Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gabriela Montero begins podcasting

There are now two Gabriella Montero podcasts available; you can also subscribe to them through Itunes (where I found them).

She says in the first that no one before her had ever made a totally improvised piano recording. Keith Jarrett might take exception to that. Perhaps she meant no classical pianist ever did this before.

Her improvisations are more crossover than classical though. Her improvised music is what I call "polyidiomatic," in that she draws on an eclectic assortment of styles. She's not an idiomatic improviser, such as Robert Levin, who can keep to a composer-specific language. Levin, though, improvises embellishments and cadenzas, not (at least in his recordings) entire pieces. This is not a criticism, just an observation. I think polyidiomatic improvisation is the way of the future, although historically "correct" improvisation has its role as well.

In her first podcast, she talks about making her Bach and Beyond album, in which the producer supplied "easy versions" of famous Bach themes on which she then improvised, and the general practice of basing an improvisation on a composed piece (or tune)--something she does in her concerts.

She speaks about feeling an emotion she's "given to portray . . . my mind works in a way that nothing happens in my mind when I improvise. It doesn't go through my head, it goes through a different place." That is a great description of what many improvisers experience.

Anyway, the podcasts are well worth a listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

With kids like this, there's some sort of future for classical music

The eminent pianist, scholar, and author Charles Rosen was on the DePauw campus this past weekend to give a lecture and recital. Nearly 80, he plays beautifully and more important interestingly, and once warmed up continues to have amazing technical facility.

The lecture was, to me, fascinating, and to some others difficult to follow, if nevertheless impressive. Rosen speaks without notes, and goes off on plenty of tangents. He often sat down at the piano and illustrated passages from the keyboard literature, symphonies, and operas. I wasn't sure how many of the students, including a few local high-school students and some visiting campus for our annual piano competition for high-school students would sustain interest during the more esoteric portions of the lecture.

At the following evening's recital, a young friend (16 0r 17) came up to me before the recital and told me how exciting and inspiring the talk was. And he doesn't play piano (much, anyway), he sings. "Ah," I warned him, "you are talking like a music major."

I've seen this guy grow up. Seeing him become enthralled with classical music over the last year or so has been a joy. When it grabs you, it grabs you.

Eric Barnhill improvises on Chopin and Mozart

Eric Barnhill has recently posted two interesting sets on his "Daily Improvisation" piano blog. Chopin, with improvised interludes, and also Mozart's extremely simple published cadenza for Piano Concerto No. 23, K 488, and two of his own.

As Eric explains quite well, it is very unlikely that Mozart himself would have performed something as elementary as the published cadenza. It was probably meant as something for amateurs of little skills to play. It's a great example of the fact that many early published cadenzas were meant to supply amatuer muscians with something to play, not to limit what an accomplished artist might do.