4 Trombones


Paris, 2014 Arnold Schoenberg gave Rudolf Serkin an assignment. (This story is hearsay; worthy of attention, in my opinion.) Consider the opening of Mozart's A-Minor piano sonata, Schoenberg asked Serkin. What is the right instrumentation for this music, if it were to be scored for orchestral instruments? Mozart: Sonata in A Minor, KV 310 (300d) Serkin's answer included an oboe playing the upper melody line, and strings taking the … [Read more...]

Sudden Death


Some folks probably were comforted by an article that appeared online last year -- an article titled, "Why You Probably Won't Experience Your Own Traumatic Death." "Ever wonder what it would be like to get shot in the head, or have your face smash into a car's windshield? Well, you can stop wondering, because you'll never know -- even if it does happen to you... "It takes as long as 150 to 300 milliseconds (ms) to be aware of a collision … [Read more...]

Quick and Dead


There I was in the green room, about to play at the Gilmore Festival. Included on the program was Chopin's Polonaise-fantaisie -- music I've performed, coveted, engaged with, grappled with for 30 years. Over time, I've exorcised, from my playing of the piece, the details and atmosphere of Vladimir Horowitz' 1966 recording. (The sounds that were my first contact with this music.) Lately, I've been trying to construe the Polonaise-fantaisie's … [Read more...]



The pianist Fou Ts'ong played a solo concert in Jordan Hall including Chopin's Opus 35 Sonata. In the famous "Funeral March," he made an unbelievable racket with the left-hand trills. They were noisy, unpleasant, almost veering out of control. In a masterclass at New England Conservatory, during that same visit to Boston, Fou Ts'ong manifested such subtly refined attention to details of sound, and line, and phrase. Everything. But, those trills … [Read more...]

One note at a time


The work of the performer may seem repetitious. We are measuring out time with our playing and practicing. We are measuring out life, one Beethoven sonata at a time. In a sense, am I measuring my way toward death with my performances? I might speculate: "Will I play Beethoven's "Pathétique" Sonata a hundred times more before I die?" Or five times? Or never? Arnold Schoenberg: Gustav Mahler's Burial, 1911 Of course, all kinds of people … [Read more...]

Life and Death


In a seminar, I ask each of a group of young pianists to talk very briefly about a piece they know -- as they might speak to an audience before performing. I urge them to be pithy, personal, compelling. I don't like the "Beethoven-was-born-in-1770 approach," I tell them. Music is important. It engages with the big questions, I say. One seminar participant asks me to give an example of the sort of commentary I want. So, I say: "Imagine I'm … [Read more...]