Glenn Gould

The great Glenn Gould practicing Bach Partita #2, from the “Art of the Piano” documentary. So much to note: he’s playing in his bathrobe, he has his legs crossed while he’s using the pedal,  his dog, his “singing”, the  coffee cup and saucer and what looks like a big old 60’s ashtray on the piano, the very low bench, and that terrific moment at 1:24 where he uses his LH.  Gould died too early He would have been 77 this past Friday.

Liberace plays Boogie Woogie

Doesn’t he look like he’s having fun even though he’s probably done this act a thousand times? Audience interaction was always so important to Liberace.  According to Darden Asbury Pyron in his book, Liberace: An American Boy,

Unlike the concerts of classical pianists which normally ended with applause and a retreat off-stage, Liberace’s shows ended with the public invited on-stage to touch the maestro’s clothes, piano, jewelry, and hands. Kisses, handshakes, hugs, and caresses usually followed. A critic summed up his appeal near the end of Liberace’s life:  “Mr. Showmanship has another more potent, drawing power to his show: the warm and wonderful way he works his audience. Surprisingly enough, behind all the glitz glitter, the corny false modesty and the shy smile, Liberace exudes a love that is returned to him a thousand-fold.”

Hiromi Euhara

The amazing Hiromi Uehara makes me want to play the piano very fast.

Born in Shizuoka, Japan, in 1979, Hiromi started piano lessons at age six and enrolled in the Yamaha School of Music less than a year later. At age 14 she had already performed with the Czech Philharmonic. She credits her earliest teacher with encouraging her to tap into the intuitive as well as the technical aspects of music.

“Her energy was always so high, and she was so emotional,” Hiromi says of her first piano teacher. “When she wanted me to play with a certain kind of dynamics, she wouldn’t say it with technical terms. If the piece was something passionate, she would say, ‘Play red.’ Or if it was something mellow, she would say, ‘Play blue.’ I could really play from my heart that way, and not just from my ears.”

That’s what it takes…and lots of practice… octaves, Hanon, scales, repeated notes…about 10,000 hours worth, I’d say.

Note By Note – Making of Steinway L1037

Note By Note

Note By Note

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Note By Note – the Making of Steinway L1037, a terrific documentary by Ben Niles which follows the construction of a Steinway grand from the Alaskan forest, to the Steinway factory in Queens, to Steinway Hall in Manhattan. The film has been making the rounds at film festivals and private showings since 2007 and it’s a gem. If you have a chance, see it.

Note By Note is a loving celebration of not just craftsmanship, but of a dying breed of person who is deeply connected to working by hand. In the end, this is an ode to the most unexpected, and perhaps ironic, of unsung heroes. It reminds us how extraordinary the dialogue can be between an artist and an instrument — crafted out of human hands but borne of the materials of nature.  (more)

Gabriela Montero

Venezuelan pianist, Gabriela Montero, improvises…on anything. Here she is with a jazz version of Mozart Concerto No. 20.  Another one of my favorites is her amazing rendition of Rachmaninov 3rd in the style of Bach.

“When improvising,” Gabriela says, “I connect to my audience in a completely unique way – and they connect with me. Because improvisation is such a huge part of who I am, it is the most natural and spontaneous way I can express myself. I have been improvising since my hands first touched the keyboard, but for many years I kept this aspect of my playing secret. Then Martha Argerich overheard me improvising one day and was ecstatic. In fact, it was Martha who persuaded me that it was possible to combine my career as a serious ‘classical’ artist with the side of me that is rather unique.” (more)

…another pianist doing it “her way.”

Corpse Bride Duet

Love this animation. You can download Danny Elfman’s piano solo version of the Corpse Bride duet at MusicNotes. Did you know Elfman was a self-taught musician?

Yann Tiersen Improvises

I’m going to the East Coast premier of Coco Before Chanel in a couple of weeks and one thing led to another, and I ended up listening to Yann Tiersen over at YouTube. The connection? Audrey Tautou, of course. She stars in the Coco Chanel movie and last time I saw her was in Amelie, which has a lovely piano score by Yann Tiersen. Here he is improvising…a more upbeat tune.

Martha Argerich on Chopin

Martha Argerich performed the Chopin e minor concerto at the Barbican in 1999 and agreed to a short interview after the concert. Below is a transcript via Nicholas Barberis of the Martha Argerich Forums.

[  The announcer’s introduction, to his spliced interview, ended with an Argerich quote: “I have to tell you that when I don’t play Chopin for awhile, I don’t feel like a pianist.”  ]

So true!

Chopin was a genius …  what can I say!  He’s the pianist …  the musician,  pianist … whom I would have loved the most to be able to hear, playing.  I’m so curious about his playing,  much more than anybody else,  much more than Liszt,  and much more than anybody else. You know?  I’m so curious,   I would love to see how he played,  really, because of his compositions, the way he writes for the piano,  which is totally different than anybody else,  you know,  and the way he makes the piano sound and the way he writes for the piano, …. it’s totally different.  The virtuosity,  and of course … which must not be obvious,  because the musical quality is extraordinary in Chopin —  so, the virtuosity,  which is tremendous because it’s terribly difficult …  it’s there,  but it has to be … like an understatement.  And it has to show,  I mean, it’s not a show-off thing, you know.  It’s called a Concerto Brilliante,  yes,  brilliant. … Well, but I think this is not….I… To talk about music is very difficult,  what music does to one, you know…The first movement of this concerto,  for me,  is extremely passionate,  and it’s extremely …… proud, and it’s …it has something…I’d say, tender,  I mean, it has the whole Chopin there,  for me,  the first movement.The second movement of this concerto —  I find it much more …[‘not irregular’?],  not so… a little bit more restrained,  singing,  bel canto really,  but not so…I love the Coda,  though. … Well, but that movement is terribly difficult.  It’s a dance,  no?  But, well,  it’s extremely difficult,  pianistically, something incredibly difficult,  you are never sure about it.  It’s very brilliant, of course … but I’d say it’s rewarding also.You know,  very often,  I thought that I liked to listen,  to hear,  the Chopin concerto by young pianists.  Yah, I think he was 20 when he did this one.  Before,  I used to think like that.  Now I’m … in a critical situation about that.  Well, to compare it with what,  for instance,  of his other pieces?  OK,  the Preludes,  the Polonaise-Fantasie? There is already this element of,  like,  you know,  a very beautiful poisoned flower, sometimes.  There is already a little bit of it,  not as much as there has been in other,  yah,  but there is…I wouldn’t say that in the second movement of this concerto,  or the third — but in the first,  might …something,  sometimes.  For me,  the first movement is the most emotionally charged.  For me.”

Listening to her perform the e minor concerto right now on YouTube.