Last night I went to see fellow ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) musicians perform the first of a series of concerts called On and Off the Page with the venerable Christian Wolff at Issue Project Room. I am so happy that ICE has launched such a great project along with the many other things ICE does. According to our website, On and Off the Page “is a series illuminating music that breaks down the barriers between written and improvised music.” As a musician that has been improvising and composing more and more, I am excited to see an organized effort to bring attention to this dynamic area of making live performance. What’s odd is that improvisation has been a big part of music-making for centuries but classical music has somehow evolved to be a genre that is extremely focused on “the printed page.” Many of the canonic classical composers (Bach, Mozart) were all improvisers/performers/composers. ..not to mention the invited improvisatory nature of a lot of Renaissance music that existed even before them. Somehow, through the years, we have become so specialized that the idea of branching out to other roles of music-making is new again to our generation. I have high hopes for my ICE buddies on this series! The next concert will be on March 16th at Le Poisson Rouge.
In the last couple of weeks, I have been doing many outreach activities on the toy piano between some of my solo engagements as well as the Sounding Off tour. I have spent ten years mostly as a piano teacher in my life, but recently I have had the opportunity to do more presentations and outreaches on the toy piano.
Last week, I did a presentation at a school assembly at Delaware Valley School in Milford, Pennsylvania. First of all, I was really charmed by the town and what Kindred Spirits is doing to bring music to the community. In a 200+ room full of middle and high school kids, I introduced them to my world on the toy piano. After the one-hour presentation, a girl came up to me afterward and handed me a folded piece of paper with her reactions to my music. I think this is perhaps the most genuine “review” I’ve gotten since playing the toy piano. It’s great to see that this music (and music in general) evokes so many reactions in just one hour. In a way, it also reminds me of how much “space” performance gives listeners to wander in their own internal lives, and hopefully still get something out of the experience.
I went to see Radu Lupu’s recital at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night. The last time I saw him in concert was ten years ago at Chicago’s Sara Lee Piano Series and to this day, I still think of that concert in 2001 as probably the most influential solo piano recital I have seen. Having gone through many of my own musical (and personal) changes, I was curious to know how I would receive him in concert ten years later.
He performed Leos Janacek’s In the Mist as well as Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata and ending with the Schubert Bb Sonata. I had spent about $60 to be on the dress circle in Stern Auditorium and I generally had trouble hearing being three levels above ground. (Not to mention that the NYC audience never seem to figure out how to turn off their cell phones, which was a major distraction!) I really wondered whether solo piano recitals were really fit to be listened to in an auditorium that seats 2800 people. I also wondered whether I have gotten use to the controlled amplified musical venues that I frequent which made me feel that I was struggling to really hear him.
Regardless, I still felt that Radu Lupu played with such inflection and beauty. The most beautiful musical moment was his encore, when he played Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 No.3 . This piece has such a significant place in many pianists hearts as a a “turning point” piece. I still remember when I first discovered this intermezzo and feeling that a whole other world of musical possibilities were opening up to me. After speaking to many of my fellow pianists, it seems that many of us hold these kinds of sentiments with this piece. I certainly have heard many renditions, taught it many times and played it myself in concert, but I know that I will never hear that intermezzo played as beautifully as I did last Tuesday. Thanks to this concert, I was able to remember many of our truest intentions and desires to play the piano when we were younger. At a time when the classical piano world is changing so much, it was great to hear a pianist perform with such honesty.
Rob and I went to an incredible electro-acoustic ambient music concert last night featuring pianist Sakamoto and guitarist and renowned electronic musician, Fennesz. They played pieces from their new album, “Cendre.” The free concert took place at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. The venue was a large domed arena with tall fake palm trees in the court yard. There were hundreds of people sitting in the dark room listening and watching the abstract video projection in the background. It was a great open space for such spacious music.
I haven’t been to many concerts that bordered on ambient or “new-age.” I felt that it was kind of like a sonic bath. I loved watching Sakamoto relate to his piano sounds. Somehow, sound became more lucid and took a life of its own with the electronics.
Rob and I walked up to the second floor to listen to their last encore. To our surprise, the glass window on the second floor overlooked ground zero. I haven’t been there since 9/11. This image really heightened the musical experience. To see the large hole in the ground with sleeping construction equipment in it made the music seem even more calm and peaceful. As I was leaving the concert, I thought how this music must have such a different effect on people in New York than in Bloomington, IN. The sounds that we hear everyday in New York tend to be noises of construction, cars, trains, yelling people, etc. In Bloomington the sounds we hear are birds, lightning bugs, frat boys, bad 80’s music blasting from fraternity houses. It wasn’t until then I realized the necessity of listening to peaceful music. When we walked out of the venue, we heard construction workers with a jackhammer. It was such a sad palette-cleanser for our ears.