piano performance, piano playing

Favorite you tube video picks for 2018! (carried over from 2017)

I slipped up and missed the deadline for my end of 2017 super You Tube picks–realizing a bit late, that readers were celebrating the New Year in different time zones. Piano lovers from Japan and Australia had already popped champagne bottles 18 or so hours before those of us partook on the West Coast–And with USA Central, Mountain, Pacific and Eastern Standard times causing out of synch drifts of celebration, my Big Five You Tube List fizzled at 9 p.m. P.S.T, Dec. 31, as the stroke of Midnight Times Square (E.S.T.) ball drop welcomed 2018!

Still, redemption lay in a timeless series launched by the New York Times with long columns of piggy-backed you tube videos, Classical in genre, that were time-monitored for their mind-blowing moments. They fleshed out feats of virtuosity; heaven-on-earth phrase turns; wailing trills and heart-melting cadences. A harpist, Amy Turk, was singled out for her miraculous transcription/performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, amassing over 4 million views!

It became my bonus heist pick, falling outside keyboard bounds.

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In the Piano Universe

Luis Fernando Perez

http://www.luisfernandoperez.com/homepage.html

The artistry of Luis Fernando Pérez (Spain, b. 1977) topped my list, though choices following, from various years, accorded no preferential order.

Pianist, Perez, was my most treasured “new” You Tube surfing discovery, though he’d been circulating through Europe for years as soloist, chamber music player, and recording artist, earning performance awards along the way. Yet even with prestigious IMG Management, Perez had not reached the pinnacle of “big Name,” billboard success, having instead chosen a more true-to-art journey, reflected in his passion for Spanish repertoire that he chose to play in selected concert venues. (Carnegie Hall, or the Walt Disney complex were not along his musical route)

Perez’s website had revealed touch-downs at European Festivals interspersed by a foray to Kansas for a Master class and performance. He landed in North Carolina for a recital, though his travels inevitably pointed back to Europe.

In 2014, Perez played in Bilbao, Nantes, Paris, Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, San Sebastian, Brussels, Saint Petersburg, Budapest, Warsaw, Tokyo, Lyon, and Toulouse, with no further Internet posted concerts on his site. Judging by a significant escalation in Internet exposure post 2014, his energies seemed redirected to the recording cosmos.

Bryce Morrison, published a 2012 review in Gramaphone that amply described the pianist’s abundant gifts.

“RISING TO PRISTINE GLORY: Luis Fernando Pérez is clearly among the most individual and gifted pianists of today’s generation.

“And, in his more recent disc of Granados’s Goyescas, his playing is audaciously personal and has an improvisatory freedom and coloration very much his own. He achieves a superb senseof contrast, of innocence and experience…”

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Perez’s interpretation of Spanish music is compelling as “channeled” through his performance of Enrique Granados Valses Poeticos. His radiant singing tone; broad palette of “colors,” and poignant creation of emotional intimacy draw the listener into a deep and abiding relationship with the composer.

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Seymour Bernstein: A newly discovered awakening to tempo and mood in the Schumann Arabesque

A previous blog gave details and background about Bernstein’s epiphanies:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/pianist-seymour-bernstein-revisits-the-schumann-arabesque-at-the-age-of-90/

Seymour’s performance speaks for itself with its effortless spill of melody bundled in harmonic warmth. There’s no tempo impetuosity, or pre-meditated, boundary-determined section transitions. It’s all woven together as pure poetry flowing from the heart.

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David Fray: A humbling encore follows a concerto performance:

J.S. Allemande from Partita No. 6 in E minor

This is an inspired rendering, well-voiced by Maestro Fray.

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Irina Morozova – Bortkiewicz Etude Opus 15, No 9

Heaven on earth playing with impeccable fluidity. No words suffice to describe.

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George Li plays Haydn with his emblematic liquidity and singing tone.

The complete Haydn sonata in B minor was the divine opener to Li’s October 2017 recital at S.F. Davies Hall.

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/a-worthwhile-journey-to-george-lis-triumphant-davies-hall-piano-recital/

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Finally, Happy You Tube Surfing to All in 2018!

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Navigating Tricky Trills

Experimentation is central to piano learning in all its phases, including that which applies to the build-up of trills. Unfortunately, for many students engaged in such a learning process, rapid alternations of notes will often ignite instant panic and fear which tighten muscles, inhibiting a smooth flowing musical line. In some instances, the initial approach a pupil undertakes in practicing trills becomes marred by poor fingering choices and a precipitous push to play these figures at a “fast” pace too soon.

In my own experience practicing trills over decades–a journey that’s been introspective, experimental, and open to new and creative fingering assignments, I’ve had epiphanies that have grown my technique while filtering down to my pupils in productive increments.

Currently, I’m preparing the Enrique Granados Oriental (Danza Espanola No. 2, Op. 5) that one of my students plans to study. In this particular undertaking, I’ve been laying the groundwork for smoothly rendering a tricky set of three trills for the Right Hand–each with a different resolution that presents a technical and musical challenge.

All 3 trills, however, share a sustained alto note under them, with quick grace note driven resolutions requiring not only fingering that is “natural” to the hand/fingers, (different for each player) but can propel an uninterrupted shimmering beauty to resolution. When I sampled the editor’s recommended 3, 5, 3, 5 etc. trill fingering, I could not nearly realize a fluid progression of notes to my satisfaction. And with a subsequent realization that R.H. trill fingers 2, 3, 2, 3, etc. were my most reliable ones, I immediately tried these as I attempted the first unfolding figure in the Spanish Dance. (This trill springs into an awkward resolution divided by an octave bundled into a Major Third) Unfortunately, my choice resulted in an immediate surge of strain and tension that sparked an experimentation most likely considered unorthodox. Still, I persisted with a “creative” exploration that ultimately produced desired fluency.

In the video tutorial posted below, the final fingering that became a springboard for further development of each trill, relied on right hand fingers 2, 4, 2, 4, etc. in conjunction with a hanging hand, energized by relaxed arms and supple wrists. I even added a “sigh” to my trill executions to bundle them in warmth and lucidity. (The breath is so intrinsic to a fluid trill outpouring that’s imbued with a singing tone) Trills, are essentially fast melody, vocally modeled.

Fundamentally, the build-up of each trill in the Granados Oriental was based on a sighing back tempo approach that flowed gradually into the tempo desired, using fingering that not only worked for me, but well served the music.

(P.S. The footage encompasses fingering decisions for each trill sample that naturally considered the grace notes and how to navigate all three trill settings to full resolution.)

Oriental Play through:

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The value of studying short Romantic era Character pieces

Piano teachers often welcome the opportunity to use student repertoire requests as a springboard to nourish new learning adventures. Such pupil-driven musical endeavors can lead to deep-layered immersions in short, Romantically framed character pieces.

The value of dipping into miniature variety compositions encompasses taking on a learning challenge in compact form. For example, Schumann’s Album for the Young Op. 68 has a repository of picturesque musical samples that have dual artistic and pedagogical merit bundled into a page or two. The same economy of space/expression applies to Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Pieces Op. 39. Burgmuller, Dvorak, and Shostakovich, join many other composers in this genre, who have produced anthologies of program music in attenuated form.

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In both the Schumann and Tchaikovsky collections, colorful titles inspire the imagination while requiring a satisfying fusion of affective, kinesthetic, and cognitive approaches to learning. The process of absorption is still layered and developmental but it must be focused on a mood-set that is promptly captured and sustained. (Contrasts in middle sections must include a shift in affect, and an alteration of tonal expression within a short musical space.)

Schumann’s “The Reaper’s Song,” Op. 68 no. 19, is a pertinent reflection of piano study that requires an in depth examination of “voicing” despite its brevity. This particular learning dimension includes an awareness of how an opening thematic melodic line in 6/8, (duple compound meter) meanders from the “Soprano” range into the “Alto,” while the bass line provides an important fundamental underpinning. One might consider the interweaving of voices as reflective of Romantic era “counterpoint.”

In addition, there’s a syncopated rhythmic dimension that evokes the machine-like mechanism of the reaper that appears initially in the bass, but fans out to the upper voice.

Finally, any and all key changes, though ephemeral, must be noted and assessed for emotional/expressive impact.

In summary, this particular musical undertaking via “The Reaper” requires an attendant balance of all voices as they interact and move along with the enlistment of an expressive “singing tone.” (Arms must be relaxed, while wrists are supple in order to realize vocal modeled expression)

A “counter-melody” springs up, (though not readily apparent), that if fleshed out, will relieve thematic repetition and provide more nuanced artistic expression/phrasing. Rubato and dynamic variation also become integrated components in this learning venture, while an embracing rhythmic flow in TWO is musical wrapping.

As contrast to the opening fabric of voices that supports a singable, meandering theme, Schumann inserts an Interlude of rolled out UNISON triple-grouped 8th notes in Forte that smoothly transition back to the initial theme. Repetition of this particular mid-section with a doubled VOICE octave spread between the hands affords an opportunity to nuance it differently, perhaps with a less intense dynamic upon the second playing.

At the piece’s conclusion, the composer charmingly adds a Coda of lighthearted staccato chords in choir where the soprano remains, without doubt, the lead voice. A parallel harmonic third to fifth to sixth sequence in this addendum hearkens Schumann’s signature “hunting horn” motif, though I’m not convinced that the REAPER, relentlessly harvesting crops would have stumbled into this particular milieu. (but who knows?)

Other samples of short character pieces that require in depth probing of voicing/phrasing/dynamics etc. include these two gems that I’ve recently learned.

Robert Schumann

“A Little Romance,” Album for the Young, Op. 68
(This miniature requires playing after beat chords as harmonically rich supports, but not intruding upon an impassioned melodic line. Once again, “voicing and balance” considerations are pivotal to playing this piece expressively.)

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Antonin Dvorak

“Grandpa Dances with Grandma” (No. 2–Two Little Pearls)

Lots of thematic repetition requires expressive and dynamic variation. In a relentless 3/8 meter frame, a player must resist the temptation to sound mechanical and metronomic. A contrasting middle section that’s homophonic and in a modulating KEY, demands a shift in mood, needing prompt awareness and attention to tone/touch shifts. A Voicing dimension expectedly permeates the entire tableau.

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Sound imagination and tactile, tonal expression at the piano for diverse compositional eras

Often a posted comment about a You Tube video inspires a blog topic that is of interest to pianists and teachers. One such public addition to my Channel quickly streamed into a comparison between two well-known compositions in the piano repertoire.

The commenter was asking about the grade “level” of Debussy’s The Girl with the Flaxen Hair as compared to Schumann’s Traumerei from Kinderszenen. She asserted that it was “easier” to read through the Romantic era character piece based on her supportive reasons.

“Would you recommend this piece for an Intermediate student (grade 4-5)? I had a very hard time even reading through it! (The Debussy) I learned Schumann’s Traumerei pretty quickly to a decent level, so I thought La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin was going to be feasible too, since the difficulties are more musical than technical. But just figuring out the fingering is proving more challenging than I thought.”

Initially, I’d planned to underscore my reluctance to comparatively “level” the pieces, having to spell out too many variables bundled into an assessment of each composition from distinctly different eras. (Romantic and Impressionist) In addition, by enlisting a narrow focus, I would pin myself into a rigid pedagogical corner.

Instead, I set out to explore the separate challenges of each work, fleshing out the expressive vocabulary that best realized each individual period of composition in partnership with its composer. My demonstration would incorporate a desired tonal palette that called for an imbued physical approach at the inception of study. It would encompass sound imaging springing from the imagination, reinforced by physical suppleness and weight transfer. Qualitative differences unique to the cosmos of each piece would be a pivotal dimension of my recorded reply.

While teachers can take a circuitous route in their mentoring, drawing on mental prompts to engage an internal representation of sound or tone, they must naturally be equipped to demonstrate what works choreographically, if you will– not proposing fixed motions in musical space, but engaging the student in what physically advances various forms of musical expression. (Naturally, fingering decisions are part and parcel of the journey.)

Mood sets, internal harmonic shifts, and structural considerations unique to each composition, must be at the fore in the developmental learning process regardless of suggested leveling. (And it’s a given that a mentor should not recommend pieces that he/she deems significantly out of reach for a particular pupil.)

Finally, in the attached video below, I synthesized in physical and musical terms, what words alone could not amply express.

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Beyond Leon Fleisher’s riveting words about pianists and vocal modeling

Pianist, Leon Fleisher has given us his notable artistry over decades, while his insights about practicing and teaching have been invaluable for a vast community of mentors and students.

In his latest interview that coincided with the release of a new album, All the Things You Are, Fleisher spoke eloquently about the intrinsic relationship of vocal modeling and beautiful musical expression at the piano:

“I think, possibly … especially for pianists, to think in terms of ‘vocal.’ If you can sing something, and I don’t mean to sing all the notes, because the range of the piano is way beyond one person, but if you can sing the music, articulate it, then you can play it.

“One of the great challenges of a pianist is that every other instrument (I discount mallet instruments), violin to double bass, piccolo down through tuba, they have three things to think about: they have to think about how they attack the note; they have to think about how they support the note; and they have to think about how they stop the note. Most pianists just think of the first of those three, how they are going to attack the note, and not even all of them think about that. If they can expand their approach, new revelations will appear. You would be amazed how seldom one comes upon somebody who thinks in those terms or makes music on the piano in those terms.”

https://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2014/08/5-questions-leon-fleisher/

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Fleisher has also given us the mantra, “Hear it Before you Play It,” which is an internalization of what the pianist imagines in sound before placing his fingers on the keys. (The opening notes of a composition are not haphazard, but instead, are planned in advance in the psyche.)

While the aforementioned ideas (including vocal modeling) are essential to a well-meaning approach to the piano, a student journeying through the masterworks with the counsel of teacher, needs MORE than a vocal paradigm to make significant progress toward sensitive music-making.

For example, once a pupil can “sing” what he wants to produce at the piano, he needs to know HOW to realize his own model which will encompass a host of ingredients that are included in the following set of questions:

1) What are the physical means to the end? Are there blocks to freedom of expression because of tension in the arms and wrists that need to be identified? What about the breath? Does the vocal model suggest places to breathe in the natural ebb and flow of a phrase? Is the breath short due to tension which inhibits free expression?

What about the nuts and bolts of playing staccato, legato in complex strands of notes? These surely warrant modeling by the teacher at the piano. (How are notes “grouped,”or “spaced?”) What about “Rotation” and its effect on phrasing. etc. A pupil, needs hands-on knowledge that a mentor needs to provide. These encompass issues of traction and weight transfer into the keys, etc.

What role does the pedal play in beautiful phrasing? These require demonstrations as well. (Again, vocal modeling is not enough, but ATTENTIVE LISTENING and harmonic understanding are a must.)

2) Is faulty rhythmic framing blocking the flow of what is internalized? Are legato triplets, for example sounding angular and choppy? If they are, then it follows that a teacher must enlighten a pupil about the “color” and motion of these threads and how they can be liberated in a seamless, horizontal flow. (Teacher demonstrations at the piano can include supple wrist grouping of notes.)

If a fundamental beat is non-existent, or if a true “singing pulse is absent,” a student needs to understand what is causing note crowding, undirected accelerations, or interludes of lagging. Often a teacher will remedy such problems by “conducting” the student, simultaneously instilling a sense of shape and contour to musical lines.

3) Does a pupil comprehend the relationship of harmonic rhythm or flow of harmonies to phrasing? (cadences, modulations, etc.) Even with a well-defined vocal model, a student would still need to realize the dips in phrases that occur with various progressions (like Dominant to Tonic), or to understand the emotional ramifications of Deceptive cadences, parallel minor/or Major transitions.

Decays of notes also factor into phrasing. Is the student keenly aware of how what comes before affects what follows? What about sub-destinations and full destinations in a chain of measures?

How do dynamics, crescendos and decrescendo’s contribute to the sculpting of lines?

4) How does the historic period of a composition influence the whole approach to sound imaging? (Debussy vs. Bach; Mozart vs. Chopin) This opens up a universe of tonal variation and exploration. (Mental imagery contributes to a realization of a sound ideal.)

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In truth there are so many ingredients in an artfully sensitive music-making process that just one central focus, like vocal modeling, is clearly not enough.

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In exploring my archive of videos, I found two that resonated with a multi-dimensional approach to creating beauty at the piano.

1) Footage from the first sample is derived from my 2014 visit to New York City where I filmed Irina Morozova teaching one of her young students. (Franz Liszt La Leggierezza) The Special Music School/Kaufman Center.

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2) Excerpts from an ONLINE lesson to Scotland: Felix Mendelssohn Venetian Book Song Op. 30 No. 6. (The split-screen recording is a valuable playback reference for the student)

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My Piano Assessment adventure at Walnut Creek’s Steinway Piano Gallery

Steinway Piano Gallery

Piano Teachers and performing pianists in the Bay area were tapped to evaluate the tone/touch dimension of Steinway, Boston and Essex pianos so I was pleased to be on the invite list–contacted by Justin Levitt, Manager at Steinway’s showroom in Walnut Creek, CA. It was a reflection of good will spread far and wide by the new Steinway owners who are reaching out to a community that is helping the piano survive amidst crushing digital piano sales.

On a different note, this opportunity was particularly relevant to my own piano’s rocky journey in the regulation realm. My dissatisfaction with technicians had built to crescendo levels, and I had at one point considered putting my M to pasture. I’d replace it with a healthy, well-maintained NEW grand, but before I acted on impulse, I would grab the chance to personally explore a brand new Steinway ‘B’ as a model of relative perfection–affording a smooth, un-blubbered journey in half-steps across the 88’s.

While my tour de force interest was scoping out a Steinway autographed grand at the Gallery, I agreed to assess a Boston grand piano (GP-178-EP) and an Essex EUP-123E Classic studio upright (48″) as part of the total survey project.

As it turned out, the afternoon proved to be very rewarding. Decked out with an iPhone, camcorder and tripod, I managed to film my piano sprint among three instruments, enjoying a compelling interview interlude with store Manager, Justin Levitt.

Naturally, as the historian I’ve become in these regular JOURNAL postings, I was predisposed to record and share my latest piano adventure.

A big Thank You goes to Justin for a very warm welcome and well-informed interview.

And by the way, this very knowledgeable store manager happens to be a pianist and composer, having just released his second music book, By My Side.

http://www.justinlevitt.com/#!product/prd13/2675637191/within-music-book-and-cd

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Steinway Piano Gallery Walnut Creek is located at:
1605 Bonanza Street Walnut Creek, CA 94596 (925) 932-0100.

LINKS: (*Note the upcoming piano sale in the East Bay at Zellerbach Concert Hall: by appointment only)

*http://www.steinway.com/sale

http://www.steinwayshowrooms.com/walnut-creek

pianist, piano, piano instruction, piano lessons, piano playing, piano teaching, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, you tube

Rina, 5, shows outstanding progress over 6 months of piano lessons! (Videos)

I’m overwhelmed with joy to nurse along this child’s musical growth. In truth, I’d never expected a 4-year old to be ready for private instruction. The undertaking was creative and experimental, falling into the iffy range of outcomes.

A fledgling who has ingested the physical connection between the singing tone and how to produce it, and grasps the cognitive side of music learning, is nothing short of dazzling!

Tales of a Musical Journey, Rina’s primer through her early months of study, had been a model for my tailor-made variation that suits this child’s individual needs. What remains at the core of the instruction, however, is Irina Gorin’s vision.

Rina has absorbed supple wrist motions; has a cohesive sense of regularly recurring beats; and can make create dynamic contrasts in her playing. (she knows “F” for Forte and “p” for piano) She has had considerable exposure to “echoes” and musically realizing them.

She can identify “short sounds” (the equivalent of quarters–black cardboard circles) and “long sounds” (half notes–white cardboard circles), as well as “very long sounds” –Whole Notes: “whole note hold down,” (cardboard ovals with thick black borders) and coordinates two hands together playing “Frere Jacques” (Happy and Sad versions, the latter enlisting “Eb” for the “minor”) and “Twinkle Twinkle.” (separate hands, and hands together) She has also ingested “running notes,” (or 8th notes) notated in “Frere Jacques.”

Rina knows her seven-letter music alphabet forward and in reverse, and understands step- and skip-wise motion up and down. (Derived from stair-case climbing in my home studio)

And she now “reads” floating notes, grouped with bar lines, with attached fingerings and letter names.

Here’s a sample of what we’ve devised in cooperation with Rina’s mom who receives a set of lesson plans each week and follows through with daily, supervised practice. We also schedule a telephone conference on the evening of Rina’s weekly lesson.

Rina’s dad brings her to my home weekly for a 30-minute lesson, and stays to observe.

I’ve also added some Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals listening assignments, followed up by having Rina play “The Lion” in my own contrived duet form. We just added “The Elephant.” I play a reduced version of these miniatures and teach Rina to add harmonic 5ths or single notes as accompaniment. I annotate these in the score, and say “long sounds” or ” short sounds” depending on the particular arrangement. My You Tube uploads of these pieces assist mom during the week.

Right now Rina is working on slurring two-note legato pairs to grow her technique.

Her learning is dynamic and growing in leaps and bounds!

Without further ado, here are today’s recorded videos of Rina playing a solo and duet.

Last week, Rina recorded “Frere Jacques” in the “sad” minor using Eb:

Rina is pictured with her French tutor, Denise, following today’s piano lesson: