Doctor Doctor


I'm a Doctor of Musical Arts, but I seldom say so. In music schools like the New England Conservatory where I teach, the degree-ed-ness of the faculty is in inverse proportion to age. The older the faculty member, the less likely they are to have advanced degrees. Some older pianists earned advanced degrees in other fields. Charles Rosen had a Ph.D. in French literature... The Latin word "doctor" comes from "docēre" -- "to teach." I don't wish … [Read more...]

If Aliens Landed


It is now the sixth day of piano auditions at New England Conservatory. We are a few pianists (members of the faculty) sitting at long tables, hearing younger pianists one-by-one. I said "piano auditions" and it's true we hear people play piano. You might think we're evaluating the piano-playing these kids do -- and we are. Or you might think the piano is an instrument used for making music; so we're evaluating the music making these … [Read more...]

Conservatory Theory


Wayne Koestenbaum writes in his Hotel Theory how a hotel represents an ever-changing collection of people. A not-random assortment, complicated in its variability and contextual specificity. How about the various people on an airplane headed from New York to Amsterdam? Or Boston to Cancun? Or the musicians gathered in and by a conservatory? At Juilliard, we had at one time (students and teachers): Dorothy Delay, Felix Galimir, Milton … [Read more...]

Why (not) demonstrate?


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...]

Money changes everything


There are American music schools where students don't pay tuition. They're free. The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, the graduate program at the Yale School of Music. Of course, admission to these programs is especially competitive. How much should young musicians have to pay to study? Once, at my school, a prospective student from a very well-off family was awarded a full scholarship based on her merit. A … [Read more...]



When I arrived to take a place as a judge for the Walter Naumburg International Violin Competition I was welcomed by several violinists who were judging the competition. My friend Jorja Fleezanis was there. Sylvia Rosenberg was very cordial, so was Anahid Ajemian, and later Kyung-Wha Chung (who joined the committee for the competition's final round). On my arrival, another venerable jury member, something of a violin guru, asked: "Who are … [Read more...]



In a large suitcase, I'm carrying most of the 400 prescreening CDs submitted by prospective students to New England Conservatory's piano department this year. These recordings come from applicants to the school's bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs, and from applicants to the joint degree program the conservatory has with Harvard University. When I started teaching at NEC five years ago there was no "prescreening" in advance of … [Read more...]

Mr. Brendel, thank you

My introduction of Alfred Brendel last night in Boston: In classical music, there are those who believe that thinking about music can compromise feeling -- compromise our emotional response to music. Alfred Brendel's example vividly shows us that such notions are foolish. Mr. Brendel scrutinizes the canonic texts of the piano repertory. He examines the behaviors of piano playing and musical life, and he's shown that deep reflection can yield … [Read more...]



Today's the first really cold day that I have been in Boston this fall. At New England Conservatory this afternoon we had the preliminary round in a competition to pick a student pianist for a performance of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. (The performance will be in April with Hugh Wolff.) These competitions are a continuing part of conservatory life. A few schools with many excellent pianists do this--specify a particular … [Read more...]