Of a piece


When I sit at the piano to play a composed piece I'm matching myself against a pre-determined set of musical requirements. Right? I'm trying to meet expectations or even excel to deliver a faithful account of the composition. If that's true, then one performance can be better than another. A performance with many faults might even fail to represent the piece that's written. What is that faulty music? Can it be overlooked or ignored, put out … [Read more...]

Wunderlicher Alter


If teachers of classical music transmit the past, then perhaps older teachers have more direct connection to traditions further away in time. But the culture of the conservatory has changed: the oldest musicians were highly venerated teachers, now they may not be. In old age, some musicians were in great demand as teachers: Rosina Lhevinne, Sascha Gorodnitzki, Ivan Galamian, Joseph Gingold -- and Liszt! In traditional conservatory culture, … [Read more...]

Same Key


"I would accept no hard and fast rule in program-making except one: that works in the same key should not follow one another. A varied succession of keys is required to stimulate the listener's attention." So says Alfred Brendel. That's standard advice about making a classical concert program -- don't play long stretches of music in the same key. Mr. Brendel, for example, rules out playing in one program Schubert's B-flat-Major Sonata and … [Read more...]

No fervor


Hearing Liszt's "Feux follets" at Alice Tully Hall -- it crossed my mind that it was the most accomplished performance of the étude ever played! This solo recital was won by the pianist as part of a competition prize. Tully Hall was mostly empty. No critics and no bloggers were there to document this considerable piano-playing achievement. And that makes sense -- it wasn't "news." It may be puzzling that today's highly accomplished, … [Read more...]



During the recording sessions for Nico Muhly's Drones & Piano, sometimes the piano bench squeaked. "Bench was loud," I said, after a particularly squeaky take. Through my earbud, I heard the voice of engineer Paul Evans. "I rather like it," he said. Paul wasn't being entirely serious, but he was hinting (or poking fun?) at an approach to recording that resembles Dogme 95 or "Remodernist" films. As high technology allows us to achieve … [Read more...]

Quick Change Artist


A distinguishing trait of Mozart's music is rapidly and frequently changing character, Affekt, or mood. He's a quick change artist. For the 21st-century listener, it's simplistic to hear only a single unvarying Affekt or character in an entire movement of old music. We tend to hear the changes. Mozart's music may offer an extreme, an almost constantly shifting and evolving rendering of human state-of-mind. It's classical-sonata … [Read more...]



Piano keys are made of wood that's weighted with metal, and faced with plastic in place of what used to be ivory. They are levers. How exactly a musician touches these sticks may or may not alter the physical sound the piano makes. The cultivation of legato -- the binding together of successive tones produced with flexible wrist -- is an important aspect of classical piano training. Some of us wonder about the science of legato, of what we … [Read more...]

Repetition is a Form of Flattery


Liking the smoked bluefish salad I had at an organically-sourced Brooklyn eatery, I made something like it at home. In preparation for shooting a video last week, I practiced again a piece that I practiced last year for summer concerts, and two years before that to play in Michigan, and thirteen years earlier still... Passing by a store on Broadway that had four identical (mass-produced) lamps hanging in a row, I was prompted to tweet this … [Read more...]



A part of preparing to perform music is a psychic readying -- we need to be prepared to accept very fine results. Perhaps this seems strange, since so much practicing of classical music focuses on avoiding mistakes? Our practice can prepare us to receive. Any sense that we don't deserve or are not entitled to extraordinary music making can impede it. Especially if time is short or preparation is scant, we may play less well than possible … [Read more...]

Stay Down


Playing for me in a recent masterclass, a pianist performed Liszt's etude "Wild Hunt." At the end of two measures of melody (m. 60), he raised his wrists immediately after playing the last note in the bar, releasing his fingers from the keys -- although the notated duration of this sound is the longest in the line. The piano is a device that never came with a set of instructions. In a sense, musicians are always making how-to guides. And … [Read more...]

Piano Vocal


Preparing the month of shows I'm hosting on Q2 -- sent me into a studio for several hours of recording voice tracks, my commentary. I was wearing headphones so the microphone-heard sound of my own talking was in my ear. It made me wonder all over again: Do the sounds a pianist makes from the piano have any relation to that person's physical voice? For me it's concerning if a musician has a particularly harsh or unmodulated speaking voice. … [Read more...]

Term Limits

Five recent Tweets of mine -- please pardon the cross-platform redundancy. April 21, 2011 In a way our technology is putting sound and music back together -- as perhaps the technology of writing took music and sound apart. April 20, 2011 Yes, some of Rachmaninoff's music is very much part of the "Back to Bach" movement. April 20, 2011 It's not surprising composers borrow or steal so much -- if you consider that we are all just adding … [Read more...]

Voice Mis-Leading


Some solo piano music has part-writing that seems to correspond directly to music for string quartet. In such keyboard music, there are a constant number of "voices" tracing coherent individual lines. Beethoven: Opus 110 These voice-parts have integrity. We can follow tenor or bass, alto or soprano (viola or cello, second violin or first violin). This is a modern practice in keyboard music, I believe. The earliest keyboard pieces -- … [Read more...]

Nothing ventured, nothing lost

Can it be that aspiring musicians do not enter competitions because they don't want to lose? It might make sense. Or it may be an easy way out. I'm surprised by the competition-reticence of some young pianists. Not suffering disappointment in competitions may keep an artist's work and motivation pure. Not being known to have lost competitions may be useful professionally. Or, lacking the severe scrutiny of the competition platform, a player's … [Read more...]

Thinner Air, Up There


In many a notated German Dance or Ländler (or in its second part), there are rocking passages in regular eighth-notes featuring the interval of the sixth. On the violin, such lines can involve back and forth string-crossing, bariolage. Often a low pitch in the passage (open string) remains constant. Such music resembles and may signify yodeling. Making music across the voice break is a recurring feature of instrumental music by Schubert, and … [Read more...]