I have always been fascinated when I hear an orchestra play without conductor. Interpretation issues aside, how do the musicians stay so expertly in sync through all of the nuances and flexibilities of tempo? A few weeks ago I heard the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in a concert that included the Beethoven Third Symphony. I know the Eroica well, but heard it that night as though for the first time. The thirty-six musicians played without conductor and the performance was electrifying – slightly faster tempos than usual, but with a great deal of flexibility; absolute clarity, making it possible to hear voices one doesn’t always hear; and an emotional intensity that is often missing when a group has played a Beethoven symphony countless numbers of times. Continue reading
Some of you may remember the story from a few years ago about the violinist who played the violin during his own brain surgery. It’s a powerful statement about the impact of medical professionals and musicians working together in creative ways to address the specific medical problems that musicians face. The story has recently been in the news again, as the Mayo Clinic has publicized it as part of its 150th anniversary celebration. Thanks to former student Lindsay Warrenburg for alerting me to the resurgence of this remarkable story. Continue reading
When musicians play together, we always try to be “in sync,” unless, of course, we are playing Steve Reich’s Piano Phase or Violin Phase. And then we find how difficult it is, when two musicians are playing the same music, to be purposefully “out of sync” or out of phase. So are we hardwired to want to play “in sync?” What is happening in our brains when we are performing together? First, a necessary “sidebar” to talk about brainwaves.
100 billion used to be the figure that was always given for the number of brain cells, or neurons, in the human brain. But we seem to have lost about 14 billion. Although you still see the higher figure, more recent research shows that there are actually 86 billion neurons in our brain, which is still an inconceivable number. (You may not want to know that researchers determined this figure by making soup out of brains that had been donated to science. Check out the story here.)
A former student from France recently spent a weekend with us while she was in the States on vacation. We had a lot of years to catch up on, enjoyed good food and wine, and found some time to play four-hand music. Four-hand music is fun to play, but it can be notoriously awkward because not only are two pianists sharing the same piano, they are often sharing the same segment of the keyboard. It occurred to me that, in spite of the awkwardness, the sharing of space has worked well with everyone with whom I’ve ever played – with one glaring exception. Continue reading
Robert Schumann wrote in a review of a Franz Liszt concert in Dresden in 1840: “It is unlikely that any other artist, excepting only Paganini, has the power to lift, carry and deposit an audience in such high degree. . . In a matter of seconds we have been exposed to tenderness, daring, fragrance and madness. The instrument glows and sparkles under the hands of its master. . .It simply has to be heard – and seen. If Liszt were to play behind the scenes a considerable portion of poetry would be lost.” (Schumann on Music, trans. and ed. by Henry Pleasants) Continue reading
I still remember Sue’s performance of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata on her senior recital. I knew from hearing her earlier in a masterclass that her concept of the sonata was epic – distant machine gun fire in the opening repeated chords, various musical depictions of war in the first movement, death in the second, and angels in heaven in the third.