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

Bel Kaufman, Claudio Arrau, Daniel Waitzman, Elaine Comparone, Eugene Lehner, Franz Mohr, Gerard Schwarz, Herbert Gardner, Indiana University, James Gardner actor, Leon Fleisher, Lillian Freundlich, Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, Marble Hill Projects, Marjorie Janove, Menahem Pressler, Murray Perahia, Raphael de Silva, Roselle Kemalyan, Samuel Gardner, Seagate, Seymour Bernstein, six degrees of separation, six degrees of separation in the music world, Theodor Leschetizky, Vladimir Horowitz

Shrinking degrees of separation in the music world?

The musical universe is smaller than we think. And perhaps this writing will incubate a linked chain of “connections” that will go further–especially since my relocation to Berkeley, California (September, 2012)

So here it is:

Now that I’m well past my Oberlin Conservatory student years, I notice that Lillian Freundlich, my beloved teacher during my New York City H.S. of Performing Arts era, is honored posthumously at the Peabody Institute website by students a bit younger than me.

lillianfreundlich  lil2

An Oberlin alumna, she began commuting to Baltimore, launching a second teaching career after her husband, Irwin, former Chair of the Juilliard Piano Department, passed away. That followed my relocation to Fresno in 1979. It’s no wonder that I would stumble upon Leon Fleisher, concert pianist, and Peabody faculty member when he performed on our local Philip Lorenz Memorial Concerts Series. He had spoken glowingly about my teacher.

If one went back far enough, Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich’s piano teachers would have led to the famous pedagogue, Theodore Leschetizky, a historic name with its own treasure trove of connections. Reeling out his many students and theirs would unleash a gush of them with their tie-ins to the next generation of performing pianists. The list of virtuoso concert artists Leschetizky trained included Anna Yesipova, Ignaz Friedman, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Artur Schnabel, Mark Hambourg, Alexander Brailowsky, Benno Moiseiwitsch, and Mieczysław Horszowski.

Horszowski crops up on a short list of Murray Perahia’s mentors. The legendary pianist had a connection to the Marlboro Festival in Vermont. (Murray was my classmate at the New York City High School of Performing Arts.)

Speaking of teachers and their descendants, I studied with Ena Bronstein before she left Fresno and continued her career at the Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, NJ. Ena, a Chilean, was a student of Claudia Arrau’s assistant, Raphael De Silva, but played often for Arrau. When Gilmore award-winning pianist, Ingrid Fliter performed in Fresno, her bio revealed studies with De Silva, and by association a connection to Philip Lorenz, former husband of Ena Bronstein. Lorenz founded the Fresno Keyboard Concerts Series and helped Arrau edit the complete edition of Beethoven sonatas.

Emigration to California and more connections.

No sooner than I had touched down in the richly fertile San Joaquin Valley, I bumped into Lillian’s Freundlich’s Oberlin Conservatory roommate, Roselle Bezazian Kemalyan, from the class of 1933.

Kemalyan had set up the Bezazian piano scholarship at Oberlin, her legacy into the Millennium. The Bezazian name, has its own reservoir of connections.

Before I had even met Lillian Freundlich through her nephew, Douglas, (a well established Lutenist) and former camper at Merrywood in Lenox, Massachusetts, I acquired my first decent piano, a Sohmer upright formerly owned by Lucy Brown, a well-known New York City based concert pianist.

Uncannily, I recently discovered that Seymour Bernstein, the revered pianist and teacher, author of With Your Own Two Hands, had taught a student, who was a former pupil of the late, Lucy Brown, and “loved her.” (Would Lucy have known Ethel Elfenbein, my first West side teacher who played on the East River concert series?) Both had made appearances at historic Town Hall.

In the same e-mail exchange, I discovered that Bernstein had used Franz Mohr to maintain his Steinway B. The piano technician turned up in Fresno in 1990, to help resuscitate my Steinway “M.” Dispatched by Steinway and Sons, after my article “How Could This Happen to My Piano?!” was published in the Piano Quarterly, Mohr had just completed a book memorializing his years as Vladimir Horowitz’s personal tuner.

Not to forget that Bernstein lists Alexander Brailowsky (a tie to Leschitizky) as one of his teachers.

Rosina Lhevinne, ushers in another gush of connections too long to tabulate, except to mention that I attended Lhevinne’s 80th birthday celebration concert at the Juilliard School back in 1960. Van Cliburn, John Browning, and Mischa Dichter, among her many illustrious students, were no doubt present at that event.

Flash forward:

portraitelainecomparone2

Having met Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist, through her Internet postings and You Tube channel a few years ago, I discovered that she played chamber music with Daniel Waitzman, recorder virtuoso, who was a Marble Hill Projects dweller when I was living there from age 5 to 19. In fact, I heard him sample three different range recorders in his apartment one afternoon when he was about 18 years old. A Vivaldi presto played on a sopranino produced an unabashed display of virtuosity.

If that wasn’t enough of a common thread, I learned that Comparone took chamber music classes with Eugene Lehner, former principal violist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra when she was a Brandeis student. Lehner coached a string quartet at the Merrywood Music Camp where I played second violin.

lehnerandmemerrywood

Toss in Diana Halperin, violinist, and Gerard Schwarz, conductor whom I knew at the HS of Performing Arts. Both eventually performed with Comparone.

Taking a journey down memory lane, I’ll never forget the day I had bumped into two ladies at the Richmond California Amtrak station as I was heading home to Fresno from my El Cerrito piano studio.

Noticing their thick Bronx accents, I edged up to them like an in-your-face New Yorker would, and inquired about their origins. No sooner than I got my answer, we were seated tightly at a small table on southbound train 712 jabbering away.

In the course of the first twenty minutes, I discovered that both women lived right beside the music school I attended as a small child which was located off Kingsbridge Road and Jerome. To my astonishment, these ladies confided that they knew the eccentric Director, Mrs. Elston who came with beaded glasses and an officious demeanor. She sermonized about a “progressive” musical education that had a political and dialectical overlay. I just sat impatiently as a 6-year old, while my mother sucked it all up.

What an amazing coincidence to meet two people who knew Elston back then! As it played out, one of the travelers became a Facebook friend and lives in Florida. The other, who relocated to Arkansas, has been out of touch.

Bel Kaufman, author of the bestseller, Up the Down Staircase, and my English teacher at the Performing High Arts school celebrated as FAME knew my great aunt Sonia, among other relatives at Seagate, (on Long Island) Ardent lovers of Sholom Aleichem’s writings gathered in a lovely setting to read and share cultural kinship (in the 1940s) No doubt music was a vital part of these convergences.

This is a good place to insert a discovery that “Musakant” was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name acquired through painstaking Genealogy research conducted by my second cousin, Leon Ginenthal. I tried to go one step further, to find out if the family owned a piano factory in Eastern Europe as had been rumored. But I was resoundingly stopped in my tracks by a Music History Professor at the City University of New York. She insisted that all arrows pointed to St. Petersburg, not remotely a part of my family’s migration. Kaput! Finished! NO CONNECTION!

See https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/little-apple-big-apple-mayhem-murder-and-music-my-familys-history-and-genealogy

In a less “related” Facebook driven search, I had a Page reunion with Herbert Gardner, my Orchestra teacher at John Peter Tetard JHS 143 in the Bronx. His father, Samuel Gardner, became my violin teacher in New York City. Having played with the famous Kneisel Quartet based in New England, Sam probably knew, Eugene Lehner, a long-time member of the Kolisch Quartet that played in Boston. (The New England connection)

Since Gardner Sr. made chamber music appearances at Blue Hill, Maine, where his teacher, Franz Kneisel founded the summer festival, it was no surprise that Murray Perahia would turn up in the 60s as a Blue Hill chamber musician along with his appearances at Marlboro in Vermont. (the Rudolf and Peter Serkin hub)

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is the next spin-off. Murray Perahia, Richard Stoltzman, Richard Goode, Elaine Comparone, and Andre Michel Shub come to mind. These names pop up in different locales. Stoltzman graced Fresno with a psychedelic concert, using a big screen of abstracts as an extra-musical backdrop. Perahia presented on Community Concerts here before it folded. Comparone insists she passed through Fresno under CC auspices. In one form or another she turns up as the ultimate in harpsichord playing. Goode, a close companion of Perahia more than tags along, having culled a reputation as a serious Beethoven interpreter and master class presenter.

As it happened, I heard Goode play in Karl-Ulrich Schnabel’s Masterclass at the Mannes College of Music back in the early 70s. Richard was then in his twenties, and performed the Schumann Fantasie. Speaking of Mannes, my latest connection to that music school, is through Irina Morozova, accomplished pianist and faculty member. I spotted her incredible set of You Tubes that revealed great artistry and sensitivity. She provides an additional tie-in to the Y, where I took coaching in Chamber Music from Yuval Waldman in the early 1970s, except that Morozova teaches at the Special School, known as the “other Kaufman Center on 67th Street,” not 92nd.

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Flashing back:

Herb Gardner from my JHS days, it turns out, fathered son James, whom I remember from his containment in the stroller. A well respected actor, he turned up as Facebook friends with P.A. Grad, Alexander Carney, one of our “shared” connections.

Lillian Freundlich was friends with Rudolf Serkin I discovered when I greeted him in the Green room of Carnegie Hall following his memorable performance of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata. He was so kind to embrace me and send is warm regards to her.

Peter Serkin, Rudolf’s son, was close friends with Harris Goldsmith, one of my musical companions in New York City when I was living on West 74th Street. Harris was writing for High Fidelity Magazine reviewing concerts and disks. He was pals with Murray Perahia and Richard Goode.

Murray Perahia, a year ahead of me at P.A. turned up in Fresno for a Master class, three weeks before my delivery date. In a mini-reunion of sorts, I performed Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, on edge.

Jerry Grossman, cellist and youngest member of the New York Philharmonic was my floor neighbor on West 74th Street and Amsterdam. I attended “Young People’s Concerts of the Phil,” when Leonard Bernstein was music director.

Loaded with musicians, our building housed apartment dwellers with even less than six degrees of separation between them. You could apply the same to the historic Ansonia a few blocks west which was stacked with opera singers who serenaded passersby below.

Members of the Metropolitan Opera came through the Ansonia with its own wealth of connections.

Marjorie Janove, piano teacher in Portland Oregon, to whom I referred a student, received her Doctorate at Indiana University, where she studied with Menahem Pressler. I heard Menahem perform with the Beaux Art Trio in Tanglewood when I attended Merrywood Music camp.

Another favorite from the Indiana school was Gyorgy Sebok, also known to Janove, who presented Masterclasses at the Oberlin Conservatory when I was a student.

Gabriela Montero, concert pianist and improviser who performed in Fresno, was a pupil of Rosalina Sackstein, one of my family members through marriage. I played for Rosalina when she visited my uncle and aunt in Hartsdale, New York. Sackstein was Chair of the Piano Department, University of Miami.

On that note, I’ll pause until more “connections” rise to the surface from my deep-layered, fuzzy memory.

Oops, I forgot that I spotted an Oberlin alumna at Seymour Bernstein’s You Tube Channel site. He featured “Lydia Seifter,” who was a member of the Jack Radunsky “rat pack.” (A group of his students, including myself, formed a clique at the Oberlin Conservatory)

**

Enough said.

If you have “connections” to share, please send. There’s no telling where all this could lead! We might be related.

LINKS:

Most recent documented Oberlin CONNECTION: to David and Eleanor Bidwell through John Bidwell, Authors Den contributor


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/a-love-story-woven-on-a-chopin-canvas-and-oberlin-campus/

My family’s genealogy

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/09/little-apple-big-apple-mayhem-murder-and-music-my-familys-history-and-genealogy/

My High School Years:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/my-new-york-city-high-school-of-performing-arts-fame-yearbook-and-what-i-found/

Music, Life, and Memories (Recollections of Lillian Freundlich)

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/music-life-and-memories-you-tube-video/

Piano teachers and students/Reluctant Farewells

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/piano-teachers-students-and-reluctant-farewells/

http://www.harpsichord.org

Eugen Lehner, Eugene Lehner, Haddorff, harpsichord, Harpsichord Unlimited, interpreting Mozart, Juilliard School, Kolisch Quarter, Kolisch Quartet, learning piano, Lenox, Lillian Freundlich, Lillian Lefkovsky Freundlich, Massachusetts, Merrywood Music Camp, mind body connection, mindful piano practicing, molto cantabile, Mozart, Mozart 545 Andante, Mozart sonata in C K545, Mozart String Quartet K. 387, music, music and heart, music and the breath, music teachers association of california, musical inspiration, musical phrasing, musical phrasing and breathing, New York, New York City, New York City High School of Performing Arts, pedaling at the piano, phrasing at the piano, pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano playing and breathing, piano playing and relaxation, piano repertoire, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, practicing the left hand at the piano, publishersmarketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, singing tone legato, slow mindful practicing, Uncategorized, W.A. Mozart, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Mozart memories, reflections and revisits (Videos)

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

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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.

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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

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

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

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/mozart-the-1788-trios/id257027599

6 degrees of separation, Appel Farm in Elmer New Jersey, Bach D minor piano concerto, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Hartt College of Music, Hartt School of Music, Lukas Foss, Norman Rockwell, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano society, Piano Street, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, Pierre Monteux, playing Brandenburg concerto no. 5, samoors, Saturday Evening Post, talkclassical.com, Teach Street, technique, teenagers, whole body music listening, word press, wordpress.com

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.
***
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/