Never mind concerts: of late I have so enjoyed spending hours reading Music of my choice. Whereas some people seem to be reading several books at once, I enjoy forever deciphering the score of one piece of Music, reading between the staves so to speak, trying to scoop out the exact mood meant by Robert or Frederic, Johannes or Maurice, not to mention Ludwig or Sergei. Give me plenty of free days when, instead of the dreaded packing and subsequent rush to and from airports, I have the luxury of wallowing into the tenderness of a Davidsbündler; delving into the desperate sadness of any of the ‘C # minors’ by Pichon; playing through either the ever-fulfilling ‘Rach 3’ or the all-encompassing depth of a Brahms # 2 -- two of the most complete scores in the repertoire -- keeping them ready, or as close to it as it‘s possible!
Would you like to know the best imaginable cure for depression in my opinion? Go through any one of Wolfgang’s miraculous concertos: and I know it works! Or have you ever tried to ‘breathe-in’ a phrase of music so that your lungs are completely filled up? I swear you’ll come out totally refreshed and in tune’!
Well I did have a couple of concerts this month after all: The 1 st as part of a “World Cup of Culture’ at the Brazilian Embassy in Berlin throughout 2006 -- a clever idea by Gilberto Gil, our minister for the Arts, echoing the football fever which will soon hit Germany. Meneses and I were guests in the amazing residence in order to open the series in their pretty-good 400-seat concert-hall, playing a combination of Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Villa-Lobos; which was more than ever the usual ‘sublime trip’ we parted company hoping for more performances soon …A gorgeous reception for a few lucky people followed after which, to Ambassador Felipe’s greatest surprise and pleasure, I was proud to convince his very sensitive wife (herself a diplomat by career, a clever writer and an amateur cellist if I’ve ever met one) of an impromptu-soirée! I had great fun! I realise that it can’t have been easy to double-up with Antonio Meneses, in a Haendel sonata for 2 cellos + continuo, but you must admit it was very rewarding, right Marilu? Thanks for the courage, you came out trumps and your lovely staff enjoyed the bonus!”
And to end the month, I went back to play a recital at Uppingham Music School for (I had done the same plus given MasterClasses, last Summer) – but this time there was a most distracting noise in the school-hall: still questionable whether it came from a flapping flag-pole line or a creaking system of ancient-radiators, which destroyed my enjoyment and concentration: the older I get, the more I require perfect conditions in order to perform and produce my best! So-r-ry!
On the following day I had to adjudicate for hours on end (200 kids all together) but that turned out to be more fun than I imagined! Well done, Alexis, the kids obviously work hard towards proving themselves and that’s so important! Although I’d love to come back, it will have to be when the new Music-building is finished: its new Fazioli beckons me: but please, no more distracting noises!
After an appalling delay of 8 hours on my way back from Brazil – the joys of travelling! -- the airplane was about to land on a rare clear evening, when the realization that of what I had ‘lived for’ these last 6 months, the recording of the nigh-unknown work of a genius of orchestration, Villa-Lobos’ Choros # 11, which I regarded committing ‘to posterity’ almost a mission at this stage of my life, turned out a total failure instead of the triumph I had expected! That most beautiful “gnawing” E minor theme slid into my mind and after only three notes of it, strong emotions took over my being and I sobbed … and sobbed, looking down onto London, my chosen city of residence for the last 30 odd-years, warmly lit-up in a golden-yellow hue, I felt utterly miserable!!
I will herewith try to explain my predicament.
Conductors … and conductors!
Immediately prior to my trip to São Paulo, I had been booked to play Britten’s joyful Piano Concerto at two concerts of British music with the Warsaw Philharmonic. Discouraged when I was told only a few days before going, that Tod Handley had unfortunately had to cancel those appearances for health reasons – I do hope he’s all better, now -- I honestly felt like pulling out myself (which on their end is what was expected!) but after a few calls to-and-fro between the agents involved, I was told that the replacement found, knew the piece… Humm: that turned out to be a blatant lie from the man (…ager?) who was basically happy to place anybody else from his books, if only “to avoid losing his commission”, and not for what was obviously a good chance for Nicolae Moldoveanu, a most talented Romanian conductor (he has worked in Britain for years without anything close to a title!) to prove his utter professionalism and uncommon ease under pressure by doing repertoire that he knew inside-out: Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro and Walton’s wondrous Belshazzar’s Feast! Having now worked with him, I’m sure that he’d feel at home in any given situation, he’s so relaxed! And how well had he learnt the Britten: no trace of an ego and eager to understand every wish of mine, we had two great performances! He was amazing and I can tell you that like an Emperor, he all but ‘conquered’ Warsaw!
“Congrats, ‘Nicolaeski’ you are brilliant; I really wish you the career you so merit!”
Consider that as deserving a conductor as that, he hasn’t got another concert in his diary (no so-called manager in-sight, to witness his success and guarantee at least, a well-deserved return visit to Poland); now compare him to the guy I next had to work with, a social-outcast really, in what was the worst experience I ever had in my professional life, and in my home country too! Already last year I had to swallow my pride, not to walk out during a week of very hard work, when his obvious frustration translated into aggression all round (read ‘November’); the three performances which ensued had at best brought me very little musical satisfaction! Is this cretin’s total, crushing power going to last forever? Of course, whatever else I might say here will sound ugly and plain vindictive. But my shock remains that behaviour as humiliating and humanly degrading as his, is tolerated!
“Guys, do something about it, it’s your life; and like that annoying commercial by L’Oréal: he’s not worth it!”
The irony of Life.
Unfortunately I will have to distance myself emotionally and musically from this recording, were it ever to see daylight: it is in no way even close to what I set out to accomplish. Had I had a caring musician to interact with or a ‘normal’ human-being, integrated in life as we know it in this Earth of ours; or had he bothered to better prepare, it would have been a different story. How could I pour out my soul with an enemy on the podium? Can anyone perform under such circumstances? No way: I am still stunned from it all! And it hurts even more, because I cared so much!
Credit where it’s due though to the two brilliant young producers from BIS: “Thanks Martin and Marion, without your support, I’d never have got through!”
Ps: Ironic or what? I also recorded solo, Choros # 5, alias Alma Brasileira! What a relief: not all was lost!
I needed all my strength to come out of the ‘mincing’ suffered last month (v. February) in São Paulo, and gasp for air, I did! I’d best jot it down as ‘a week-which-never-really-happened, or in the better-forgotten category. Taking a week off I decided to go to the town where I grew up: Rio de Janeiro, the most beautiful in the world! I will forever miss being there >my real home among all homes < and that feeling is unrivalled! Alone but, hey: what’s new? Life for anyone thriving for quality of achievement and recognition in the public eye can hardly be any different! I spent time with family and friends, got plenty of sun and exercise by walking along some of Rio’s beautiful beaches. For the 1 st time in my life I followed a Trio Elétrico – a typical phenomenon in the Carnival season: a “barge on wheels” playing really loud pop-music while inching its way, engulfed by a huge crowd of young-and-old happy people, out for the fun of dancing and singing. In order to ‘save’ my ears a bit I had moved down to the shore and through a pleasant haze of warm, sultry sea-mist, I still fell under the magic of this unique spectacle! Brazil’s football and carnival could arguably be considered at best, weapons of soft-power against terrorism or other disgraces in the world!
Back to Europe and a rushed visit to Paris to see my eldest daughter who was about to embark on a new chapter in her young life and had chosen to go and live … in Rio: fateful trading of places!
I know she’ll love it! “Boa sorte, Neném!”
A word on cancellations
It never ceases to annoy me when soloists pull out of dates, illness excluded. At times, they just haven’t got round to preparing new repertoire or simply prefer to break the run of excessive demands: these flavour-of-the-moment-freaks have a ridiculous amount of dates to choose from, their fees often so totally disproportionate to the artistic merit ... On the other hand, if the agent can’t place another client instead, “good-bye” commission for the work done beforehand (sometimes to great personal sacrifices): all for nothing! A disheartening consideration.
A coincidence or what?
When an offer came for me to take over 4 performances of Brahms 2, in Rotterdam, although ‘naturally’ tempted -- unlike the defaulting pianist I had no concerts at all this month -- after some consideration, for the 1 st time in my life I turned down the whole lot. Let me tell you that it felt absolutely great: by putting my friends, ahead of business I felt I had at last grown out of slaving!
As I was musing whether I would ever find out who ended up by playing those concerts, that same morning I received a carefully worded email, followed by a timid telephone call from Chris Elton, in London, most apologetically inquiring whether I’d consider stepping-in at very short-notice for a Master Class, at the Royal Academy of Music (something which for years I had cowered away from doing) scheduled to be given the next evening by the pianist (as luck would have it) who had been called to …yes: Rotterdam, to play the 4 Brahms I had refused! Isn’t that the funniest?!
Without any of the worries (about teaching in public at the RAM!), I had a field day: the pleasure of working on material like Rach 1, a Mompou ‘’jewel’ and Rach 3: “ yum-my”, I had a fann-tastic time!
“Thanks Chris, for the chat and the delicious supper afterwards: it was fun!
Starting my favourite month in the year – you may not know: I was born in April! – I went to perform with the Promusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, Ohio. Rather a hard 5 day-stunt although given the most fabulous repertoire I had to play, it was pure bliss: Brahms’ Horn Trio, Mozart’s glorious Wind Quintet and that most elusive of Concertos, Wolfgang’s K 595, in B flat -- the moment its ‘spiralling’ 1st theme ‘hovers in’ and gently expands, it never fails: to me He seems to bid farewell to the world!
After a week of rehearsals with an orchestra as guest-artist, playing chamber music with the musicians has always appealed to me as the most natural unfolding of events! Unfortunately, in our days only people who appeal to the media can boast this luxury and in that game, I admit defeat: “not guilty, your honour”! Given that Mozart Piano Concertos have some of the most heavenly and beautiful music he wrote, ground for a strong bond through musical understanding develops between pianist and wind players. So it was in the Quintet with Donna, Bob, George and Charles; the Trio I played with Karl (1 st horn of the Detroit Symphony) and Yenn, concert-master of the Orchestra. And the orchestra’s founder chief-conductor, Tim Russell, is one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever come across.
“Shall we go for the 5-Beethovens next… or Chopin 1?”
Soon after getting back, unexpectedly as usual, ‘SOS-Ortiz’ was summoned and this time I did take over a date in Vicenza playing – as luck would have it -- K 595: a most convenient prolongation of bliss! Add to that the joy of performing in the gorgeous Teatro Olimpico, unique in the world for the fact that it’s totally covered, therefore protected from further ravages of the weather (I also enjoyed listening to the 2 nd half from the gently-curved arena)! One rehearsal plus the performance, and 80% of the orchestra’s musicians came spontaneously to kiss and hug me.
“Thanks guys, to me there is no greater pleasure than … yours!”
One Saturday morning while at home in London, I listened to a program about the recording of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, on Radio 4. Funnily enough most of the protagonists in that broadcast were personally known to me: the conductor was David Zinman, one of my idols, a musician-among-musicians; the producer Chris Hazell, once one of Decca’s most prominent producers -- we worked on one very successful CD of mine: Rachmaninov’s 2 nd Concerto, Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, Littolff’s Scherzo and Gottschalk’s Grande Fantasia Triunfal on the Brazilian National Anthem (for which Chris and I cooperated in my sole effort at transcriptions); the sound engineer Simon Eadon, had done my 5 Villa-Lobos Concertos among others, also for Decca. Norway’s foremost cellist Truls Mørk, was one of the soloists -- with him I had actually played the Triple in Oslo, with the RPO and Weller; I remember how discouraged he was at a career which just didn’t seem to come his way – but it surely took off, almost simultaneously with that performance! And he’s got the Midas touch: everything turns to gold…
The note struck by the program was so familiar: it was how it had always been when I recorded, be it for Emi, Decca, Pickwick, Pantheon, or Collins Classic over however many years. Getting the balance right came first and could take up to 1 hour or more: but an indispensable requirement and almost of the greatest importance in the success of any project; it involved every one who had any interest in the production: conductor, soloist, sound engineer, producer; a whole lot of orchestra musicians would also ‘pour’ into the control room at different times, curious to hear for themselves, how a passage sounded through the microphones: “oh… is that it? Okay”… back to the studio we’d all go, to readjust a rubato that didn’t quite come through in the oboe; or reshape a passage in the high-register of the piano which sounded rather shrill or plainly too loud, and so forth! The recording studio as opposed to a concert platform, are two totally different worlds!
That afternoon’s broadcast not only evoked my long-lost ideal past, but also brought back the horrid experience I recently had (v. February) when the social incompetence of the so-called boss, came screaming out, again! Balance important? He never once went into that control room! Guys like that should have to pass a sort of M.O.T. and in his case, lose their license or at least be demoted from the driver’s seat, thank you very much!
Upon reflection I realized I had lived in the dream-world of recording when I was far too young or not ready for it. A contract to record music I have lived with and further conquered by the ‘learning process of teaching’, repertoire which I choose because I excel in > is what I wish for, more than anything at this point in time. Having devoted all my life to Music, it seems only fair that I should leave my very best for posterity and the deprivation of this dream hurts like a dagger in the soul!
Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit”; Brahms’ 2 Concertos, his F minor Sonata; Rachmaninov’s 5 Piano Concertos - including the Rhapsody; the complete colours of Debussy; Chopin’s 2 Concertos, his Ballades and Scherzos; and …another go at Villa-Lobos’ Choros # 11?!
I can only dream on …
And yet again, as I lay by the pool catching up on my reading, a cancellation which I very much hoped would happen came through! And because I knew of this possibility (a ‘déjà-vu’ sort of situation – v. February) I had Brahms 2 in top shape. It was rather fun arriving in Germany, a country totally struck with football fever, especially since the Brazilian team was such a favourite in the upcoming event – always a sign of bad luck, really. There were committees all over the place welcoming the thousands of supporters from Brazil who poured in for the World Cup; even in my hotel. This time it had nothing to do with me...
As far as I remember, it was the 1 st time in my long career that the opening concert turned out quite an unknown equation: the conductor’s “creativity” led to unforeseen changes of pace, nuances and tempi… I suppose it is only fair: why should such infliction come as usual, from soloist to conductor and not the other way around?! One unsettling experience was all I needed: next evening I was better prepared at playing this game: “live and learn”!
Shortly after I returned to the UK in preparation to my round-the-world trip starting in Tokyo: a shooting pain on my right side (appendicitis? Oh no!) sent me to bed and that was soon followed by a very high fever which kept me shivering for all of 2 days: such high fever could only mean a nasty bout of kidneys infection, flared up from nowhere! The interested parties were kept on their toes inquiring as to whether they would have to cancel part of the trip, on this side of the Atlantic or indeed find a replacement for me, on the other! I could hardly lift my head let alone think of going out to a clinic, so I listened to Dr Nemeth’s reasoning over the phone and with positive thinking, I timed myself just well enough in order to take the trip, as if nothing had happened. I admit that it was with the scary thought that a bomb could be ticking away inside that I set off on this long journey without a doctor having had a look at me!
Mad? Let’s say that somehow, ‘SOS-Ortiz’ had stepped in to take over my own concert!
I knew that this July was going to be a busy month …
Having not been to Tokyo for a few years it was nice to work again with the lovely NHK Orchestra, this time under the baton of the very talented Jonathan Nott. For once, the fact that the conductor had never done the work in question was to my benefit: we could constructively mould his role as to better support my strong conviction that Chopin’s Concertos (here the massive E minor) are really the composer’s unwritten Symphonies. Of course, Pichon used his beloved medium the piano, but by no means is it the only important element in the writing of both works. If this music is described or thought of as weak, it’s only due to the fact that the piano part often consists of embellishing material, those all-important harmonic lines are found more often than not in the orchestration, therefore a lot is required to make that ‘backbone’ evident! Surely, one day a conductor will see the light and courageously but gently ‘help’ the accompaniment by partially doubling up some of the instrumentation! Of course, it’s possible to do it just as it’s written, which is what I resort to, but it takes a lot of hard work! It’s also the reason why I’ll refuse to do it on one single rehearsal: “it’s only Chopin, there’s nothing there for the orchestra” is not what I want to hear, thank you very much!
Due to jet-lag, the day of the concert was going to be hard anyway, with an 11am rehearsal preceding the 3 pm matinee-performance! Add to that the crucial football match in Brazil’s group which took place at 3 am in Japan I felt compelled to watch … Fruitless stupidity: France’s national team had kicked us out of the World Cup and for most Brazilians, only death is worse than defeat in international football…
The Brazilian Ambassador in Tokyo, who attended the concert, thanked me for lifting everyone’s spirit by my performance. He also invited me to move ‘headquarters’ to the Embassy where I was to play an exclusive recital, for a few lucky music lovers, a couple of days later.
That next morning, having done the NHK concert but still feeling queasy, at my request the Embassy had arranged for a doctor’s appointment at a clinic mainly for gaijins (foreigners). X-rays, scans and every other imagined test later, nothing nasty was found; a 2nd course of antibiotics was prescribed and I went home ‘relieved’ not only that it was indeed the self-diagnosed kidney infection … but also of quite a chunk of my concert fee: medical care is prohibitively expensive in Japan. Never mind: I could relax.
Since prior to the trip I had barely managed to get through Chopin 1, I had even less time for Rach 2 which I was to perform in the USA. When the Ambassador had made me promise an encore, sometime after the cocktail (drinks!), I happily sat down to play through the whole concerto, singing as usual the orchestra part alongside my own playing: a bonus to the amazed guests, to me my longed-for practise!
Thanks for the welcome, dear André and Paula. Let’s not forget the idea of a duo-recital with Meneses or some solo Villa-Lobos -- this time in the dining-room? I must collect the jewel-box I forgot behind!
Thanks also for all your help, Marco-Antonio (the cultural secretary).
Off to Cleveland where I worked intensively with James Gaffigan, a 26 years old conductor from New York doing his first Rach 2, with very good results. Two of my best American lady friends came to attend that outdoor performance: Alann, my hostess in Ft Worth during the Cliburn Competition, all those years ago who, by choosing me among the contestants had picked the winner. And Frances, from Pittsburgh, who received an unexpected phone call from the manager of the Orchestra enquiring whether she’d had a spare bed > the hotel had not kept my booking! After the concert, we went to a friendly place to sample some so-called Brazilian cuisine and had loads of fun: great seeing you, girls!
I am one for challenges, but when Philadelphia wanted to program Chopin 1, I had to turn down that idea, rehearsal time was very restricted (read on). So I chose to do Rachmaninov 2 because with my extremely personal yet very strong approach to that Concerto I know that I’ll pull anybody along …
Having lived and studied at the Curtis Institute with Rudolf Serkin, so many years ago, only upon my arrival back in town, I realized how emotional it was to return to Philly, this time as a performing artist based in Europe. That upcoming concert date was to be the thrilling highlight of both this trip and my recent professional life, on paper anyway. But no-one had prepared me for the ‘icing on the cake’: Rossen Milanov, conductor-in-charge of the last 6 years of the Orchestra’s summer season. His extreme naturalness as a musician and positive attitude as a person are remarkable; already at our piano rehearsal there was something extraordinary in his reaction to my playing. The day arrived and after only 45 minutes of rehearsal, we shared magical moments on the blazing-hot evening of the concert!
The rehearsal had already reminded me how glorious that Orchestra is but in concert, wow! They are so far above anything else I’ve heard before. In the 2 nd half, Rossen gently guided his musicians in a spectacularly refined rendition of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and their masterful performance is a memory forever indelible from my mind! The way they listen to each other and completely blend in a perfect amalgam of sounds, exquisitely phrasing anything that comes their way, as if they were one person … As a pianist I can only add my own soul to a performance on a great piano whereas a conductor, working with a superb instrument which provides its own wealth of souls can simply add his own, crowning the lot! Dynamite or what?!!
At the post-concert reception, I overheard a comment made by Rossen: “C* Ortiz is the best kept secret in the business”; not that flattering you may think, but to me sweetly so, nonetheless.
Then came Ljubljana where again under Rossen’s baton, I lived through both the Chopin Concertos in one evening – surprisingly, a feat of bravura more exhausting than playing all 5 Beethovens, in 2 nights. I must admit that transforming the usual orchestra’s anodyne accompaniment to these 2 masterful works into symphonic status, is not easy. Cleverly, this ‘stunt’ was created in order to provide enough playing to the otherwise impossible task which awaited us two days later: only one general rehearsal was scheduled for each of the two concerts in the summer series of Amsterdam’s fabulous Concertgebouw!
It was glorious to hear my conception come across with real conviction, thanks, Rossen!
And thanks, Niels! I’m only sorry that you have yet to hear the results of a collaboration of your making. Some day, in future, maybe?
Back to the Gironde if nothing else for some needed quiet time in which I tried to clear the still nagging discomfort from dodgy kidneys with a 3 rd course of antibiotics, prescribed this time by my ‘ médecin de campagne ’: would it ever end? I had just had a great time with the gentle orchestra from Ljubljana(see July), by the way has any of you been there? It’s a beautiful town filled by little restaurants alongside its charming canals; a square where its daily market is adorned by arrays of sumptuous flowers; a magical corner where three romantic bridges converge and ‘melt’ into a scene in old Vienna, Prague and Venice. One can even visit its strategically placed Castle unhindered by the half-expected mass of noisy tourists… but here, nearly absent!
Actually, the next concert I was preparing for was a duo-recital with Meneses which was to take me to Dubrovnik: a town everyone raves about! It is rather a knock-out! From my hotel room high above the sea, I could see the Old City where hoards of young people of all nationalities come to have fun and do so in uncommonly hushed fashion! The Festival people were a delight, especially beautiful Ana Tomic (of course, not pronounced the ‘tempting’ way, but with a ‘ch’ sound at the end) who kindly included us in her otherwise “en famille” birthday-party”. When on the very day of the concert my kidneys still hurt badly, she even found time to accompany me to the doctor who, hearing of the ridiculously long condition, prescribed a double-dose of antibiotics, enough to get rid of that nasty infection, once and for all!
Oh, but that evening, when finally we were allowed into the venue of the Concert only two hours beforehand, the vision of the most battered-looking old Steinway I have ever seen on a stage, depressed me no-end….and may I add that the problem wasn’t just visual – I felt quite insulted! Hard to believe it from a Festival of this quality! It duly spoilt my sense of occasion. Even Antonio later admitted that it would also have put him off! Lucky he having his own gorgeous instrument! I couldn’t avoid being utterly miserable. Had no other pianist ever made any comments, why not? Presumably, they will be invited back, whereas I …!
Grrreat: win some, lose… lots!!
Soon I went for a week to Paris, from where train journeys were a bit more straight-forward to-and-from the Auvergne where the very last engagement of the month took place. Almost trembling with excitement I faced my eagerly awaited return-visit to the Festival de la Chaise-Dieu, where 2 years ago I had had such success (see Press Reviews). After quite a struggle of mind, I decided it was important to ‘invest’ on this Russian-roulette situation and reluctantly accepted the challenge to play Rach 3 … on one rehearsal !
When young and fearless, I knew no better: this happened constantly. These days are gone and I try to avoid living that dangerously: unless I play a Mozart Concerto or a Shostakovich 2, I require ideally a piano rehearsal, 2 with the orchestra + the general. The more rehearsal time, the easier important inflection of moods and my own ‘pacing’ can be conveyed to the conductor in question. This year’s orchestra-in-residence was from the Ukraine. Let’s just say they weren’t over-friendly: my impression of their attitude was a blasé lack of interest. When during the performance some normality was restored and I saw two or three musicians surreptitiously smiling, I wondered whether they’d be punished if caught enjoying their music!
I had requested a piano-rehearsal, the morning of the concert; then the conductor arrived and simply said: “sorry, I forgot my score”… I swallowed hard, counted until ten and said to myself: “this touch-and-go situation is of my own making, let’s make the best of it”: with a smile, I handed him my own ‘pocket-sized’ copy … and off we went!
The rehearsal with orchestra was at 6 pm, starting from scratch for the performance at 9 pm. It took guts not to despair at this ‘eleventh hour’! I’m glad it all went well (v. Press Reviews) and as of on the 1 st visit, I played two encores. The response from that public is one of the warmest applauses ever, making it hard to believe that they are known to be ‘cold’: either that is wrong or they love my playing and would sit there screaming cheers and listen to an extra recital, just as happily! Unlike some famous colleagues, I refrained from incessant encores …
It saddens me that France and my career don’t go together for no fault of my own, judging from the fans of Puy-en-Velay. How nice that two very dear friends of mine had driven from Bordeaux, the only ones to be there for me:
« Merci Sonia et Frédéric: c’était super de votre part »!
Squeeze in there a one day- trip to Bayreuth where I joined my husband where we saw Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’. Excluding a very disappointing tenor (in my humble opinion), the occasion and uniqueness of that venue will remain unforgettable.
With summer and the month of August ticking away, at last I went back to the Gironde where my own mini-festival was soon to start. Ahead of me all the copying, cutting and collating of parts I had put-off doing for lack of available free time, imperative now before I could learn the thousands of notes! Loads of last-minute decisions, programs to finalize plus preparing the house for some ten people staying with me: I could only hope for fine warm weather: things would be much easier with the various hammocks on offer, relaxing walks or bike rides to choose from and the beckoning cool swimming-pool!
How would this mad dream-project turn out? Back… to the future!
When my good friend Werner Herbers and his wife Leonie came to spend New Year’s Day with us in the south of France, we talked over an idea I’d been mulling over of a mini-festival of chamber music but one with a twist: appended to the concert there was to be a surprise-section where the musicians who wanted to participate in a relaxed jazz-section, showing that serious artists can enjoy and make music in different ways!
This of course came about because as well as being a great oboe player-- having been 1 st oboist of the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam for all of 35 years -- Werner happens to play a ‘mean’ Jazz not only on his instrument but also on the piano ... and the bass! Although I am crazy about Jazz, I can’t play it at all!
Noticing that local friends of mine who share my passion for Music and even started attending some of my concerts, have recently seemed to want to participate more and more closely; I made a proposal and things simply went very fast! Most of them own beautiful properties in the area so very quickly three concerts materialized, on consecutive nights: not taking too much time off any of the musicians’ busy schedule and making the best use of their visit.
I knew that I could not get by ‘improvising’ as during both of my previous Workshops “with a little help from the friends” who took it in terms by contributing to the evening’s cooking: the formula was an easy-going light “baguette-lunch” with cold cuts, cheese and salads, conducive to good constructive work during the day; then the main meal in the evening was watered down by plenty of Bordeaux wine, perfect for unwinding!
It worked rather well then, but this time I was dealing with professional colleagues, and having so much on my plate (excuse the pun), helping hands were in order: as it happened I had the great idea of securing the services of Fernanda and her husband Manuel, a Portuguese couple who had looked after us and our baby girls, many years ago. Over the years I have tried to keep in touch with these gentlest of people! Due to the lack of employment in Portugal, extra financial retribution will always come in handy to them. I was so pleased when they accepted: seconded by her energetic husband, gentle Fernanda would guarantee the cleaning and smooth running of the large house but most importantly, delight us with delicious cooking! This meant that I could totally concentrate on ... everything else!
Actually I’m forever thinking of having them around me. If only I’d find the way...
Colleagues and guests.
Dimka – (clarinet) came from Switzerland but unfortunately was to play only in the opening concert,
Mei Yi – talented young pianist who would share my work; her room-mate
Maggie – supporter (+ pianist) who proved a most resourceful page-turner, and
Nigel – indispensable piano-technician friend, always so helpful and nice to have around, all cameon the same flight from London.Then
Werner – was driving south that same day, from near Limoges; his wife
Leonie – would join us later, for the concerts; and finally
Vladimíra ( French horn) and
Pavel ( bassoon) who together drove from Prague, arriving just in time to partake of our 1 st delicious alfresco supper -- by the way, I’m glad to say that the weather was sensational throughout their visit!
“Cristina Ortiz & ses amis”, 1st Edition.
Serious work started the next morning: I had opted for quite a varied repertoire for the sake of many friends attending more than one performance therefore preparing 3 programmes in one and a half days was more of a race-against-the-clock!
I was half-expecting to rely on Werner to help in the handling of anything that came our way, from tips about lighting to... you-name-it... Indeed there was no end to his prowess! Also being a freak-cyclist he quickly sussed out the best bike routes around us for the delight of Dimka, another enthusiast of the sport! So as you see, “when there’s a will...”
They found time for that, while some like Maggie and Nigel, cooled off by the pool ... Pavel and Vladimíra enjoyed reading in the hammocks ... while we pianists, were forever learning notes ...
At an earlier time, we had got stuck looking for a willing bass-player, in stepped François, another reliable friend, who found someone at a moment’s notice. Imagine the immediate transformation in atmosphere when, following the heavenly perfection of Mozart’s Piano Quintet, a bass was to be brought onto the stage!
When young Thierry arrived to meet Werner on the first day he seemed frozen with worries but with some gentle coaching, he came up trumps! Years of playing in the Netherlands Wind Ensemble has added expert flexibility to Werner’s make-up as an artist: that gang was forever throwing-in innovating gags. Recently at the head of his Ebony Band, he has added an even more relaxed approach to music.
L’Abbaye de St Ferme , 1st concert.
Once the late dignitaries were finally sat, we started proceedings with a surprisingly cohesive (short rehearsal time) performance of Beethoven’s youthful Quintet; then Dimka and Mei-Yi starred in a very effective Sonata by Horovitz (not Vladimir). After the break, three of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (4-hands) provided a change of pace before the evening concluded with Mozart’s gorgeous Piano Quintet – in my opinion, a mouth watering programme!
Then started the real unknown-quantity of the evening; but knowing Werner’s genius I knew I could relax. And quite proud of having been the organizer -- hard to believe -- I joined the public and enjoyed every second of it!
Taking over the stage once the main concert was over, Werner charmed the audience half in French, half in English and told the listeners that he would understand if, on such a hot evening, they preferred to head off to the cocktail ... to no avail: the audience were all ears, happy to sit through a second concert, for as long as it took!
In a extra-short time he prepared players who had never done jazz in their lives by writing down guiding-keys for them so that they could happily read their parts from scores. We heard among others, an unforgettable arrangement of Miles Davis’ “All Blues” for piano, wind quartet + bass: just magical! He then played “Misty” with Mei Yi at the piano; Thierry improvised a whole number on the bass for the delight of his present friends. Then, reluctantly but so that I wasn’t the only non-participant, I gave in to Werner’s coaxing and sort-of-tried to sing Jobim’s famous “Girl from Ipanema” ... Help: the venue being rather large, quite full with people and there being no microphone in sight – thatwasscary!! Everyone seemed to enjoy it, though!
Valérie and Arnaud de Raignac, our hosts of the evening, offered a cosy supper among a few close friends. I could have partied away for a long time; but after a while, being the dutiful hostess I had to take my exhausted Czech colleagues to bed -- after their long drive the day before, all the rehearsing plus the concert... they well deserved their rest!
That night I went to sleep, thrilled with the realization that my crazy idea of Concert + “Jazz-4-Fun”, had worked!
“Werner, you are great. I couldn’t have done any of this without you! My warmest thanks!”
Château de Pitray, 2nd concert.
My good friend Nicolas -- his Château is surreally reminiscent of that of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”-- had set-up the stage with impeccable taste for the concert on Sunday afternoon. In the programme there were bassoon (Pavel), oboe (Werner) and French-horn (Vladimíra) solo pieces with Mei-Yi at the piano; Kahn’s jolly Serenade for oboe, horn and (me at the) piano brought us to the interval. In the 2 nd half, the pianists’ 4-hands managed Fauré’s ever-lovely Dolly Suite, and the concert closed with my favourite Poulenc piece: his Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano, oh, that yummy slow movement!
The thought of playing outdoors unfailingly brings me for one, a great feeling of freedom! Although it was a hot and very sunny day, strong winds came up just before we started and nearly spoilt our fun. Enters Maggie to save the day: page-turner ‘par excellence’, she seemed to be everywhere, moving sinuously like a cat... At one point she had to sprawl herself over two music-stands!
“Great effort, Mags”!
Although from the time we agreed to the festival, I told Werner he should play Jazz on all three instruments, until then he had refused to approach the bass. While everyone was enjoying the ongoing cocktail which followed the concert, I sat at the piano to ‘fake through my own feeble version of Jobim’s ‘Girl from Ipanema’. Surreptitiously Werner sneaked by, waited for me to get through the theme then silently moved me off the piano-stool, lowered the key from G to his own preferred one of F major and off he went! Having noticed the microphone used for the initial welcome-message still lying about, I grabbed it and in that husky, colourless, Astrud Gilberto-voice brought a slightly better result than the night before.
After chatting with the public and a few drinks later, Werner finally got hold of the bass, lying on the stage, not being a show-off, mind you: he was having fun but also wanted to comply with my request: wow did he have a go! Later, Thierry told me that he’d been ‘bawled over’ by the guy’s gorgeous touch and fluid technique!
Again we were well wined–and-dined alongside our host’s delightful family and closest friends. “Thanks, Nicolas, the occasion was a stunner.”
(PS: to end a day of wild experiences, changing into someone’s swimwear, I ended up diving into the beckoning pool, in need of some cooling! Leonie, who thought of joining me didn’t find enough courage ... nor a second bikini!)
Jardins de Sardy , the final concert.
The splendid house has an idyllic Italianate garden plus a beautifully managed pond with gracious water-jets. O ur resourceful host Frédéric, had the great idea of setting up an upright piano on a natural stage near the pond; of course without batting un eye-lid (with the start of a rotten cold) Werner accepted to play with Thierry and provide background-music to the cocktail which preceded the classical concert! Again the evening was another scorcher, making it tough to play but the enthusiastic local audience is most appreciative!
The reception took place on the beautiful terrace, a great food-spread and gorgeous wine. Just as we got to the end of dessert, a real storm came up from nowhere and started blowing everything on sight. With the first spits of rain F. remembered to run with 2 helpers to collect the poor stranded upright, from down below, before heavens opened and fatally soaked it! While back up on the terrace, under effective electric lightnings, people were running everywhere, carrying glasses or taking in lamps, plates and table-cloths... quite dramatic scene which could have been mistaken for the set of a Hitchcock film... without the murder, this time!
The Double-Pleyel, treasured ‘resident’ relic.
It is always a treat to play on that amazing piano: a double-harped two-keyboarded beautiful piece of furniture from the beginning of the 20 th century. With Mei Yi’s help I had planned to delight our host with Walton’s fun Charade then perform Scaramouche by Milhaud, which he likes. On the spur of the moment, Frédéric was shown some basic chords and proceeded to accompany Werner on a tune... It was hilarious: on-and-on it went, round-and-round, until F. called out: “Je ne sais pas comment m’en sortir!
“Frédo, tu es unique! Un grand merci pour tout.”
Back home Fernanda, so appreciated by everyone for her culinary and many qualities, was delighted to be part of it all attending all 3 concerts and at one moment, dreamingly exclaimed: “ah, the privilege of feeding such wonderful artists...”
With the end of “Les amis”, it was sad to see them all leave. When I look back I can hardly believe it all went so well, beyond any fantastical dream I might have had! Well, it won’t be long: I must start planning something else for next time!
At the very end of last month, following the “Les amis” festival, I was off to Berlin, once more in the quality of a juror ... had I gone back on my word, you might wonder? Not quite, I’ll explain.
A few months back, when Elmar W. attended a recital of mine at Berlin’s Brazilian Embassy, he brought a friend along: together they were inviting me to join them in the Jury of a Competition of... Amateur Pianists! When I heard that contestants who must be 35 or older were otherwise busy people with full time professions outside music -- doctors, engineers, scientists, teachers, I thought surely, this must be a completely different story from the norm, it might mean a relaxed week and plenty of fun...?!
These guys were competing, but with such camaraderie and not for a career; some just for the buzz and excitement of playing publicly; others had tried playing piano when young and wanted to give it another try; quite a few were over 70; the oldest contestant was 83 years old, nearly blind therefore unable to learn anything new so could play only, what he remembered... All for the love of the instrument and its rich repertoire! Having accepted to coach some of the happy losers, instead of a bit of free time I ended up enjoying 9 hours of Master Classes... For the participants, who came in hoards, just in case someone defaulted and they could fight over who could to step in, it was even more of a joy: each one of them so talkative, excited, and keen to show off their prowess to their peers; some amazed at the smallest trick: one of the least aware of them, had no idea what the ‘sordina pedal’ did; yet many of them baffled by the unending subtle possibilities by expert use of that wonder of wonders for pianists: the pedals!
I must say, on hindsight, it was a most humbling, emotional and learning experience. I came out saying to myself: “enjoy your capacities while you have them and live every minute of your life to the full!” Who knows what’s in store for each of us?
From Berlin I was able to fly down to São Paulo to participate in a concert for the 20 th anniversary of the death of my teacher Magda Tagliaferro, thanks to a last minute sponsor. I also went to Rio to stay with my dearly missed cousin Angela and to spend time with my elder daughter who has recently moved there. As luck would have it, her younger sister also happened to be visiting her that week on a very cheap-ticket from Paris with Air France... It was lovely!]
As far as concerts I had 2 commitments this month:
a most expected “Rach 3” with the ‘future’ version of the Philadelphia Orchestra -- which consists of graduates from the main music school in the US: it is a breath of fresh air to work with talented musicians in the process of learning the business, young and unspoilt , eager to please; under their principal conductor Rossen Milanov’s sure guidance, we put together a totally comprehensive and integrated performance: one real pleasure! I even received a great write-up, for once (v. Press Reviews)!
a jolly Shostakovich 2, with K-Peter Flor in Guangzhou, on my 1st trip to mainland China. Seeing the way the Chinese are so quickly learning to melt into a western style so that visiting artists feel very much at home, was a discovery. Actually having heard about early attempts, the thing I was most afraid of was the condition of instruments but it wasn’t bad at all: they’ve improved by major leaps!
Coming back to Europe, I had the worst jet-lag of my life to cope with: having gone 5 hours back to Philly for a few days, then 9 hours ahead to China for another few days… Phew... do I blame it on age?! Honestly it unsettled my sleep pattern so badly that it felt as if I could never recover… And still it goes on, as I write this… zzzzzzz.
Intense inner conflict was alleviated one nice Sunday morning, while in Paris, by the opportunity to try the very promising newly revamped Pleyel Concert Grand. By playing it somehow I felt closer than ever to my most loyal companions: Ravel, Debussy or Chopin ... I can only imagine what Pichon would think of the instrument? Probably consider it all together beyond his physical resources – it seems that only occasionally he felt strong enough to play on it at all, rather than on the Érard, with its much lighter action. The heavenly music of Schubert (a new challenge to me) also sounded absolutely amazing given the immediacy, possible separation of registers and unbelievable depth of tones!
I very much look forward to using it in recital!
The last engagement in 2006 was a production for TV with the lovely Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana led by Rumon Gamba. In the program: Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto + the delightful Rondo in D, by Mozart. But because TV means big money, the producer didn’t want any risks in case anything went wrong in the evening so we actually had to perform twice: instead of a general rehearsal, I was ‘made-up’ (ugh) and in concert-dress, at 10 in the morning, for “safety”... You know, that little relentless Concerto is more exhausting than Brahms 2! And to play it again a few hours later ... wasn’t easy!
Only later, listening to the 2nd half of the concert in the hall, I realized the unfortunate placing of the camera as I went about at the keyboard -- I could have touched it by stretching my right arm -- it prevented a large section of the paying audience from seeing the soloist at all! Oh well, at least they could hear me. The finished program, due to be aired on New Year’s Eve, meant that some of them could watch the televised result, while sipping at some delicious bubbly, in their own home! Then that ‘offending’ camera would have proved its purpose... Following the success of the evening concert, Renzo, the delighted producer re-invited me on the spot for another production of his dreams: that of Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto... I must at first, choose the conductor carefully since that’s a hard work to accompany. Then I’d better get some performances on the Diary, right now!
The irony of it all...
When a year reaches its end, sometimes depression can slip in alongside a certain amount of unavoidable personal reflection! I felt rather too close to tears subsequently on-and-off while re-weighing what I’d made of my existence... I know were I to keep going as I have for many years, once the new year sets in the gloom will probably ease-off... but hey, it’s not that simple: if only my mental strength were as robust as the physical one ( knock-knock ). I have been told endlessly, that one has only oneself to blame for what one makes of life... But I want to matter, I want to belong ... And I realize that maybe I never really did! It’s true that when younger I wasn’t aware of much, life just went by so fast; whereas now I realize how tired I am of digging deep to make light of things. I have always advocated that ‘happiness comes from within’, but of course only as long as you’re satisfied. Have I come to the end of my tether?! Given that at the moment I’m playing plenty of Debussy, “Reflets ... dans l’eau” impressionistically mirrors the situation!
It remains for me to hope for a better year ahead, so over a glass of Roderer: “Cin-cin: here is to 2007”!