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Two Music Schools, Many Doors

Every composer has to find his or her own artistic path.

There are well-worn paths to follow: the orchestral track, opera, etc.  Then there are trails that need some blazing before they will lead anywhere.

I was a guest composer at two outstanding music schools last week: SUNY Stony Brook and Curtis.  On the surface, the two environments were very different.  But scratch underneath, and the same curiosities, the same passions were at work.

At Stony Brook, I was greeted by a cup of green tea and a couple of students discussing the merits of Arnold Schoenberg.  I was happy to see the familiar face of Phil Salathe, a doctoral student I worked with this past summer at Wintergreen.  We gathered in a library ...

Ryuichi Sakamoto: New York concert review

Last month, I interviewed Ryuichi Sakamoto for an article that will appear in the next issue of Signal to Noise. On October 18, 2010, I got a chance to hear Sakamoto perform live at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NewYork University. It was the second show in a two month long U.S. concert tour promoting his new US release Playing the Piano/Out of Noise.

In recent years, many entertainers have become more outspoken about the consequences of their jet-setting ways. True, the environmental impact of concert tours, concerns about climate change, and, in turn, advocacy for human rights and fair trade are often associated with big-name pop acts: Bono, Sting, and David Byrne. But it isn’t only artists at the top of ...

Gerard McBurney on "The Miraculous Mandarin"

Composed in 1927, Béla Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin Suite was first performed at Carnegie Hall on October 5, 1948, with The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

On October 30, The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano, Music Director and Conductor, will perform the piece in a program that also includes Arvo Pärt's Fratres, and Janáček's Glagolitic Mass.

In this audio presentation, British composer and writer Gerard McBurney discusses the political and social background of The Miraculous Mandarin.

Gerard McBurney discusses the political and social background of The Miraculous Mandarin.

October 30 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Béla Bartók's The ...

David Finckel and Wu Han on the Gilbert Kalish Celebration

Music@Menlo and Stony Brook University honored pianist Gilbert Kalish at a concert by him and the Emerson String Quartet, marking the legendary pianist’s 75th birthday and his 40th year on the Stony Brook faculty.  In addition to creating a scholarship in his name, the University underwrote a special edition Music@Menlo Live 2-CD set of Kalish’s performances of the three Brahms Piano Quartets.

in David’s words…

Birthdays are inevitable, but the building of an artistic legacy is largely optional, the responsibility held primarily in the hands of the artist. Gil Kalish has formed his ...

Jazz's Big Bang: The Night Art Tatum Arrived

If the Pianobabbler could witness any historical moment...

The night Art Tatum dismantled, then reassembled jazz piano for all time. Big bang.

Portly, piriform, post-adolescent. 1931. Tatum is 22 years old. Quiet. Otherwise unimposing. Sight-impaired. He materialized in the room. The reigning piano almighties had preceded him. They were playing.Cutting.

James P. JohnsonThomas "Fats" WallerWillie the Lion SmithLuckey Roberts. Antique names now. Titans then. The rock stars of their day. Uber-gifted with the ability to turn a piano into a driving machine of melody and power. Just listen to Waller's Handful of Keys or Willie the Lion's Fingerbuster (played here by Dick Hyman).

In the crunch of the room's pack ...

Too Young for Golliwog's Cakecake? Not this 7th-grader

Excerpt from "Golliwog's Cakewalk" ~ Debussy ~ Public Domain

My  students often choose one piece as a favorite in piano recitals.  The “winner” in one was, not surprisingly, Debussy‘s “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner.*

It was played very well by a high school junior.  And the student who was completely bowled over was in seventh grade!

First lesson following the recital

The younger student (I’ll call her “H”) told me excitedly that she wanted to play that piece.

What would you think of first when considering her request?

My immediate reaction was, “The student who played the piece is four years older!”

After that, I thought, ...

“That would be wonderful!” -- John Cage

We are always interested in creating posts that make you think. Not necessarily agree (or disagree), but think. Much of contemporary culture (e.g. TV, movies, etc.) is intended and largely received passively. Blogs can sometimes serve as nets, harvesting interesting informational flotsam and jetsam from the great sea of the internet, but they can and should also serve to provoke thought and reflection about topics about which there may be no easy answer.

Today’s puzzler is inspired by several of Bruce Brubaker’s posts in his blog PianoMorphosis: what if musical scores are performed differently than the printed notes? One answer is the title of this post, taken from an anecdote related by Brubaker:

Once after I played John ...

Mendelssohn vs. Me, round 2: punchy tuner edition

Let's do this.

A Surprise Party for Gilbert Kalish at 75

I had the privilege of playing a peripheral role in a lovely event last night.  SUNY Stony Brook had a surprise 75th birthday party for Gilbert Kalish, who has been a professor at SB for 40 years.

Kalish is an icon in contemporary music circles, championing a plethora of composers who were giants in the field during his youth.  Many of them have gone dramatically out of fashion nowadays, but when their time for a positive reassessment comes, their causes will be aided by the hundreds of superb performances and recordings Kalish made of their work.

I heard Kalish perform a few times many years ago.  On this occasion he was playing Brahms’s F Minor Quartet with the Emerson.  It was a superb rendering of this ...

Urtext Myths - You’re seeing exactly what the composer wrote

A while back, I started a little series here called Urtext Myths (part I here, part II here). While preparing for my recent performance of Mahler’s 5th Symphony at the Harlech Orchestral Summer School, I came across something in the Preface that got me thinking about a new article in the “myths” series. This is possibly the biggest myth of them all-

“An Urtext edition meticulously reproduces exactly what the composer wrote, free of editorial interpretations or interpolations.”

What? I hear you say…. Isn’t that pretty much the definition of an Urtext- a clear and mistake free rendering of the text of the work as the composer wrote it, not as some performer or scholar though he or she should ...