while shaping of lines through dynamic swells was inadequate.)

Naturally, I reminded the student that unfocused repetition would not accomplish the improvement he desired.

Rather than extract footage from today’s lesson, I chose to make a short video that zoned in on the crux his problems in order to aid practicing during the week. These lesson supplements are always valuable for both pupil and teacher.

Alessandro Deljavan, blog metrics, blogmetrics.org, pianist, piano, piano blog, Uncategorized

Alessandro Deljavan is a uniquely gifted pianist

Sometimes winners of piano competitions are not true messengers of great musical artistry. They might succeed in pleasing a panel of judges who often reward interpretive conformity and convention bundled in pyrotechnical displays, bestowing the Gold medal upon the least offending contender. Yet such a career launch may be short-lived once the round-by-round environment is no longer a convenient safety net. A truly creative musician must ultimately emancipate himself from a competitive framing and develop an unbridled, form of individual expression.

Alessandro Deljavan is one of the few young pianists of his generation whose participation in the renowned Cliburn Competition brought singular adulation from audiences far and wide, but did not attach a Gold, Silver or Bronze Medal. His BIGGER THAN LIFE talent, LIVE-STREAMED from Fort Worth, Texas, in 2009 and 2013, drew a chorus of praise from pianists, teachers, and listeners around the world who enthusiastically mouse-clicked their way to his scheduled offerings. Yet, when the Italian pianist did not make the Finals, global sighs of outrage were funneled into Discretionary honors that would not soften international waves of disappointment.

Fort Worth arts critic, Gregory Sullivan and others summed up the reaction to Deljavan’s playing during the course of the Cliburn rounds:

“Deljavan’s performance was revelatory in every respect. Everyone in the hall knew that they were hearing something special-something wonderful from the very first notes. At the end, the spontaneous eruption of cheers was so different from the perfunctory ovation that any decent performance is awarded, that being part of the thrilled crowd was a unique experience in itself.”

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It’s no surprise that Deljavan is a virtuoso and poet of the piano without needing the rubber stamp of Competition juries. (Yet, he’s amassed a generous serving of first place awards at International concours)

With a mellifluous singing tone, deft technique, and immaculate phrasing, his deeply probing art serves the music and composer.

(I must admit to having shed tears listening to this Concerto excerpt) Deljavan’s riveting emotional connection to a score comes through in all style periods.

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I had a rare opportunity to converse with Alessandro who was in the Silicon Valley area (CA) performing chamber music with violinist, Daniela Cammarano, and cellist, Eugene Lifschitz. The group will showcase the works of Beethoven and Brahms at the School of Music and Arts at Finn Center, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View, CA. Sunday, April 16th, 2017 at 3 p.m. Otherwise Deljavan is jet-setting around the world giving concerts to appreciative audiences.

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Alessandro shared his thoughts about the role of chamber music in the development of a pianist, along with providing a profile of his earliest exposure to the piano, journeying into the present.

LINKS:

Deljavan’s OFFICIAL WEBSITE: (Click “MEDIA” for more performance samples)

http://alessandrodeljavan.welltempered.com

Discography:

http://alessandrodeljavan.welltempered.com/#discography

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/alessandro-deljavan-is-a-cliburn-winner-for-me/

patience, patient practicing, piano

Patience and Practicing

I rarely write what is characterized as a fluff piece, a filler blog that meanders around the powers of positive thinking and related platitudes. Such flighty commentary often sounds time-worn and replete with cliches.

Yet, I have to admit that in my own cosmos of practicing and learning, having all-embracing “PATIENCE” frames my most fundamental pathway to musical progress and development. (Naturally, this paradigm filters down to my students, who are consistently reminded that their journey is taken in “patient,” incremental baby steps.)

In so many words, Patience is my mantra that I spread far and wide with the fervency of a musical missionary.

But putting Religion aside, I have observed through decades of teaching, that many adult students have a particular, self-inflicted time line for learning a new piece to their level of “expectation.” They nip the word “patience” in the bud, setting a preconceived deadline for the type of achievement they have subjectively determined.

Perceiving pages of notes, many crowded with double and triple beams in fast tempo, they resist the very slow temporal framing that magnifies all the necessary details in the score. Add in a need to practice with separate hands that comports with this mega-lens view of a composition. So through this parceled undertaking, it takes PATIENCE to unravel the many dimensions of learning: fingering assignment, meter, articulation, harmonic analysis, structure, phrasing, dynamics, mood, character and more.

Finally, without PATIENCE underlying a learning experience, a student cannot begin to ENJOY the PROCESS of engaging with a new piece.

And here’s where PATIENCE is wedded to gratification in the present. It is NOT delayed gratification as is commonly assumed. The JOY of exploring in the here and now; breathing into notes that are relaxed in time, so that they are “felt” from their inception through their decay, and how they relate to notes that precede and follow them, is made possible by a SUSPENSION of time, where it does not exist with limits, but instead has its own temporal inner space.

I guess, I’m somewhat influenced by my Eurhythmics teacher, Inda Howland when I laud these timeless metaphors that she well- integrated into her life as a musician and teacher. And if there was anyone who had a wealth of “patience” it was this treasured Oberlin Conservatory icon.

To summarize and integrate the ingredients of “patient” practicing by way of a video representation is difficult, since many adult students have traveled through many months of practicing a particular piece, realizing that there are always more enlightenments on the horizon at each learning juncture.

In this particular sample, one of my pupils, who has “patiently” worked on the Beethoven Bagatelle, Op. 119, No.1 for several months, if not a year, is sculpting, shaping lines with the added dimension of wedding words to phrasing in a SINGING frame. At least as this lesson unfolded, the best prompt to improve the contour of a particular phrase was to seize upon a few choice words with the added ingredient of Harmonic rhythm to clarify the contour of a phrase to final cadence.

I’m reminded here of the impressionable delivery of pianist, Irina Morozova when she made words and music the theme of the video I was privileged to make and circulate. (The link is included below). This approach is inevitably part of a progressive unraveling in the learning process that I referenced earlier. (As it happened I was studying this very piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2, and it brought some “new” revelations that I was open to absorb without a defensive, boundary imposed attitude.)

When the student is patient, he/she is open to these new awakenings, transformations, re-assessments, and refinements that are the keys to musical growth and development.

***

A second lesson sample where patient examination of phrasing, harmonic rhythm and choreography apply.

LINKS:

Music and Words: The window to learning the Chopin Nocturne in Eb, Op. 9, No. 2 (Irina Morozova)

The gift of Irina’s “patient” practicing:

Eurhythmics, A whole body listening experience
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/eurhythmics-a-whole-body-listening-experience-video/

piano, piano blog, piano instruction, piano teaching

Reading Between the Lines: Making decisions about Dynamics

Dynamics cannot always be taken literally when a player embarks upon serious study of a particular composition. In fact, what often governs the shaping of phrases through many measures even with composer inserted soft (piano) or loud (Forte) directives, are harmonic rhythm and metrical considerations. So while a set of measures might attach a Crescendo in the score, it might be modified by a harmonic resolution that requires a dip in the intensified journey to climax.

Diminished chords that have chromatic dependency, for example, often fold in or taper into tonics, dominants, or any other sonorities within a scale. They have an organic pull that frequently will not be specifically notated. Same applies to the effect of Meter, and its overall framing through a composition. In 3/8 time, the last beat will be the lightest, unless the composer is bent on a syncopated effect. It would be un-musical, therefore, to hammer away at the end of the measure even within an overall, broad brush FORTE assigned portion of music.

Similarly, passing dissonances and pedaling decisions that aim to avoid blurring, will alter weight transfer over measures, precluding obedience to a fixed FORTE.

Illustrative of the aforementioned, and what can influence a dynamic landscape are revealed in Beethoven’s Fur Elise, tremolo Measures 61-78.

beethoven-fur-elise-stormy-section-1

While the pianist must consider an overall intensification and de-intensification through this section, he will have to understand the effect of harmony, meter, and destination points on his dynamic decision-making. In this endeavor, he must “read between the lines” and create a “musically”-based mosaic of nuances.

Beethoven, Fur Elise, piano, piano lessons

Piano Technique: Creating an illusion of legato

It’s a challenge to play scales, arpeggios, and passages lifted out of the mainstream Classical piano repertoire with a well-shaped and nicely spaced legato. (smooth and connected playing) But it can be more daunting to navigate particular sections of masterworks that have legato markings over chords, for instance, that carry a melodic thread that is impossible to realize seamlessly without compromise, and a shift in consciousness.

By example, I refer to Beethoven’s Fur Elise, measures 62-68, that’s easily characterized as a “stormy” section with its relentless tremolo in the (Bass) Left Hand, while the Right hand above, has the task of “voicing” chords that carry a haunting melody in the soprano. In order to obey the notation of slurs over a procession of chords, thirds, and sixths, with a melody to flesh out at the very top, the player has to devise a means of preserving a smooth melodic flow, by letting go of certain fingers in deference others.
beethoven-fur-elise-stormy-section-1

The sustain pedal is pivotal to the whole undertaking, because it can hold down elements of chords that would otherwise be missing or lost in the prioritizing of melodic movement in the uppermost voice. However, the pedal cannot replace a well thought out finger-connecting strategy that shores up the legato, albeit with some missing ingredients in lower voices, that will be filled in by well-conceived pedaling.

In the attached video, I model an approach to the “stormy” section that creates an illusion of legato by demonstrating fingering choices in concert with maneuvers of the arm, wrist, and hand.