Monday, April 27, 2009

Nelson Freire

Last Saturday night I had the privilege of hearing Nelson Freire live at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. WOW - what a pianist! What technique! There is a lot of information about him on his official site. And I also found the Decca site to be very interesting. As to the performance on Saturday night...

First there was a change to the program. Freire was scheduled to play Mozart's Sonata in A Major K 331 (the piece he incidentally made his debut with at age 5!). However, he played Schumann's Opus 2, Papillons instead, and paired it with Brahms' Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp minor (Opus 2 No. 2). I've studied Papillons (as recently as January 2009) and I found Freire's Schumann playing to be brilliant and charming. I felt that he perfectly captured the mood of each little miniature. I so wish I had his octave speed (see my former posts in February on my struggles with octaves), not to mention his dexterity and clarity.

The Brahms was a revelation - strong, passionate playing. I could imagine the young Brahms playing this work for Clara and Robert Schumann, and how they must have swooned upon first hearing it. I could also imagine that if Brahms had matured differently, he would have been a serious rival to Liszt and his school of pyrotechnic piano pieces. All that aside, there was something missing for me in Freire's performance. At certain places where an interpreter could pause for reflection (without changing the rhythm) to create more suspense and drama, it just didn't happen. It was all bravura playing and when required, quiet sensitive lyric playing, but it seemed almost soulless to me. Freire is certainly too good of a musician to "phone in" a performance -- and yet it almost seemed that way to me, as the playing seemed to lack emotional depth.

And this feeling was magnified in his Chopin selections. Freire is famous for his interpretation of the Barcarolle in F#-sharp minor, Opus 60. Really? Not for me. I love this piece, so I'm pretty picky about what I want to hear in an interpretation. The piece didn't breathe. It was as though someone were showing me pictures from their vacation, but instead of lingering over a few choice postcards accompanied by charming anecdotes, they just rushed through the pictures in a perfunctory way. Again, Freire is too good of a musician to not phrase perfectly, hit all of the notes, show a range of dynamics, and so on; however, I kept getting the sense that he's played these works by Chopin so many times that he's almost on autopilot. It's as if he has played these melodies so many times, there is no longer any novelty in the playing.

The Debussy was a delight. Every mood was captured in the selections from the Preludes, Book 1 (he played #4, #5 and #12) and since they were fleeting, charming pieces...they were perfect. I think he is brilliant at miniatures and being able to change moods quickly...but to my ear, there is not a lot of depth to his playing.

Andrew Clements of London's The Guardian, (Friday 23 January 2009) said the following about Freire's Debussy playing:
..."This is Debussy's tonal palette reimagined in much bolder, primary colours; even a study in greys such as the prelude Des Pas sur la Neige seems sharper focused and brighter toned than usual. At his best, though, Freire is totally convincing and his accounts of Le Vent dans la Plaine, La Sérénade Interrompue and especially La Cathédrale Engloutie are unqualifed successes..."

Not surprisingly, Freire's interpretations of fellow Brazillian Villa-Lobos were spectacular. He played Alma Brasileira and Danca do Indio Branco. I especially loved Alma because of the moody and disharmonious opening and closing statements. After the Debussy and the Villa Lobos, I found myself thinking that I'd want to hear Freire play twentieth-century works exclusively (even though I really loved his Papillons).

The audience loved him and brought him back for three encores. I didn't know any of the encores (thanks to my spotty musical education), and he didn't announce what they were, either. Freire is a brilliant pianist and one of the giants of our time. I'm so lucky to have heard him live, but I don't think I'll need to hear him again. In many ways I agree with Andrew Clements (paraphrased) "Freire is more a pianist to be admired than to be loved..."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

50 Ways to Spend Your Birthday

A dear friend turned 50 on April 18 and we gathered in Las Vegas to celebrate. Although Vegas is far from my favorite place, I just couldn't miss this celebration. David and I wrote a parody song to commemorate the occasion.

50 Ways to Do Your Birthday
Lyrics: Melissa Smith and David Saslav
(with apologies to the great Paul Simon)

We know the angst you feel ‘bout reachin’ 50 years
You know it’s really not all bad… just think of all the beers!
We're gonna help you to reduce those tears and fears, with
50 ways to do your birthday

There really is no need for you to envy us, just ‘cuz you’ve –
Reached this milestone age, so far ahead of us,
So, Kim, we'll help you celebrate without much fuss,
There must be 50 ways to do your birthday
50 ways right here in Vegas!

Just take in a show, Bo
Drink some more gin, Wynn
Go Swim in da pool, fool
Forget your age!

Go lay down a flush, Rush
and drink like a big lush
Drop a couple o’ grand, Stan
Forget 5-0!

Get ripped on the Strip, Chip
Sleep at the Mirage, Rog
Forget your age!

Go soak in a tub, Bub
Get loose with a MASSeuse
Find someone to marry, Harry
Forget 5-0!

It really grieves us all to see you in such pain
We wish there was something we could do to make you young again….
We so appreciated you, oh way back when,
so we'll explain again about the 50 ways...

It seems like none of us will get much sleep tonight…
…but in the morning you'll begin to see the light
We'll wish for you so many blessings on this night
There must be 50 ways to do your Birthday
50 ways right here in Vegas!

Go find a pole and shimmy, Kimmie
Find all of your bliss, Liss
Start ridin’ the wave, Dave
Forget your age

Just head to a spa, Ma
Dress up all fancy, Nancy
Drink one more shot, Scott
Forget 5-0!

Get lost in the mob, Bob
That sure would be swell, Michelle
Get caught with a john, Bon
Forget your age

Shake it and shimmy, Kimmie
Wearin’ somethin’ flimsy
Disturb the peace, Denise
Forget 5-0!

And to hear this masterpiece...arranged and sung by David Saslav

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Piano Blogs

Today (procrastinating...) I fell prey to the 21st century phenomenon of GOOGLING myself. Good news, my blog appeared first on the list when I googled: Diary of a Pianist! for some other blogs I discovered today...ENJOY!

A blog by a pianist in Oregon. I love the pansies on the piano keys! I've been so impressed with the piano community in Oregon. It is thriving with blogs, performances, the International Piano Festival in Portland, workshops and classes for teachers and pianists throughout the year...I could go unlike the rather moribund piano culture in San Francisco.

An interesting post regarding why music is no longer taught in US public schools (except in RARE cases). As he (Piano Man - not Billy Joel) mentions, he does not flesh out his idea in his blog post, but his thesis is similar to mine about the importance of music and art in society.

This is a lovely journal about playing the piano and music examples are written out! (I have to take the time to learn how to do this for my blog posts!)

This link is not for a piano blog, but I include it because my husband is related to William Kapell. I love Kapell's playing --- his bravura playing never lacks lyricism nor soulfulness.

I think I've posted blog entries like this! (I love the "bad pianist practice diary" title. I thought about naming my blog: Diary of a Mad Pianist, but thought that was to derivative and maybe could become a self fulfilling prophesy!)