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A(nother) trenchant review from yours truly!

 
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Goldberg
Incorrigible Failure

Goldberg

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 6:28 pm    Post subject: A(nother) trenchant review from yours truly! Reply with quote

Subtitled: I've just gotten back from the worst recital of my life thus far!

...not that I've been to that many. However, this one is remarkable in that absolutely nothing was right. Wait, I take that back. It was worth exactly its ticket price: nothing.

Ok, so, to be honest, I wasn't expecting much at all. In fact, I went knowing that it was, most probably, going to be a disappointment. How did I know? Well, I'll try and paint a picture. You see, for the past few weeks there have been posters for the recital hanging around campus:

*Name witheld to protect the accused*, Piano Recital:
Chopin: Nocturne op. 9 no. 2
Debussy: Clair de Lune
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2; Lassan, Friska
Beethoven: Sonata op. 57, Appasionata


And...that's it. I stared several times, and in great length, at these posters for several reasons. First, I wanted to make sure that they were actually real. I was having a difficult time imagining that my school, pathetic in all things fine, most specifically the arts, actually holding a solo recital! I'd discussed doing such a thing with the music director--and I plan to, but not for a while--but I didn't imagine that it would actually OCCUR, especially not so soon. Well, secondly, I looked at the posters to make sure I wasn't missing anything...you know, any microscopic engravings stating something like "this is only the first half of the recital; the next half will include all of Liszt's transcendental studies" or something of the sort. But, alas, no; that was the full program, and how awful it seemed to me!

I try my best to guard against negative predilection, especially before the recital even starts, but I couldn't help but see through the whole thing immediately. Almost instantly after I came to my senses, I realised that the recital itself would be subpar at best, and I was sure of that because of the pieces he played. For one thing, I have a personal bias against the pieces myself, because the only one that I somewhat like is the Beethoven, but I was willing to let that slide for a good performance of the others. But the problem is that his selection ranged from the easy and popular to...well, the extraordinarily difficult, at least in interpretative measures, Beethoven. How could he have such a disparity? I knew right then that he had little experience with forming programs, and I, in my snobbery and arrogance, must admit that I berated the program as being immature and no good whatsoever. But, to my credit, I went to make sure I was right.

But I had other reasons to go too. Most importantly, I wanted to see and hear the school's brand new Steinway B (which the new music director, a pianist out of Eastman and a fairly knowledgeable person, purchased), because as I said, I'm very much excited about playing the piano on my own some day. I wanted to hear it on the stage in the auditorium in which I'll be playing, and I wanted to judge its action and command of tones as best I could without actually playing it. That was tops on my agenda, and for that reason alone I was interested enough in the recital to drag me poor mum out to the school a week early because I lost track of the dates (in fact, it was last night, and I took her down a week before yesterday).

Of course, there are also other advantages in my going to such a second-class recital. Usually, students are advised to see as many great pianists as they can: the successful virtuosi who make the most out of their art and their audiences. Well, in going to see performers who are better than you, you are probably only going to see what you need to do--or at least can try and do--to work towards their level of performance. In going to see someone who is going to be remarkably worse than what you're used to, you can get a glimpse at what you should try your hardest NOT to do, and that is an equally important training tool, I think. Critiquing others, and more importantly yourself, is an excellent way to enforce good habits and expand your knowledge.

But I was put off by all that when my dad and I arrived last night and saw, on the stage, a beat-up, mid-sized K.Kawai grand--the same one the school uses for the occassional student recital, for which everyone is invited to play. As with the advertisement posters, I had to look several times to make sure it was true, and sadly, it was. No matter how long I stared at the piano, the name on its fallboard never disappeared or morphed into "Steinway and Sons" and the piano never grew to be two or three feet longer than it already was. It must have been a serious mistake...a gross miscalculation on the part of the janitors, perhaps, who were instructed to move the piano on stage and grabbed the wrong one. I have no idea what really happened, but my spirit was destroyed almost entirely in that moment.

Well, he made us sit. And sit. And sit. The recital was supposed to start at 7. Dad and I got there at 6:30 to try and find the aforementioned music director and chat to him about scheduling a recital, and also to get good seats. Alas, we could only accomplish our latter task because....the music director wasn't even THERE! Disaster! Well, I'm not sure why my dad decided to come along because, knowing my father, I knew he'd get grouchy if the recital ran a little late, and he did start to get irritable after 7:10 rolled around, and my cynical sarcasm was starting to lose its wit and humour, keeping him less and less entertained. Well, that annoyed me but I made the best of it, and considered that I might have been wrong about the performer and maybe he was some sort of undiscovered Horowitz or something. These kind of thoughts kept me amused momentarily while I took a few moments to look around at the people...I must say, I was extremely surprised at the turnout, for there were approxamently 68 more people than I originally expected to be there...which means the entire audience consisted of about 70 people (I had expected myself to attend, and the music director). I noted that the majority of them appeared to be from Europe--probably Spain, considering that most of them spoke Spanish...--and finally decided that at least 95% of them had to be related to the pianist in some way, shape, or form, be it cousin, uncle, grandmother, or just friend. This made me fret a little, because I don't know how I can expect to get such a gathering for my first recital, considering my family isn't nearly that large!!

And, yes, it seemed as if my father and I had, somewhat inadvertantly, stumbled into a more or less family-only event, even though it wasn't formally such a thing, and just as the lights FINALLY turned off, I knew it would most probably be a concert that only Fred's (name changed again to protect the guilty) mum and pop could enjoy.

Well, the lights did in fact go off around 7:40--40 or so minutes after it should have started (at 7:30, I turned to my dad and said, in a voice of mocking pleasure, like I was enjoying the false recital, "well! In 10 minutes or so, the recital should be over, judging by the program! Excellent so far! Hope we can get his autograph afterwards!" but I don't think he thought it was funny), and out struts perhaps the most nervous person I've ever seen before. Now, I'll tell you what amused me presently to no ends. I'd seen this exact guy roaming backstage, peering out behind the curtains, and doing loud, slow breathing exercises in panic (I jokingly asked my father if he'd seen any dangerously pregant women in the vicinity; at least THAT would explain the delay, I reckoned). I wrongly assumed him to be the pianist, and jokes aside, I thought he was just delaying to get his nerves together. Nope. This guy, after peering through the curtains about 50 times over 30 minutes ("the laws of probability and chaos theory should mosty likely predict that, at some point in the next hour, this man will find himself on the opposite side of the curtain, addressing us with his horror," I told my dad, "and if not, perhaps if we sit around for several trillion years, he will spontaneously quantum-tunnel through the sheet, and surprise us all before performing for us") finally stepped out and introduced himself as the introducer of Fred. Well, talk about anti-climatic. Now we had this guy standing up on the stage, chattering away at us with a nervous smile, trying to remember his lines about the sponsors, and making up some absolutely ridiculous garbage about how Fred was going to "grace us with his amazing presence and touch our mind, bodies, and souls with his music". Then he instructed us to do some sort of yoga breathing exercise to "release our mind from outside distractions, and let his music wash all over us". Uh, yeah. So all of Fred's relatives, old geezers and the lot, were sitting around breathing IN...OUT...IN....OUT...and once more I was left staring in amazement at this figure on the stage, trying to figure out if he was really there or not.

Total elapsed time for the speaker on stage: 5 minutes. Out comes the brilliant Fred, grandly introduced and ready to wow us all with his cathartic interpretations.

Must I really continue?
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Goldberg
Incorrigible Failure

Goldberg

Age: 17
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 6:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

*note: I actually plan to continue and give a more detailed look at the music later, but I must go now. I left the original post as it is because I realised it is a somewhat decent short-story format, and so I decided to leave it there for everyone to read as they please. I think the ending is amusing, myself, and seems to have the reader assume from my implications of the pre-recital environment and mishaps that the recital went very poorly...but, I'm a fair person when all is said and done, and instead of just painting a brief and rough picture, I plan to provide you with a SLIGHTLY more involved criticism of the actual pieces, for it would be poor conduct for me not to. It'll just have to wait for a few hours.*
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Scriabinist
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 9:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow! Great story. I can't wait to read the rest. Wink

Sorry for the short reply.
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Goldberg
Incorrigible Failure

Goldberg

Age: 17
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Location: Cygnus X-1


PostPosted: Sat Feb 05, 2005 11:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Right, I'll see what I can do about the actual performance now. This won't be as entertaining as the previous bit, just a word of warning...

So, out he comes after the charming little introduction; Fred looks rather stoic and indifferent, and after a bow, he gives us a very faint smile, which will prove to be his last for the evening. For his time playing, his face remains set in a stone-like neutral position, more towards a frown than a grin. Hamelin-esque, perhaps, but even Hamelin makes more facial expressions than he did (let us take a moment to chuckle to ourselves in the memory of Hamelin's "happily surprised" countenance in the HR2 friska video).

What Fred does, however, is move around a lot. I'm not talking about Lang Lang breakdancing, but truly inexcusable motion--the sort of thing that screams out inexorably, "BAD TECHNIQUE! I'VE GOT BAD TECHNIQUE!" His body rocking was just fine, but his elbows and shoulders and wrists were ALL OVER THE PLACE, even though he wasn't actually going anywhere at all. He would hit a note and then move the whole system: elbows up, wrist up, fingers up and tense and waving around, and then on to the next note.

Before the recital, I'd read the terribly written program (probably by the nervous speaker beforehand), which explained that he'd studied at Rice through Junior High and High School, sort of like I did, only I had the "real" teachers--he was stuck with a Graduate student there, which is not uncommon for the prep. department. Then he got his minor's degree in music from Texas Tech, after studying under the head piano teacher there. These sorts of things were curious at first, but as I watched him play, it became painfully obvious that I knew exactly where he's coming from, and in my mind I began questioning, once again, the worth of having such teachers.

Really what it is is such a massive, intolerable *ignorance* in our field of study: master's and ph.d students who know hardly anything about the "piano world"...all they want to do is play Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin and want to do it as quickly as possible and as often as possible. Their technique, they say, is vastly improved over the 19th century and early 20th century technique, which comprised a lot of technical exercises outside of music itself. Nowadays, I can't help but notice how many people are taking a serious study of technique for granted, and instead are opting to take the easier way out: relax *everything*, play from the shoulders and use as little finger motion as possible; play everything from the body, shoulders, and arms. Wrists are hardly observed, it seems.

Well, I'm getting sick of people playing this way. Although it's quite possible to get a decent tone by playing from the shoulder, it's very difficult to get any real speed if little attention is paid to wrist and finger action. I admit that shoulders and arms do need to be involved in the process, but they should be second priorities.

What am I getting at? Well, I think that his playing *sounded* ignorant, and it looked like it too. He had no clear, conformed control of his technique, as I just said, and his musicality had very little spirit or sense of form. Critics these days seem to find it fashionable to accuse pianists of playing "with all technique and no feeling" but last night it was "no technique, and the feeling was ambiguous, if extant at all".

The Chopin nocturne was filled up the wazoo with mistakes and carelessness. Obviously, he wanted the easy piece first to get his fingers moving for the Rhapsody, but it didn't seem to be easy enough. He didn't hit a single run correctly, and his flub-overs were almost offensive; more offensive, however, were his horrid "crescendi" which usually just meant that he took his foot off the left pedal and started pounding away with his shoulder technique. And, yes, he had the left pedal down in every part of the music that wasn't marked "piano" or lower. That naturally took away from the music by destroying the already-decadent sound of the Kawai...and why would he even use it, considering the piano is about 5.5ft, and the auditorium is considerably large? He also over-pedaled with the sostenuto (gack, I can't remember if that's the proper name) pedal, a bad habit of my own.

Rythmically, all of his pieces were uneven and lacked a conformity in tempo.

His Clair de Lune started out very nicely, and indeed I was impressed by the way he handled the chords before the faster part of the piece--they were even rythmically sound and well-voiced, although perhaps that wasn't intentional...However, as soon as he got into that faster part, all went awry and he stumbled with each arpeggio, trying to keep the melodic notes going smoothly: at this he failed miserably. Clearly he hadn't spent enough time preparing, but then his program said that he'd been playing for 11 years and Clair de Lune had been his favourite for years!

It's funny to point out that one could instantly discover which parts of the pieces were his favourite parts, because he'd visibly get more excited and speed up to show us that he could actually PLAY the parts rather than half-playing them...this only added to the confused rythm and, in 4 out of 5 instances, he ended up ruining the experience for us with his prodigal motions and poor fingerings.

Well, I was not looking forward to hearing another Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2. I've grown to abhor the piece, and find it difficult to listen to any version--even Horowitz's! I really don't know why, because even though I have an aversion to overplayed pieces, I normally don't have a problem listening to them as long as the performer's up to it...but the HR2 just touches me as extraordinarily boring and dull, and even Liszt didn't like his students playing it (but that was because too many did).

But, whatever. I heard it through. The Lassan was *shockingly* well-done, despite Fred's earlier maladies...that's not to say it was really good, but as I told my father, at least it provided some decent rivalry to Lang Lang's rendition (ugh; the memory haunts me to this day). But, yes, Fred, although he lacked a clear sense of form, somehow managed to maintain unity in tempo and rythm and he actually nailed several of his runs to a fair degree of accuracy, despite pedalling over them. But then...just before the Friska, there is a recapitulation of the opening theme, and I'm sure you all know the spot I'm talking about. Well, Fred came crashing towards it and then SPED through it like lightning...I could hardly keep up...it was like BADAA, BADADADAA, BADADADA, BADADADA, BADADADA. At this I couldn't help but smile and say quietly "what the....?? hahahaha" and I gazed on with a bemused look on my face as he finished the recap and....took his hands off the keyboard...?

Yeah, so he took his hands off the keyboard and paused for a very long time, as if he were starting a new piece (on a side note, the speaker before had said, in a terrible misrepresentation of the music, that we would be sampling 9 pieces; I looked and looked but could find only four...oh, the enormity of the situation!), and then, finally, he started up the ol' Friska. Once again, he started it well enough, with the floaty-dreamy whispers and gypsy theme, and even I could since a small bit of excitement in the air as he built it up, exhibiting for the first time a decent crescendo, and only missing 20% of the notes instead of 60%...I thought, "hmm, maybe we have something here"!

Well, the story of my life...everytime I think we've got something going on, WHA-BAM! WROOOONG! In he gallops, again at lightning speed, into the Looney-Toons portion of the piece, banging away in some sort of incomprehensible fashion, and generally just not doing a whole lot for anything. Then he hit a smooth section, which he clearly thought was cool and had practiced the hell out of because it went well, and then back to the ol' "hit whatever note looks good at the time and hope it works" routine. There are some fast-ish scales somewhere in the middle of the Friska, single noters, and in this case the performer had to slow down and he STILL didn't make it all the way. By the time we reached the moment in the Friska just before the octave ending, we'd been lurched back and forth more violently than a Driver's Ed instructor in a 1980's cinema film! And then we stopped again, and he took his hands off the keyboard and sort of cracked them a bit and stretched and prepared himself...all was silent, all eyes on him, not a breath was taken...and then...

Well, his octaves were very slow, boring, and muddy, over-pedalled, blah! But he seemed to be going as fast as he could, and lifted his entire shoulder and arm up for each and every octave, and back down again, smashing all over the place...then he did the old BANG BANG BANG at the end, and I could hear the poor Kawai twang loudly in the bass. I felt terribly sorry for the instrument at that time, as horrid a sight as it was, and could imagine it crying out just then, "oh, put me out of my misery!" like it were about to snap its own strings.

It didn't, so we left.

Yeah, I told dad I couldn't sit around to hear his disservice to the Beethoven, and he had heard quite enough for himself, saying that it had been a painful experience enough up to that point. We probably offended a few people, but I didn't really care...out we went, partly because we didn't want to hear the Appasionata but also cos we had to pick up dinner for my stepmum, and were going to be at least 45 minutes later than we planned if we were to stay. Not a tough choice: we hit the road.

Ok, once again that's all I have time for. I might return just once more to add a slightly more philosophical view but now i must RUN SO BYE!


Last edited by Goldberg on Sun Feb 06, 2005 10:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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citrine_peridot
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 12:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

lol~~~~~~~~~~~~
you should find someone to publish you a book and name it
"CONCERT-GOERs, BEWARE!"
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PianistSk8er
On Horowitz-style hiatus ;)
On Horowitz-style hiatus ;)

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 06, 2005 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

citrine_peridot wrote:
lol~~~~~~~~~~~~
you should find someone to publish you a book and name it
"CONCERT-GOERs, BEWARE!"


Heh, I was going to say something like that, it is very well written and I found but one typo in the whole thing, exceptional story! I don't really have any questions since you've pretty much covered everything!
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