What’s in a name?

Bach1

"Richard told me." Or, "Martha thinks so." The inspeak of the classical music anointed? A mark of self-importance, of access, or just an acknowledgement of exactly how the celebrated wish to be addressed? Unusual names can serve more easily. "Just ask La Monte." And beyond, "Milton thought so," there are histories and associations. Alexis Weissenberg would be "Siggy” Weissenberg. For some, Susan Wadsworth remained "Susan Popkin." And … [Read more...]

Anti-Repertory

Antirepertory

All the piano pieces I didn't play. All the pieces I didn't cover, didn't learn... didn't perform... didn't record... All those pieces I never heard (of). It's my Anti-Repertory. Some of the old pianists covered more. (They had to, there was no recording -- ) Antimatter, Antichrist. (to be able to hear anything, it had to be played.) Doesn't matter. The molecules don't have to be made to vibrate. Music is not only … [Read more...]

Other Planets

TerrasseAJ

  Recurring patterns of signification in music -- topoi. The grand unfolding of time and space represented by a steady repeated-pitch ostinato with slow-motion harmonic change around it, found at the opening of Haydn's Creation, for example. (Haydn could have had a career in sci-fi futurism...) I heard a pianist play through Debussy's prelude "...La terrasses des audiences du clair de lune." Near the end, there's an anomalous passage that … [Read more...]

Piscatorial

LPRGlassClose

It's hard to remember musical life before the Poisson Rouge. Four years ago this summer, I started playing and hearing music at the club (the former Village Gate). It's not overstatement to say that LPR has reflected, and also played a role in big changes in American musical life. The range of people who stop by is crazy. After I played in a performance of the Quartet for the End of Time, Nico Muhly's mother introduced herself. One night it … [Read more...]

Overheard

overheardAJ

During some days in late summer, I practiced Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. I'm sure the windows were open. My Juilliard piano teacher, Jacob Lateiner lived on 84th Street, just around the block. I mentioned I was learning Beethoven's Fourth Concerto. "I know," he said. Pianists are prone to be overheard. The piano can be a loud instrument. Living in close proximity to others, in a New York City apartment, or a suburban house -- practicing is … [Read more...]

Up and Down

UpDownAJ3

I turn on the radio in the car (where I usually listen to hiphop music) and hear a recording of Haydn's F-Minor Variations. I don't change the station. Within seconds, I'm thinking about the bright, separate envelope of every treble note in the recording. Lovely, but not really legato. Must be a German Steinway, I think. Whatever else pianists may be doing, in order to play piano music -- piano keys move vertically, down and then up again in … [Read more...]

Can’t get a word in

B101

There is music that suffers in performance from conventionally good music-making. Mainstream classical playing seems to rely on clichés of "musicality" -- arching every phrase, breathing between groups, tracing all those lines up and then down again. Some pieces need different treatment. The first movement of Beethoven's Opus 101 is an extended, wordless run-on sentence. Theoretically, we may understand that no satisfying cadence in A major … [Read more...]

Sonic Enharmonic

BoB

Words can be bent in pronounciation to suggest other words -- subtly shading, or adding on to signification. In B.o.B.'s "So Good," the word groups "how you feel [fe-el]," "fantasy oh," "put your feet up," and "Señorita" are made almost to rhyme, and conform to the same four-syllable emphasis-pattern. The sound is the word is the music is the sound. It's joy-inducing virtuoso display. Wordless music also offers possibilities for sonic … [Read more...]

Rhythm Puzzle

totentanzAJ

In playing piano duets or two-piano music, just being together is particularly challenging. The beginning of the sound of a note played on the piano is definite and sudden. What might pass for good ensemble playing in the performance of a piece for violin and piano (with the violin's characteristically less-instantaneous note-beginnings), will be unsatisfying in 2-piano playing. Pianists playing together become note-arrival authorities. As I … [Read more...]

Clover V

qwertyAJ

In considering the ways today's art is an art of appropriation, let's notice a basic change that's occurred in writing, composing, and design. Editing used to involve re-writing, re-typing, re-drawing -- physically copying some previously used material into each new version. Computer-enabled editing techniques now mean that the virtual copying and pasting of material from one version of a project to another is routine whether we're working with … [Read more...]

Practicing non-take-twoness

PnoLock

After I play through a program or a piece for someone (as a step in preparing for public performance), I don't return to the piano to practice. It can be difficult, if something went badly and I want to work on it. But the separation -- practicing for the real concert by preserving the "non-take-twoness" of the performing experience -- matters most. I've read of Busoni returning to the hall to play through an entire concert after the audience … [Read more...]

Why (not) demonstrate?

caillebotte

It's the routine of many piano lessons: Teacher sitting next to student sitting at the piano. One copy of the written music. Student and teacher examine it together. From time to time, teacher reaches over, or deseats student, in order to demonstrate details, or even phrases of the music. (In an unkind moment, I have called it "piano-teacher-position.") In an alternate version, the teacher occupies a second piano, demonstrating sound, techniques, … [Read more...]

PW

WandaAJ

P. W. -- the initials of Paula Wray McDonald, my wife, partner (and high-school girlfriend). But the two letters PW really stand for "Pianist's Wife." I am the pianist's wife, Hurrah Hurrah for the pianist's wife! Ah yes, it is a gruesome [glorious] life To be the pianist's wife. Wanda, Nela, Naomi -- that's a lineage. Helpmates, sounding boards, ghost writers, taskmasters, goads. Paula had lessons from Tracy Taub... Maxims and … [Read more...]

Arts & Crafts

scissorsAJa

I'm printing slightly enlarged versions of the pages of a score by Philip Glass that I will play at the LPR Glass-birthday event later this month. The physical resizing, repaginating, and relineating of written music sometimes makes practicing and performing easier. For a long time, this work was accomplished with photocopying, scissors, or paper cutter, and adhesive tape. The pianist Judith Gordon called it "arts and crafts." Some outsized … [Read more...]