Friday, October 19, 2012

Music, music

Often when I see the words 'Faculty Concert' I shudder. I have heard too many pedestrian presentations by well-meaning teachers.

Tonight, however, was a different story. In Sweeney Concert Hall at Smith College members of the faculty set the place on fire.

First, Karen Smith Emerson, with Judith Gordon at the piano, sang a beautiful set of songs in German by Edvard Grieg. Having been immersed in the Grieg 'Cello and Piano Sonata for the past few months, these were especially close to my heart. Karen sang with a beautiful sound, fine musicianship, and deep emotion. I would rave more but she studies with me and that would be embarrassing. Leave it at this;

Then a piano trio of Franz Schubert, his Trio in B-flat major, Op.99 was played by Joel Pinchon, violinist, Volcy Pelletier, 'cellist, and Judith Gordon again as pianist. They gave us a brilliant rendition of the work filled with fire and drama.

Finally, Ms. Gordon returned with pianist Conor Hanick to play Hallelujah Junction of John Adams. This is a tour de force! It has all the usual Adams bag of tricks: loud sonorities, complicated rhythms, and the John Adams logo, 'Why do anything just once if you can do it 17 times?' You can hear Georg Frederik Handel trying to escape. It brought down the house.

This is a music faculty of a different stripe. Congratulations!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What to do 'til the baby comes.

This past weekend I did a huge concert with my friend Andrea; 'cello and piano. We performed works by Vivaldi, Fauré, Ginastera, and Grieg. The Ginastera and Grieg are both barn-burners! It's been a while since I have played a concert that taxing: technically and emotionally. Taxing but wonderful. Even my once-broken right hand behaved itself and performed well.

We performed in a church where I had been Director of Music and Fine Arts for twenty-one years thirty-three years ago to a packed house. Andrea had been a part of that church since childhood. We had an enthusiatic audience and got a standing ovation.

After the concert, the reception, and a lovely dinner with friends, I sat around the kitchen table with my friend Ellen, at whose home I was staying, and we talked until my Adrenalin level returned to somewhere near normal. It was after 1:00 a.m. when I finally went to bed following this 3:00 p.m. concert.

These are the lovely roses I was presented with at the end of the concert.

This is what always happens to me during and after a concert. I expend great amounts of energy, both physical and emotional, during a performance; then it takes a while for the Adrenalin to subside. At 82, your overall energy level is not what it was at 35. (hah!) At 35, I performed the complete organ works of Bach at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University; fourteen recitals in fifteen weeks. Talk about energy! That was over three hundred works by the great Baroque master. It was a blast. There were one thousand people in attendance at each concert. Those were the days to be on the concert stage. I did sixty organ concerts a year back then.

I can remember performing in Carnegie Recital Hall in New York long ago several times with my long-time duo-piano partner, Eleanor Benoist. Almost at the end of one concert, I felt as if we had only been playing for twenty minutes. I thought, 'Did we leave something out???' We played an enormous program. Check the NY Times of that season or my website for our review. ( )When you are totally involved in the music, time has a funny way of disappearing. You are momentarily out of yourself.

Eleanor was at my concert on Sunday! 

This is when I know that I have performed as well as I possibly can. I felt this same disappearance of time at this recent concert, thirty-seven years later. The mind is an amazing thing. It can lie to you about your age when you need the strength and energy to produce something beautiful.

Perhaps continuing to perform in public at my age is the Fountain of Youth. Poncé de Leon move over!

The hardest part of concert day is waiting around for the concert to begin. Different people have the need to do different things to get themselves into concert-mode. One friend I know needs to expend energy by the quart by vacuuming, washing windows, mowing the lawn, and so on. If I did this, I wouldn't be able to play the concert. Another friend of mine used to practice full tilt until just before curtain time. Exhausting!

I feel the need to take life very easy on concert day. I loll around, reading, watching television, vegging out. I barely touch the piano. I never listen to other music. My head is full of the program I am about to play. I don't want to disturb this train of thought. It's as though I plug myself into an electric outlet to charge my batteries. Then in the concert, all hell breaks loose when I release the energy. This has been my way of coping with pre-concert hours for many years. It still works.

My first organ teacher in New York City, Claire Coci, once told me, 'Always eat a chocolate bar before you play a recital'. I always did. This time, I ate it in the intermission, just before the Grieg! Sugar rush!! Just what you need to play that block-buster.

It's a little like a pregnancy; though I have obviously never given birth. Nine months or so before the new concert you make preparations: choose your program, begin to learn it, decide musically, technically, and emotionally how you plan to present it. This is the gestation period.

When you are performing with another instrumentalist or a singer, you work together many hours to share musical ideas, decide on tempi, dynamics and so on. The program is growing within your mind and body. Your musical fetus.

Then on performance day you deliver your baby. In this case it's name was Vivaldi Fauré Ginastera Grieg, and it was a lovely creation. It's parents, the 'cello and the piano, are very proud of it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pigs and flies

Tonight my friend Alice and I saw a play that was even scarier than last night's Presidential debate. It was Lord of the Flies, which was produced by Barrington Stage. Alice had read the book years ago and wanted to see the play; I had heard about the book and thought, 'Why not?'

Lord of the Flies began life as a novel by Nobel Prize winner William Golding, published in 1954. It has been adapted twice into films in English and once into Filipino.

It is the frightening story of a group of boys marooned on an island after their plane went down. It takes place during an imagined nuclear war and details how this group of young men go from prim English school boys to a mob of savage cannibals in an attempt to cope with their problems. One group separates itself from the others, begins to deck itself in war paint and in the blood of a slaughtered pig who they think is a deity; hence the title. They wind up killing two of the other boys. The situation is saved when a British officer from a warship comes ashore to rescue them. One word from him and they shape up into solid citizens. The murders are ignored. Stiff upper lip, and all that!

Richard DentGiovanna Sardelli, the director, brought this to the stage in startling fury and mayhem.The splendid cast, headed by Richard Dent (left) as Ralph, Chris Dwan as Simon, Matthew Minor as Piggy, and John Evans Reese as Jack, turn the stage of Barrington Main Stage into a jungle of emotion, violence and murder.
 Matthew Minor

The play, an allegory for mob rule, peer pressure, and probably the Nazi menace, is frightening in its fury. Not for the weak at heart.

Neither are Presidential debates.