On hearing Leon Fleisher play Bach

 

He knows what’s important— the purity, the essence of the music. There’s nothing like not being able to play the piano for forty years to make one appreciate each sound. Each opportunity to create beauty. There’s no excuse, no need for artifice. Each moment has purpose.

Years of absence and silence have refined the desire to create sound. Decades of trying and failing to regain health, prestige, career have bruised and beaten the ego to a pulp. Only the heart of the music remains, as only the soul of man survives.

Now he wants to play Bach, Chopin, Schubert. Why play music that is purely virtuosic? He learned long ago that maximum notes per second are not where it’s at.

“Before, I was just a two-handed piano player,” he says. “What happened to me has expanded my life, my awareness, my humanity.”


Viva la Vida!

Choir was never like this when I was a child. I always loved singing and developed an affection for a wide variety of repertoire, so choir was an enjoyable experience as long as the teacher wasn’t too boring or bad-tempered. Yet I also remember stony stares from the other children if I sang too heartily or showed too much enthusiasm.

Performances were about rows of uniformed children standing straight, arms at their sides, enunciating clearly and watching the conductor like a hawk. And I loved it– Christmas carols in the freezing local church (invariably followed by a throat infection), anthems in the university chapel, and choir tours encompassing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sacre-Coeur in Paris.

But I’ve never before seen a choir connecting so deeply with music. As an appreciative You Tube viewer so aptly put it,”The sound produced from these kids is so pure and beautiful because it comes straight from their hearts.”

The choir is made up of fifth-graders from PS 22, an elementary school on Staten Island, New York composed of students from many ethnic backgrounds, many of whom come from difficult and deprived backgrounds, but thanks to their inspirational teacher, Mr. Breinberg, they are being enriched for life. And I know that watching and listening to them make music has changed me irrevocably too.


Artistic Intimacy

I was completely stunned by two video excerpts I saw yesterday on the ubiquitous youtube of Dawn Upshaw singing Messiaen‘s “Saint François d’Assise”, directed by Peter Sellars. (I’m indebted to Alex for posting one on his blog).

The excerpts show the rehearsal process, Dawn’s valiant struggles with the virtuosic music and Peter guiding, encouraging and sometimes being extremely exacting with her.

At times, Sellars appears to be making excessive demands– why on earth is he asking for such elaborate postures and insisting on such a precise quality of movement when the music is already so taxing? Can’t he see that just singing the piece accurately would already be plenty? As a coach myself, I’m an advocate for sensitive treatment of singers, and was at first perplexed.
Continue reading…


Platypus

I recently returned from a trip to Sydney, and was drawn as usual to the fabulous wildlife. Here’s my first attempt at videoing my favorite Australian inhabitant– the duck-billed platypus. When underwater, playpuses (platypi?) close their ears, eyes and nose and navigate by a kind of radar. They are monotremes, which are egg-laying mammals, and are really extraordinary. Wish I could have brought her home!


World's Largest Coconut Orchestra

It’s been a long time since I added a blog entry- the main reason is that I’m experiencing a lot of inflammation in my arms which makes it hard to type (recurrence of an old condition). We’re also on the edge of an enormous fire in the Sespe wilderness (see my husband’s blog for details). All in all, it’s been a very challenging year so far.
So I was delighted to see a fabulous video clip
this morning which I think you will enjoy. It certainly made me smile!