After some quiet time ‘en famille’ during the festive season, 2003 started with a trip down to Jacksonville, Florida: 4 performances of Prokofiev’s Concerto # 3, under Fabio Mechetti, the calm Brazilian conductor (he proves the exception rule!) who has been in charge of several American Orchestras, in recent years. This time he most proudly welcomed me with the news that, after 21 years of marriage, his wife is having twin-girls, any minute now: best of luck, Aida! The concerts went on in that euphoric mood!
One hitch though: having to go through their Customs hall, run with such incompetence that it seemed I had arrived at some obscure 3rd world country was a joke, honestly! And after the gruelling journey from London, of course I missed my connecting flight, which meant the trip lasted close to 22 hours, from door to door… What a nightmare. After that, anything was bliss. I promised myself never to fly into Miami airport again.
Any of you experienced that, by any chance?
Back in the UK, I had concerts with my old friend J. Lubbock and his OSJ, playing Ravel’s G major Concerto. When revisiting a piece after many years, it’s no good just turning on the automatic-pilot, there must be a renewal of ideas and quests. So in a way, I am playing the work for the first time! Once a passage has worked out, I tend to shriek: ‘yes’ or clap my hands –no, not in concert! When ‘ego’ doesn’t come into the picture music can flow freely... no comments. And so the performances were a joy, more satisfyingly beautiful than ever before. That he behaves like a human being, also shows in the way his players respond to him and therefore enjoy their concerts: thanks guys, I had a great time!
Now I’m busy with Schumann’s A minor, that greatest of war-horses of the repertoire. I am dying to play it again: I utterly revel in Robert’s world of inner moods, fleeting energy and passion!
FEBRUARY and MARCH
FEBRUARY and MARCH were 2 very calm months in my Calendar: apart from a short trip to beautiful Istanbul, for a Duo Recital with cellist partner A.Meneses, the engagement where I was to perform Beethoven # 4, in Jerusalem, was unfortunately cancelled, due to that Orchestra’s threatening insolvency… sad! So came the unexpected chance to retreat to my peaceful haven, in the south of France, where I do a lot of thinking while recharging batteries...
It was while enjoying the luxury of the near-perfect quiet of my music room (only occasionally interrupted by the braying of one or two donkeys in the field below!) that the idea hit me to put that glorious spot, to even better use.
Basically there for the whole of Summer anyway, and being often asked if I teach during Summer, why not have a weeklong Workshop-cum-holiday ?! It would happen in a most informal manner to start with since organizing is not my forte! But making situations work or improvising with ingredients- it sounds like my cooking! – that, I manage quite well. I thought Concertos would be fun to do, and am hoping that a friend pianist will play the Orchestra, when we are not to be found at the Tennis court.
I have become so excited with the project that I find it hard to sleep! For this first attempt only a handful of youngsters will be invited, and a couple of good friends will support me in this caprice, should I say madness?
How many of you would consider joining me, next time round, I wonder?!
Ying-Yang? On a sadder note, I don’t know about you, but the Irak crisis unsettled me terribly. The realization that we, mere citizens, have no influence whatsoever, on decisions made by leaders, supposedly elected (some…oops!) by us: never mind the screaming message the world over! In this day-and-age, it seems insane that countries are still willing to consider going to war! I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere (apart from France) and just didn’t want to be part of any of it! More than ever, I became… a musician, by birth!
Shameful and scary too!
How ironic then that in early APRIL - to counter the annulment in Israel? - I was asked to perform “Rach-Pag” 3 times, in Florence with the Maggio Fiorentino, due to Bunin`s demise: there I was, relaxing, day-dreaming about my own Festival when: BANG, once again I had to step in to save the day.
And as when Spring powerfully awakens Nature from sleep, I had to come out with new ways of impacting blossom to that piece and chose to glorify the Rachmaninovation of that simple A min. theme in an A-B-A Sonata form, that went Paganini-definitely-Rachmaninov-Paganini. Moreover the treat of collaborating with Yakov Kreizberg, wonderful conductor and still a good friend. By the way, I’m looking forward to our next encounter, soon when he’s at the head of his Berlin Orchestra. On the music desks: Mendelssohn’s sparkling G minor Concerto, the one I call Champagne!
Incidentally, Italy for a few days, anytime, with pleasure!
Before arriving in Berlin for performances with the excellent DSO, I heard that Kreizberg, one of my favourite conductors, had cancelled! And unfortunately, the young Estonian they found as a replacement - no easy matter when Mahler’s 1st Symphony is in the program - not only had never done Mendelssohn’s # 1, my “Champagne” Concerto, but admitted not liking it either… Great! And I was so looking forward to playing it…! Although the musicians were aware of his blatant “swimming” in the Concerto, and tried to “stick” to me all the way, the experience was, musically speaking, no where near what it would have been if only… Oh well; win some, lose others!
I was asked to play an all-Spanish recital in Burgos, Spain. Over the years, this repertoire has kept me close company. But one-and-a-half hours of it? I must admit that I had to pull all stops to find my usual eagerness when tackling a new program, and move away from that dangerous “another Triana?” kind of approach... Concentrating especially on “atmosphere”, imagining the fragrant and sensuous nocturnal warmth, the dark moods and the lingering resonance of guitar playing (here I’m thinking of de Falla’s greatest solo work, Fantasia Bætica filled with the sound of guitars) and subtly enjoying the hint of crisp rhythms, transformed the ocasion into a discovery to me! Once the recital was over, following a decision made on the spur of the moment, it was nice to be able to drive for only a few hours and spend some peaceful days at home, in the south of France. Only in Europe can this be possible: we Brazilians or Australians for instance, are not so lucky! And a very warm June it turned out to be!
Around the same time, plans to record a CD of Spanish music materialized. Having recently come across a few ‘jewels’ by Turina; I will spend some of the Summer deciding on the ideal mixture of beauty, appeal and novelty.
I promise to let you know when it’s “in the can”!
PS: Any of you remember “Spanish Soul”, a black disc done by EMI? It followed “Brazilian Soul”, my 1st ever album! It seems so long ago, almost another life!
Normally while on holidays, I prefer time to stand still … But this year there’s a difference. 5 chosen participants plus 3 supportive friends will spend about 8-10 days at my place; my ‘summer camp’ idea has blossomed into a Concerto workshop. There will be music coming from the house during the Master Classes, or the 2 pianos rehearsals leading up to them; possibly also some enthusiast intent on practising at all hours – no neighbours to worry about - or even when the pianos are being tuned by Nigel, my piano technician, kindly in attendance, who always ends his sessions with a bit of relaxing jazz! After cooling-off by the pool, having a relaxed meal accompanied by a few bottles of Bordeaux wine should be fun for all of us. I can hardly wait to see how it will go. Wish me luck!
Humm…on second thoughts, I wonder what I’m getting into?!
Reflections on the "Concerto Workshop” which was held in the first week of AUGUST, chez moi, in the south of France.
Whenever I tread unknown territory, which is often, I choose not to expect that anything will go wrong. As among my eight guests there were Irish, Brazilian, Malaysian, Italian, New Zealander, Czech and British subjects, some unusual behaviour - due to background alone - could be expected. But to judge from this experience, there were moments when I thought I should have provided expert psychiatric counsel as well as a doctor in-residence, to deal with what was in store…
Having never developed any skills as an organizer, when MeiYi and Maggie proposed an ‘order of play’ for the week, I was quite happy to go along with it…
--- but when Marco burned himself making pizza - enough for an army, right? – somebody else had to take his place, the following morning…
---or when the exhaustion from playing round-the-table ping-pong after dinner, in order to burn away some of that lovely Bordeaux, meant that an earlyish start became closer to …one pm!
In all fairness, Alex and Gui certainly deserved some rest, having travelled all the way from southern Brazil to join us! Good excuse, boys!
--- You may also remember, the HEAT that week was unbearable: we had 50 celsius by the pool! That wasn’t much of a help, either … I just chose to stay indoors, making crumble after crumble: plums, bananas, blackberries and apples, you name it, all eaten at a speed, not to be believed!
--- Then, a nasty virus (unfortunately not a computer’s) hit almost half of the group causing havoc on the timetable and a couple of trips to the doctor’s, for bagfuls of antibiotics to treat a cough and fever (the latter, taken so constantly, as to rapidly raise the possibility of their imminent deaths – surely not the plague? - under my roof! It seems this bug was brought over by a guest who drove … from Spain! Muchas gracias!
… Of course it may have been simply too much for some of the youngsters to cope with…
Dare I say, I couldn’t have done it without Nigel, always good-humoured and brilliant piano technician who arrived from London for the week, and simply “saved the day” by slowly-but-surely bringing up the pitch of the old Windover babygrand, to match that of the Steinway concert grand, until it held – athis, after the French tuner had told me to forget it: “there is a split on the bridge and it might NOT bear the stress of tuning”! Honestly, I could have done without that unecessary week of nightmares, worrying about not ‘coming up with the goods’ perfectionist me, desperately searching for a “piano d’occasion”. I even considered calling the whole thing off! I could conceivably welcome the participants, by announcing: “there’s a change of plans, folks: just have a good time, lie in the hammocks, listen to the birds or the donkeys, read or swim to your heart’s content, but “Miss Otis regrets” to say that the 2nd piano… has just exploded!“ … Sounds like something from ‘FawltyTowers’!
At least my friend Adam Skoumal, brilliant pianist-composer from the Czech Republic, who had come over as The Orchestra - could forget about any subtlety on that 2nd piano, but not have to use ear-plugs as well!
I’m really grateful for your help and expert cooking: your chicken “a la tcheque” was exquisite! You can come back, anytime! (The perfect guest, if it weren’t for the fact that he beat-me-silly at ping-pong singles - and I’m not half-bad…)
--- My good friend Brenda, who came from New Zealand to lend me a hand running things ‘in the fringe’ (how courageous of her to accept such an invitation) could hardly believe the goings-on! Luckily, we had planned so that she stayed on for an extra week, when the two of us, ‘washed away’ the excitements of WWW - ‘the WORKSHOP WEEK that WAS’ with our daily “sun-downer”. Cin-cin !
“Notes @ MasterClasses”
While listening to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, I thought I would not say much… but had to demonstrate that one can swing, without that horrible ‘dotting’ of every other pair of eigths – a stereotyped belief of ‘classical’ musicians, to “jazz things up”… I’d say it’s rather a question of rhythmical flexibility, or even better, a bit of what we Brazilians term: “jogo de cintura” (or looseness of waist - literally translated) plus a steely sense of the beat - believe me: this is not a contradiction in terms! On top of which, the score should be treated with the same respect due to any other composer.
In Beethoven’s 1st Concerto, I tried to instigate, first - a sense of fluidity while accompanying the clarinet solos in the gorgeous 2nd mouvement – unless one is Richter, it won’t work if played too slowly; then, so evident and unique in the Finale, that intangible shimmering of… should I say… C majorness , “flutter-flutter”!
In Mozart’s K 453 and Prokofiev’s no 1, for that matter, my main concern was to make the players aware of the way both these composers bring moods and colours to the score simply by their choice of instruments.
Grieg’s A minor Concerto suffered mainly from a lack of that almost “fjordishly” emotional-yet-cool personality which pervades all of his music – ie in that F major section, with flute solo or the Finale, based on such light danses; one can almost imagine clogs-clad peasants swirling around … (As a matter of fact in my case, what better reference than having a mother-in-law, who’s a Norwegian force of Nature!)
I also had a wonderfully intense Class with Mozart’s K 595, the most perfect ‘last’ Concerto of all: as if Mozart were indeed taking leave of the world, blissfully…
To me, playing Concertos has always meant making music with a large body of musicians, certainly not the approach, generally encountered of “ME, plus accompaniment”. A performer must be totally aware of who’s playing what and where! This will provide many clues not only on tempi but also on nuances - a FF on the flute will require a totally different accompaniment from one on the horn. .. Learn your score inside-out, and you are half-way to winning the equation!
One of the pianists whom I had invited to stay a bit longer, gently asked if I were not “too sick of teaching” , if she could play a Beethoven Sonata for me and maybe a Scarlatti one? … “That’s the whole point of being here, take advantage while you can!” …Sick of teaching… I absolutely thrive on polishing my experience and musical knowledge in solving any perceived technical or stylistic problems in someone’s playing. And when the lessons are over I’ll apply that same treatment to my own benefit, often amazing myself at how, previously dormant details, ‘jump’ at me from the score! Following this week of Master Classes, I feel as if I’m ‘revving’ at the piano, rearing to… restart the season!
To cap it all, there was a real surprise in store for me: when Maggie came up trumps, on her decision during that week, to ‘give up smoking’ … YES: I’m reallly happy and proud of her!
Humm…next time, a few things must be altered. And maybe Summer wasn’t such a good idea… too hot, too many distractions… Perhaps it would be nice in October or even May - lovely time in the year here … Oops… I got carried away, there! “Buh-byee”!
Having spent most of three months away from London, mainly in the south of France, it was good that in October there were no scheduled concerts, if only so that I could restore some order to my 'abandoned' house, re-pot a few orchids in need of attention or have fun completely changing the visual of the music-room or sitting-room. Something that in our early years together seemed to puzzle my husband, no end: he once even thought he had walked into the wrong house by mistake, everything looked so different!
Being happy about not playing Concerts for some time, must seem strange to young aspiring pianists, who desperately dream of a constantly busy career. That's honestly what it comes down to, when one's had such a long and rewarding career such as I, simply not having to travel becomes quite a luxury!
Also this free time gave me the chance to look into which car I should buy: I have been teased enough for getting so attached to my 20yr old Mercedes, both by my many brothers (see Picture Gallery) and in particular by one Italian student of mine who even had 'the cheek' of calling it … "a bit of history"! Honestly, Marco!
More about cars, anon!
But even more rewarding the fact that I managed to finalize a pending wish of mine: the acquisition and subsequent transport overseas, of an instrument I had tried in Madison, Wisconsin, more than 25 years ago. Then that was the first time I'd ever come across one; not a piano but … a clavichord! And staying at Bill and Helen Hay's, I remember to this day, how instead of practicing Bartok #3 on the piano for the concert with the local Symphony, the moment I realized I was able to get a vibrato effect by slightly moving a key - bliss, for a pianist - I spent hours on the clavichord going through all of the Bach and Haydn scores I could get my hands on … I had never forgotten those moments. I made my decision to keep it in my Parisian flat so that no longer will I have trouble with neighbours, if I feel like playing some music in the evening! Or at anytime, really: it's so gentle!
Hey Mei-Yi, it's waiting for you, OK?
In time / wonderful news: I have just been told that Cancerkin raised a total of … L43,000.00 for that effort! How about that?! I am so happy. Thank you all, for your generosity!
In November I had two enjoyable recitals to give: the first one for Cancerkin (a wonderful charity), to be played in the hall of a posh mansion in St John's Wood, which is really built around an indoors' swimming-pool; and the second, in St. Émilion, the delightful roman-town of the "Grand-Cru" wines' region, in the south of France. And 'comme d'habitude', it's a pleasure to share the enthusiasm, warmth and hospitality of Almuth & François Querre, plus , the bonus of a fabulous post-recital reception! I wouldn't complain when glamour comes in: it doesn't happen that often, believe you me! And how nice to be spoilt, once in a while!
Un grand merci!
Earlier in the month, buying a car turned out to be a most unusual experience to me!
Some of you may have come across or dealt with 'ebay.co.uk'? Well, I hadn't; until the morning when I went into its web-site, to 'look' for used-cars! Surely enough, there was this old white -my favourite colour for cars - Mercedes SE 500 -and some nice enough pictures … Before I knew how it all worked, I placed a bet for consideration, or so I thought … only to see that in 2 seconds flat, it was accepted! By the rules of the game, I was down as its buyer and was duly coaxed into sending a cheque to the seller… ?? He-l-lo!?!
Never mind I wouldn't have a chance of viewing or test-driving the vehicle: it could also turn out to be a 'turkey', a stolen car or … have had its 4 wheels taken away, for all I knew! I was terrified and in utter agony, desperately trying to find out whether I had indeed committed to buying the car! Could I possibly get out of this mad adventure?!
The nightmarish visions I had of exchanging a brief-case of cash … to no avail: so convinced I was, that the guy would run away with the money … and take the car! I spent almost 8 hours that day, either on the telephone to AA or Mercedes finding out about the model, mileage, or e-mailing 'ebay' or tracking down the seller… My husband being in China, couldn't provide any help; it was my mess after all! I then - 'may I call a friend?' - called another student, who happens to be an enthusiastic and experienced ebay-buyer of … smaller items I hasten to add, for advice!
Thanks Ron, for giggling with … er, at me, more likely!
I then got a friend of mine (a bodyguard would have been more adequate!) to come along to Luton airport the next day, where the transaction was to take place … How the two of us laughed, imagining all sorts of scenarios: being taken for drug-dealers, or indeed paying a ransom for someone kidnapped …
Enough said; believe it or not it worked and I have got the car, which drives amazingly well and am very happy with what turned out a very lucky find!
Time will tell, though. Although I managed to amuse some friends with this mad adventure, I will never forget the myriad of agonizing moments and doubts I had to live with, all in the space of some … 26 hours!
On to Venice, where in the last week in November I was to be one of the jurors of a piano competition. Most fantastic was being invited to a few glorious local houses, filled with unending treasures of Venician beauty, priceless paintings, frescoes, mosaics, 'lampadaires' or even rails for stairs made of Murano glass … And with an array of delicious meals, I rather consider myself very fortunate!
I must say, what a surreal place! So atmospheric that it seems not to exist! I fell completely in love with it and very much dream of a "pied-a-terre" - given all of the water I suppose this should be called "un piede-in-acqua"… ? Ha ha! Imagine how prohibitively expensive, though; the transport of a piano, alone!
As to the 20th edition of the "Premio Venezia" - run by a generous group of enthusiastic benefactors - as it came to a close, it turned out surprisingly disappointing, given that the finalists, two very talented young graduates from Italian Conservatories, proved not to be quite ready for a career, running out of energy, stamina, concentration, in other words, completely 'crumbling' under the pressure of the occasion! Never mind: they have time: 'tanti auguri, Sebastian e Viller'.
Next year, the Semis and Final should take place once again in 'La Fenice'- as it did before the criminal fire of 1997 - which is about to be re-opened to the public after an indescribable restoration effort, at recreating the minutest details! To me it's one of the most beautiful Opera Houses in the world.
Any of you have seen it?
For free-lance orchestra players in the UK, December is a month filled with performances of Haendel's Messiah… whereas I only had one concert, in Antwerp: Beethoven's Emperor on a one-off date ! And the realization very late in the day that there was only one rehearsal fixed … an oversight by my agency … made me dither about doing it at all - I'm long past enjoying these half-baked performances from lack of rehearsal ! But in the end, having done all the work and disliking letting anybody down if I can help it - add to this the Aries' syndrome: "give me a challenge, any day" - and … of course, I played! Am not sure of the result - getting the Emperor right in one rehearsal a few hours before you are due to perform, is quite exhausting, to say the least. Michel Tilkin, the conductor, was most cooperative and helpful.
The older I get the more I enjoy having plenty of time in hand, both for preparation towards and between different engagements. It's much more rewarding and relaxed. Certainly the slower pace of my present career suits me better than in early days … things stay longer in my head, there's a lot more perception of musical depth which can only come when you live with a work for long periods of time. And, having the experience of teaching youngsters allows me to try and show how it should be done: it's very easy for non-performing teachers… !
Possibly this is what's called maturity? Something I hated hearing about in my younger years: for me it was ridiculous that performances were not taken as the best-offered at that point in time! But… so be it! It was true? I remember someone once saying to me: "I can hardly wait to hear you, when you're 35"! And that is …quite a while back…
On to next month (to change the subject)… humph …!