Sunday, February 16, 2014

Recital Prep

The new year has brought with it new responsibilities, new experiences, and new interests. Today, I'm a week away from my annual solo recital on the Southeastern University series and am contemplating my preparation.

In recent days, I have enjoyed hearing works such as Schumann's Aufschwung take on a wonderful dimension when played in studio class in the large space of Bush Chapel. I often find that the true potential of a work isn't really revealed until it is heard in a concert space. I've also been very pleased by my students and their independent preparation of works learned over the Christmas break. Thank you, Dr. Kaplinsky, for trying that idea with your studio back in 1992.

Also on my mind these days is The King's Speech which I finally got around to seeing. I was moved by this story of determination and I thought about how little determination I put into things. I want to put determination into the arts and into peace in the here and now.

Last week, we had the pleasure of hearing the same young musician play both Tchaikowsky's Rococo Variations and Rachmaninoff's Second Concerto. Between the two works was Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, a veritable concerto for orchestra that expresses Rachmaninoff's faith with numerous references to his earlier works. This technique of "life motifs" reminded me of the rich symbolic syntax of Shostakovich's symphonies.

A few days after that, we attended the memorial concert for Florida Southern College's Robert MacDonald, a gentleman who was a great force in the shaping of Lakeland's arts life. His students admirably played works by Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Gershwin to a packed house. Family members also performed with flare and poise as they celebrated and grieved. Testimonies indicated the life-changing compassion and selfless giving of the man.

And now, I turn to my own work.

Someone recently asked me if there was a theme for my upcoming recital. My answer was "things I can play . . .given the amount of practicing I am doing."While I haven't been doing as much solo playing as I used to, I am hoping that I can achieve ease and successful communication in performing through good quality thinking as I prepare.

Really, from back in the summer, I was aiming to make this program a return to more serious pianism for me. I have been pursuing practicing, when I've had time, with that in mind. Through that, I have been learning that piano-playing answers really come through practicing.

My plan in this last week is to approach the recital as a sharing of great texts. These works, pieces by Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, are wonderfully textured fabrics, and when shared with listeners, somehow, out of the forms, the flow, and the phrasing, a semblance of life springs. It is my role to know these great texts better and better, to ponder and convey the discoveries of their composers. The performance really is a recitation of patterns and possibilities as envisioned by these geniuses.

In addition to those great traditional works, I'll also be sharing a little essay of my own in musical landscape writing. My three Chowan Etudes were really more etudes for the composer than the performer, while the concluding work of the recital is definitely an etude for the performer. My friend, James M. Guthrie, has written a superb work combining a Brahmsian sensibility with octatonic pitch organization and the occasional ancient-sounding cadence. Of all the new pieces I've played, this one strikes me as exciting and unique enough to become part of the standard repertoire if  a few other pianists would start playing it.

As I think back over the repertoire I just mentioned, there might be a more satisfying theme in the idea of the vortex. From Bach through Guthrie, these pieces typify the swirling movement and organization of our world, external and internal. Maybe feeling that in the music can help us all to embrace such a dynamic in our lives. Myself in particular!


Charles Hulin said...

Follow up on my own post - Today I had the privilege of rehearsing at First Presbyterian Church here in Lakeland where next Monday's concert will be. More and more I find myself playing less and less when I'm in fine venue with an excellent instrument. In other words, I'm editing my sound. The Steinway has lots of it, but a nicely reverberant hall doesn't call for all that sound in a sonata of Mozart, for example. I think classical music performance's addiction to intensity, an addiction that used to control my life, really eclipses the actual musical event, at times. So much of the musical texture needs to move into the background for the composer's vision to spring to life in this setting. A pushy performance or going for a visceral impact robs the music of its marrow.

Charles Hulin said...

Continuing to follow up - I also find myself pedaling less and less. I had a new thought on this today. (New for me.) It's not that I'm not pedaling. It's that the hall is pedaling for me. It's like a four-hands partner who is doing the pedaling. My job is to listen and understand how the hall is pedaling and then trust it. It really is a collaboration with the composer, the instrument, and the acoustic.

Charles Hulin said...

Final pre-performance, day-of comments:

1. Regularly practicing away from the keyboard paves the way for intensive piano-less practice on the days leading up to a concert, days when you don't want to become phsyically fatigued at the keyboard.

2. What one (I) should aim at expressing during the performance: the music and its moods, not concern for memorization or obsession with sound and acoustics.

3. The anxiety we feel is actually energy stored up to be chanelled into riding the flow of the music ski-cross style.

4. To stay on the straight and narrow, keep listening ahead. Then, enjoy making a variety of sounds.