piano

Chamber music and pianists: seamless interaction, ensemble, and musical growth

Most piano students don’t get ample opportunity to play piano trios, quartets, quintets, etc. because they’re consumed with learning solo repertoire and developing their technical/musical skills. Thankfully, the ongoing Cliburn International Piano Competition, in progress, fills this common void by reminding us that chamber music is integral to the development of a well-rounded musician. It underscores that pianists are not accessories to an ensemble weighted toward string or wind players. (Both Murray Perahia and Richard Goode enjoyed years of chamber music making well before their solo careers blossomed. Perahia was a regular, collaborating with the Budapest String Quartet on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, while Goode was a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.)

My own ensemble experiences date back to my adolescent years when I was a dual piano/violin student, savoring participation as second fiddle in a string quartet coached by Boston Symphony Principal violist, Eugene Lehner. (Merrywood Music Camp in Lenox, MA)

Simultaneously, I was assigned a keyboard role in the Gigue movement of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg 5 to be performed as the Camp Finale. A blog about my errant entrance “at the recapitulation” might have caused most players to cringe at any further group interactions, but I carried on, finding myself many years later, immersed in the Beethoven “Ghost Trio” with an insecure page turner (food columnist of the Fresno Bee) who advanced two pages forward while my nursing infant at a glitzy dinner party scowled for a feed. Ironically, the lavish home was enlisted for a shoot in Alfred Hitchcock’s film, The Birds with Tippi Hedren, which added a hauntingly perfect cloaking of our ensemble. Immersed in eerie tremolos and diminished harmonies, we were at one, in an ebb and flow of undulating phrases.

… such a musical encounter nicely flowed into a few more chamber music opportunities that interspersed my solo repertoire studies. I played the Mozart Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K. 478 at the 92nd Street Y, coached by Yuval Waldman while my unreliable page turner snored through the Development section. Randomly occurring misfortunes such as these inspire pianists to draw on a repository of thorough preparation and increased Mindfulness.

Singular focus and sensitive interplay among players also apply to performing a Mozart piano Concerto which is the epitome of a chamber music framing. I was lucky to play the Mozart Piano Concerto no. 17 in G Major, K. 453 at the NYC H.S. of Performing Arts Winter Concert. And having had a number of prior interactions with musicians in quartets and quintet settings amplified my understanding of a needed responsiveness between music-makers. One can certainly apply the study of Bach counterpoint to chamber music preparation, with voicing so paramount to both, but unless a player is in the center of forces within the ensemble environment, he/she cannot fully appreciate the requirements of a cooperative, collaborative undertaking.

The Cliburn Competition, in progress, recently showcased 12 semi-finalists who each performed a selected Mozart Concerto that preceded the official Chamber Music Round. In the Concerto segment, the Fort Worth Symphony seemed over-sized for music that should have had a clearer, more transparent, ensemble inspired dialog between soloist and orchestra. Even the full dimension D minor, K. 466 came across sounding like a late Beethoven symphony in tutti (orchestra) sections. The added acoustical reverberation of Bass Hall contributed to the drowning out of crystalline keyboard passages as pianists labored to compete with woodwinds, timpani, and audibly loud streams of string choirs.

The official “Chamber Music” round at Cliburn with six surviving Finalists, was in full bloom during the last two evenings. It produced notable performances of Antonín Dvořák’s Quintet for Piano and Strings No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81 featuring the magnificent Brentano Quartet. (My connection to the second violinist, Serena Canin, is through her uncle Stuart Canin, my violin teacher at the Oberlin Conservatory.) He was the brilliant first violinist of the Oberlin String Quartet. Years later, Canin relocated to the Bay area to become Concertmaster of the San Francisco Orchestra. Serena’s father, Martin Canin, is the distinguished pianist/teacher, and emeritus Professor, the Juilliard School. Without doubt, less than six degrees of separation hallmark the music world.

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At the Cliburn event, pianists, Kenneth Broberg and Georgy Tchaidze rose to the occasion in the Dvorak chamber work, while Daniel Hsu delivered a heart-rending reading of Cesar Franck’s Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor. His uniquely sensitive solo opening seamlessly flowed into an ethereal collaboration, inspiring Brentano to pulsate with more passion than usual. It’s clear that quartet members respond in kind when a pianist is fully engaged and intertwined with them–one who is attuned to structure, harmonic rhythm, counterpoint, thematic motifs, and dynamic give and take.

Daniel Hsu’s interaction included all the aforementioned.

June 8, 2017

http://cliburn2017.medici.tv/en/performance/finale-2

Finally, pianists should not seal themselves in a vacuum of solo repertoire study, but should branch out and add a significant amount of chamber music experiences to their musical journeys.

Both solo and collaborative undertakings complement each other, enlarging and enriching a musician’s universe.

Eugene Lehner, Horenstainer violin 1799 Mittenwald, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Mittenwald, piano, Shirley Kisten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway upright piano model 1098, vintage violin, violin, word press, word press.com, wordpress

Showcasing two of my exquisite instruments (Violin and Piano)

First the violin, a 1799 Horenstainer, Mittenwald that replaced the “cigar box” I was handed as a kid. My precious teacher, Samuel Gardner selected this German original for me in Paris, France. From there, I took it to Merrywood music camp in Lenox, MA where I coached under Eugene Lehner of the Boston Symphony.

lehnerandmemerrywood

Oberlin bound, I studied briefly with Stuart Canin, (former concertmaster SFO) subsequently giving up violin entirely, shifting my emphasis to piano.

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Steinway Upright Model 1098

It cohabits with my Steinway grand in a tight-fitting Berkeley space.

Steinway upright reduced by 75 75 75 75

Mac back and Steinway pianos

Here’s the piano tuner waxing poetic about it and playing a snatch, followed by my grabbing the bench for a portion of Fur Elise.

The complete Beethoven composition is played, revealing Steinway’s heartfelt resonance.

shirley_kirsten@yahoo.com

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A Long Lost Concert Program turns up on a dusty grand piano

One of the fringe benefits of tidying up a piano room filled with unsorted piles of music and the rest, is finding a gold mine of goodies that have been missing for months, if not years.

Have you ever experienced lost this, found that–found that, lost this?

It’s embarrassing, but as we age, more of the latter occurs. (found/lost, found/lost, ad nauseum)

At least one happy hunting ground experience, however, produced a recovered memento of a Tanglewood concert. The embracing story surrounded the late Isaac Stern who stole my heart playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony. It was during a music camp summer spent in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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Tracking my 6 or so years as a violinist, I found myself in the throes of two music camp experiences. The one at Merrywood acquired a memory bank of richly woven anecdotes.

Its unique proximity to the Tanglewood Festival afforded weekly trips to Sunday morning BSO rehearsals, and interspersed jaunts to chamber music and orchestra concerts. These were the bread and butter of our musical lives.

The singular concert carved into my memory, besides one where Lukas Foss played the Bach d minor concerto, was Isaac Stern’s appearance under Charles Munch. (During the summer, 1961 there were a host of guest conductors ascending the podium.) A uniquely compact maestro, Pierre Monteux, climbed up a solid oak stool, looking like an elf, though he conducted like a giant.

After Stern’s riveting performance under the stars with a shell embracing soloist and orchestra, I should have had consideration for my fellow campers who were squeezed into carbon-emission fuming buses awaiting a missing teen. Who could that have been? (Was I a runaway- in-progress or just a love-sick adolescent hounding an autograph?)

I was off and running from the brood of Merrywooders who were bound for Ruth Hurwitz’s quaint camp-site bordering the property of French Hornist, James Stagliano. A well-known imbiber, it was a well-circulated legend that BSO Jim took a swig from his horn right smack in his orchestra seat. Was it NOT saliva he was shaking from his mouthpiece?

Stagliano’s early-morning horn calls started our day following a blaring Bach “Brandenburg” 5, piped into the second floor where we campers slept in tightly-squeezed cots.

Our daily schedule included practice periods, ensemble rehearsals, private and group music lessons, choir singing by the fireplace, and campfires. But these activities were no match for our tour de force trips to the Berkshire Festival concerts.

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The night of one sweltering July, Isaac Stern outplayed himself igniting my immediate impulse to race after him for a morsel of human contact plus a time-honored autograph.

I found him standing regally in the Green room wearing his signature silk scarf. An adoring mom was beside him. He looked worn by fatigue, but signed my program in a gesture of kindness. I will always remember his generosity.

Tears had flowed down his cheeks during his performance making it even more emotionally poignant. Or might those droplets have been beads of sweat contoured by sizzling hot lights? It’s fascinating how the memory creates its own staging. A tender pouring would have added a nice effect.

The aftermath:

Following my autograph-seeking coup with Stern, I was hunted down by camp authorities and grounded for a week. Punishment was meted out: no s’mores at the Saturday campfire. (chocolate-covered marshmallows) and a suspension of attendance at chamber music concerts in the shed. (not a venue for paddling)

That’s not all that happened at Merrywood.

An August camp concert provided a breath-taking finale!

Read more!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/a-breathtaking-music-camp-finale/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/performance-anxiety-and-the-pianist/

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A Breathtaking Merrywood Music Camp Finale!

If I let my imagination run wild, I would frame this writing around Robin Hood.

The backdrop was the Merrywood Music Camp, nestled in the Berkshires in a dense forest where a friendly outlaw could easily rob from the rich in Lenox, and retreat into the pines, practically unnoticed.

Merrywood was a stone’s throw from Tanglewood, home of the well-established music festival. The camp owner, Ruth Hurwitz, who resided for most of the year in upscale West Hartford, Connecticut brought a contingent of Hartt School of Music students and teachers to her rustic summer sanctuary where she housed two dozen or so campers in a three-story abode with a charming attic space. The place resembled a college co-op like the one I’d remembered at Oberlin. May Cottage, my Frosh digs had the same look with an added roomy basement that gave refuge during tornado warnings.

Merrywood’s space accommodated rows of cots on the two highest floors and down below in the living room was a grand piano, a quaint fireplace, and a Bay window with a view of the magnificent wooded landscape. A stone’s throw from the property, James Stagliano, Principal French Hornist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra serenaded neighbors with his mid-morning horn calls, when otherwise in the ranks of the orchestra, rumor had it he took a swig of spirits from the brass instrument itself.

Campers were awakened promptly at 6:00 a.m. to a blasting Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 piped into rooms on insensitively loud speakers. Jarred out of their sleep, they were conditioned to revile otherwise heavenly music.

By a strange quirk of fate, I was selected to play the last movement of this very Brandenburg 5 (piano part–really meant for the harpsichord) at the final concert concluding camp. The Allegro in 2/4 meter, laden with triplets and tricky rests in between, was a challenge to count, and my first entrance of the subject, imitated by a violinist, flautist, and the whole ensemble, was a hefty undertaking. All I remember was fumbling when my motif returned one last time in advance of the culminating cadence. Before I knew it, the whole composition folded like a house of cards. The music came to a grinding halt as conductor, Neil, articulately whispered, “Back to the recapitulation.”

My heart was racing! In a frenzy, I wondered if I could acquire the presence of mind to count beats leading to my encore entrance?

Like a cyclone, a string of triplets flew by as pulsations quickened.

Suddenly I lost all consciousness of what we’d rehearsed!

Like a racing car driver, revving the engine for the last lap, I skirted into the ensemble, like merging into 3 lanes of traffic!–Meanwhile, the ensemble held its own catapulting into the final cadence!

We made it! And the ordeal was over! Thankfully it was in the past, until revisited at Merrywood’s campfire farewell.

After we gorged ourselves on barbecued franks, baked beans, and s’mores, staff presented an improvised skit, highlighting the summer’s events.

On the front burner was “Back to the Recapitulation,” repeated several times over, earning a ripple of applause amidst a good deal of chuckles. Right then and there I experienced a flush of embarrassment.

To say I felt like a social outcast, was an understatement!

After my ill-fated performance, I never returned to Merrywood, but nonetheless, i cherished memories of Stagliano’s horn calls; Sunday morning trips to BSO rehearsals with Charles Munch at the helm; pint-size, guest conductor, Pierre Monteux climbing to the podium to conduct the War of 1812 Overture; Isaac Stern playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with tears rolling down his cheeks; Lukas Foss, pianist, rendering a magnificent performance of Bach’s D minor concerto, and Eugene Lehner, principal violist, coaching the string quartet where I played second violin.

A tarnished photo

lehnerandmemerrywood

And who could forget the memorable field trip to nearby Stockbridge where Norman Rockwell gave campers a personal tour of his home. It was filled with magnificent paintings, some which graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post.

Finally, if any Merrywood music campers are out there, please rekindle memories of our Brandenburg summer.

Let’s come out of the woodwork and find each other.
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IMG_NEW Brandenburg

Brandenburg p 29
RELATED:

Memories, Memories: The Merrywood Property in its current state
http://www.berkshirepropertyagents.com/for-sale/sold/ma/stockbridge/158/

Another Music Camp Journey:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/appel-farm-music-camp-and-the-chicken-coops/