My Interview with Valentina Lisitsa

Derrick and Valentina

Following her second recital in seven months at George Fox University – you can read my review of that recital here – I sat down with Valentina Lisitsa in the lobby of her hotel to conduct the interview presented below. Despite the lateness of the hour, Valentina was generous with her time, and her answers to my questions were peppered with the wit and charm which are her hallmark.

I fully intended to publish this interview soon after it took place, but human nature being what it is – my human nature, at any rate – my recording of it lay moldering in my top dresser drawer for seven-plus years, just waiting for me to step up and transcribe it for this blog.

My apologies to Valentina for the unconscionable delay. I take some solace in the thought that the relevance of her observations has not been diminished in any way by the passage of time.

DERRICK: Valentina, your website tells us that you were born in Kiev, Ukraine, and Wikipedia gives the year of your birth as 1973, but since we shouldn’t believe everything we read online, would you like to comment?

VALENTINA: How about Facebook! I think I was born, according to Facebook, in 1927, which I really like.

DERRICK: 1927?

VALENTINA: I don’t remember exactly the year, you can check it out, but it was something really ancient.

DERRICK: All right, do you remember when and where was your first recital, and what your program was?

VALENTINA: (laughing) I remember exactly, and I remember what I was doing. I was catching grasshoppers when it was my turn to play. It was a children’s recital program, and I was doing at that point – I think I was doing – yes, it was Tchaikovsky’s “Kid’s Album” or something like that, but I’m not sure if I was doing the complete thing because I missed my turn – they were looking for me – and they sent another kid onstage to play the accordion.

DERRICK: Accordion?

VALENTINA: Yes, well they had all those different instruments. I went inside while the kid was playing, and I screamed, “Oh, it’s my turn, get offstage!” and I started dragging him offstage. I was pretty competitive. (laughing)

DERRICK: How old were you at the time?

VALENTINA: I think I was exactly four years, because I started, according to my grandma, when I was three years and eight months old, so it took me at least a few months to learn those pieces.

DERRICK: When and where was your first appearance with orchestra? What concerto did you play?

VALENTINA: With orchestra it came much later. It was one of the competitions when I waited for the final to play with orchestra. It was my first time, and it was Liszt’s Concerto No. 1, and besides my first encounter with orchestra, it was also my first encounter with coffee.

DERRICK: With coffee?

VALENTINA: Yes, my mom drank lots of coffee, and of course she was such a backstage mom, she was all worried to have a kid in the final of the competition, and she drank coffee by the gallon, and somehow she thought it was a smart idea to give a child coffee. And I drank the coffee, I liked it very much, and then I went onstage. At the rehearsal I was thoroughly prepared, I knew the piece backwards, and I was very self-assured, but then things started happening when I came to play, with coffee in my blood for the first time. I remember when there was this infamous place with trills on top; the piano just plays trills and the orchestra plays something, and I remember exactly feeling like I was plugged into an outlet with electricity going through me and I cannot stop. I was so wired up! I didn’t win that time.

DERRICK: All right, who were your most important teachers? Did you learn different things from different ones?

VALENTINA: Well, my important teachers are all dead. They are, you know, great pianists of the past. Of living teachers, I didn’t have anybody of note. I always disregarded their advice.

DERRICK: Who were your heroes of the piano, and how would you describe their influence on your playing?

VALENTINA: Who were my heroes? When I was a kid, I didn’t have piano heroes, I had chess heroes and soccer heroes (laughing), but no piano heroes. But actually, the pianist whom I listened to most and who probably shaped my opinions about music, though without me knowing it, was Sofronitsky. I think his recordings were on sale, and I remember when my mom got me my first, you know, turntable, and got a whole bunch of Sofronitsky CDs, maybe like twenty or twenty-five of them. I brought them to the U.S. later. It was all those beautiful pieces which nobody plays, like Schubert-Liszt, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, not the standard repertoire. I was dreaming ever since to find those Schubert-Liszt pieces. It took me awhile because they were not published. (Note: I have linked to Valentina’s performance of the Schubert-Liszt “Ave Maria” at the end of this interview.)

DERRICK: Who was your favorite chess player?

VALENTINA: Gary Kasparov! Oh, that was a hero, you know, because I remember exactly when he was in this amazing match with Karpov, and he was such an underdog, and of course it seemed like there was absolutely no hope, poor guy…

DERRICK: The score was five to nothing at one point.

VALENTINA: …yes, yes, it was really dreadful, yet I mean he held on and then he started narrowing the gap, and then they stopped the match when it was five to three. But that was the most incredible thing. That was an example, you can do so many things in your life, and no matter how dreadful the situation is, there is always hope if you keep pushing.

DERRICK: How important were piano competitions in helping to establish your career?

VALENTINA: They did more damage than anything else, and I think they do for most people. Lots of young people think, oh, I’m going to win this competition and it’s going to launch my career, and it’s not happening. The so-called Soviet school of piano playing, or music playing, or sports, it was just basically they are taught to win in competitions, making a name for publicity. What it led to, when you went to school, you were channeled into this competition stream. You had to learn one prelude and fugue by Bach, one classical sonata, one etude by Chopin – maybe two etudes by Chopin, Opus 10 and Opus 25 – one Liszt, one other etude, one Romantic piece, one 20th century piece, and you are good to go to any competition. People will polish those things for fifteen or twenty years. There are so many examples which I don’t want to give you because, you can name one after another, people who won a competition playing a single piece better than anybody else…

DERRICK: To the detriment of their development.

VALENTINA: …yes, and then, first of all, I know lots of my colleagues who felt so insecure after they won a competition and then, okay, life begins. They have to start playing, learning things, but they have this very small repertoire which is so polished that when they try something else, it looks crude, and they don’t want to dedicate twenty more years to polishing it. I saw many pianists with shrinking repertoires. Their repertoire would get smaller and smaller because they were so insecure. This competition mentality.

Look, I was a product of this system; I went to so many little competitions. I didn’t go to study in Moscow, which is why I was precluded from participating in big competitions for a long time, but I had the same problem. I came to the U.S., and I had two concertos in my repertoire; one was Liszt, another was Tchaikovsky. Now I have close to fifty, but I had to learn everything from the beginning to the end, and I could have done it when I was a child. It would be much easier, and I would have more free time now.

DERRICK: When did you leave Ukraine for the United States?

VALENTINA: 1992.

DERRICK: And why did you decide to leave Ukraine?

VALENTINA: Ukraine was a good place to be from. I was lucky in a way to end up in the U.S. I know quite a few classmates, pretty girls, the most popular in class, who would get married, one was married to a Cuban, so she went to Cuba, and another, I think she went somewhere to Africa and she ended up being one of many wives, but basically, everybody was trying to get out by any means possible. There was no place for art, people were starving, they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.

DERRICK: Why did you decide to come to the U.S.?

VALENTINA: It was an accident! There was a competition, and if we wouldn’t win this one, we will go to another one. The next one was in Italy. Whatever.

DERRICK: I know that at one time chess was one of your passions. How far did you pursue your chess ambitions?

VALENTINA: Oh, well I would pretend that I’m going to music school, which was full-time, and then I would make a U-turn and go to the chess club and I would spend days and weeks and months in the chess club without my parents knowing it until we were discovered.

DERRICK: Was there a time when your passion for chess conflicted with your passion for music, or did you give up serious chess when you decided to devote yourself to piano?

VALENTINA: Both happened simultaneously. You know what happened? I was very competitive from the very beginning, even in the way I was practicing. I was basically putting certain tasks in front of myself and trying to see how fast can I achieve this or that, or at which time mark can I learn this piece. It was a lot like sports, trying to be the fastest, loudest, the cleanest, and so on. Chess fit very neatly into that because chess was not like music competitions, where there are many things which are subjective. First of all, some members of the jury, they like you, some don’t, and also you know there are favors exchanged, there are political things, so it’s an unfair game. In chess, everything was clear. If you are stronger than your opponent, you win. If you are about equal, there is a draw, if you are a weakling, you lose. It was all clear. It was beautiful because that was something I didn’t have in music. I would go, I would play in competition, I thought I did a wonderful job, and then you don’t go anyplace, and there is somebody who you know made mistakes who would proceed to next round. That was very unfair in the eyes of a little child. Chess gave me this solution, because it was very easy, you knew what you had to do in order to win.

But then, you know, when I was growing older, I learned that, first of all, there is more than one truth. You can play the same piece different ways, so that’s why it’s art and not sport. Also, I was not looking to win a game; I was not trying to play something the fastest anymore, and in chess, I also started to change. I noticed with myself, when I was playing, if I had to think about playing a winning move, or a move that was very beautiful, I would choose the weaker move which was very beautiful. That’s when you know you are an artist and not a sportswoman anymore. That’s when the decline of chess started for me.

DERRICK: I see. In your video interview with Pieter de Rooij, you spoke about having a photographic memory. Would you explain to us what it means to have a photographic memory?

VALENTINA: It’s a disaster. I don’t wish for people to think, oh, it would be so nice to have it. It’s a terrible thing in a way, because you have to learn actually to bypass it and learn other ways around, because with a photographic memory, basically you see something, you scan it in your head, and you have it. First of all, you make many mistakes. Then, even if you are looking at the page, what you see is an image of what you originally saw. It’s very difficult to analyze and see new things. So, for now, I don’t learn anything with my photographic memory. I keep staring at the music and finding new things. Also, it’s of course a disaster when you have a different score and you cannot find the place you want. This is not the nicest memory to have, but I think it’s less of a problem than, you know, people who have perfect pitch and they’re so attuned to it that they cannot play on untuned instruments. I don’t have this problem. I have perfect pitch, but it’s very flexible.

DERRICK: Are you able to memorize a score after reading it through just once?

VALENTINA: If I need to, yes, but it’s pushing myself, and I trained myself not to do it.

DERRICK: Does having a photographic memory mean that you don’t have to worry about memory slips?

VALENTINA: Oh yes, you do, you do, absolutely, because there are many things that can distract you when you perform, and you cannot rely on one kind of memory. You can see other things, or you can forget where the page is turned. Then you have to rely on others.

DERRICK: One website says of you, “At the beginning of her career, Lisitsa announced that all—ALL—her recordings would be unedited. No cutting and splicing, no fancy mixing and remixing. What you hear is what she played that day and at that time.” Did you really say that?

VALENTINA: Well, probably, but I was young and stupid.

DERRICK: I see, well, my next question was going to be, If you did say that, did you keep that resolution? I gather that that’s not a realistic expectation.

VALENTINA: No, it’s not about expectations, it’s about what other people expect. If everybody would be playing the same game, it would be different story, but in order to level the playing field, first of all, you have to keep up with technology.

DERRICK: What is your opinion about the state of classical music composition today? Is there anyone currently writing music whom you consider a great composer? If yes, who?

VALENTINA: I have no opinion on that. That’s not my business, to play contemporary music. I mean, I’m doing this as side jobs, you know, because I play a lot of chamber music and so on, and I think that’s about enough. What I’m good at is finding pieces like Rachmaninoff’s 1st Sonata which are forgotten, with which I think I can do something worthwhile. In any business there are companies which create new stuff and companies which produce good old stuff, and they’re just as necessary. I remember how Rachmaninoff, actually he had one of his female students who came to him and she wanted to learn all of Debussy’s preludes, and he asked her, “My child, how many Beethoven sonatas have you played.” She said, “Oh, well, two or three.” He said, “Well, go back and learn all of them, and then you can do novelties like Debussy.” Debussy was a novelty for him. That’s how I feel because, look, I’m still just in the beginning of my Beethoven project, I have so many things to learn, to study, just for myself, before I can dedicate any time to new music. There are plenty of people willing and able to do it. It’s just not something I want to do.

DERRICK: If there’s nobody writing today whom you think of as a great composer, then who was the last great composer, and why have there been no great composers since?

VALENTINA: I don’t bother myself with thinking about great composers, who was great, who was not so great. It’s just if his music appeals to me, and the last composer whose music appeals to me is Shostakovich. I feel very much connected with Shostakovich’s music, and unfortunately he didn’t write nearly enough for piano, in my opinion. I’m just old-fashioned.

DERRICK: How much importance do you attach to reviews of your playing?

VALENTINA: None whatsoever.

DERRICK: What general advice would you offer to an aspiring pianist?

VALENTINA: Practice. Practice. Practice.

DERRICK: Thank you, Valentina. I know your schedule is full, and I very much appreciate your making time for this interview.

Here is Valentina’s performance of the Schubert-Liszt “Ave Maria”. In the description, she calls it, “the most beautiful and inspired melody ever written.”)

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Published in: on March 31, 2018 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ravel: Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano with Anne Akiko Meyers, Violinist and Anton Nel, Pianist

Ravel began writing his second violin sonata in 1923, and worked on it off and on for four years. He completed it in 1927, and dedicated it to his friend, violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange. Ravel himself was the pianist at the premiere, which took place in Paris in May 1927 with none other than George Enescu taking the violin part. It was to be the last piece of chamber music Ravel would ever write.

The first movement is peaceful and reflective, with more than a hint of melancholy. The entire movement is wonderfully inventive, and the last few bars, beginning at about 7:15 in the video below, are exquisitely lovely.

The second movement, marked “Blues”, is the most daring of the three movements. It is bold and brash, full of unexpected accents and sensual slides. Ravel commented on it as follows during his trip to the United States in 1928:

To my mind, the ‘blues’ is one of your greatest musical assets, truly American despite earlier contributory influences from Africa and Spain. Musicians have asked me how I came to write ‘blues’ as the second movement of my recently completed sonata for violin and piano…. While I adopted this popular form of your music, I venture to say that nevertheless it is French music, Ravel’s music, that I have written. Indeed, these popular forms are but the materials of construction, and the work of art appears only on mature conception where no detail has been left to chance.

The third movement reminds me of nothing so much as a race, right down to the starter’s traditional, “On your mark… Get set… Go!”  The violin explodes off the starting block at measure 15 and sets a blistering pace that continues unabated all the way to the finish line.

This video features an absolutely brilliant performance by Anne Akiko Meyers on violin and Anton Nel on piano. It was recorded in October 2012 at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas. I was especially struck by the audio presence and true-to-life sound of both the violin and piano. Kudos to the sound engineer!

The tempo indications and the start times of the three movements are as follows:

1. Allegretto (0:00)
2. Blues. Moderato (7:55)
3. Perpetuum mobile. Allegro (13:44)

Published in: on February 28, 2018 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Harvey Weinstein: Three Women, One Story

Last October, both The New York Times and The New Yorker published lengthy articles describing multiple alleged instances of sexual harassment, assault, and rape by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, many additional women have come forward with their own Weinstein stories, women who may have kept silent for years, but who now, emboldened by the example of others, are eager to speak out.

In this post, I want to draw attention to three of these women, whose thoughts about Weinstein and the abuse of power are among the most insightful and eloquent I’ve seen. We can all learn from these women. They’ve been in the trenches of the entertainment industry for years, fighting an uphill battle for opportunity, equal pay, and personal dignity.

All three of these accounts resonate with me. The first belongs to Salma Hayek. It has been reproduced verbatim from a New York Times article of December 12, 2017.

    Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too     by Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek (photo © The New York Times)

Harvey Weinstein was a pas-sionate cinephile, a risk taker, a patron of talent in film, a loving father and a monster.

For years, he was my monster.

This fall, I was approached by reporters, through different sources, including my dear friend Ashley Judd, to speak about an episode in my life that, although painful, I thought I had made peace with.

I had brainwashed myself into thinking that it was over and that I had survived; I hid from the responsibility to speak out with the excuse that enough people were already involved in shining a light on my monster. I didn’t consider my voice important, nor did I think it would make a difference.

In reality, I was trying to save myself the challenge of explaining several things to my loved ones: Why, when I had casually mentioned that I had been bullied like many others by Harvey, I had excluded a couple of details. And why, for so many years, we have been cordial to a man who hurt me so deeply. I had been proud of my capacity for forgiveness, but the mere fact that I was ashamed to describe the details of what I had forgiven made me wonder if that chapter of my life had really been resolved.

When so many women came forward to describe what Harvey had done to them, I had to confront my cowardice and humbly accept that my story, as important as it was to me, was nothing but a drop in an ocean of sorrow and confusion. I felt that by now nobody would care about my pain — maybe this was an effect of the many times I was told, especially by Harvey, that I was nobody.

We are finally becoming conscious of a vice that has been socially accepted and has insulted and humiliated millions of girls like me, for in every woman there is a girl. I am inspired by those who had the courage to speak out, especially in a society that elected a president who has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by more than a dozen women and whom we have all heard make a statement about how a man in power can do anything he wants to women.

Well, not anymore.

In the 14 years that I stumbled from schoolgirl to Mexican soap star to an extra in a few American films to catching a couple of lucky breaks in “Desperado” and “Fools Rush In,” Harvey Weinstein had become the wizard of a new wave of cinema that took original content into the mainstream. At the same time, it was unimaginable for a Mexican actress to aspire to a place in Hollywood. And even though I had proven them wrong, I was still a nobody.

One of the forces that gave me the determination to pursue my career was the story of Frida Kahlo, who in the golden age of the Mexican muralists would do small intimate paintings that everybody looked down on. She had the courage to express herself while disregarding skepticism. My greatest ambition was to tell her story. It became my mission to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and to show my native Mexico in a way that combated stereotypes.

The Weinstein empire, which was then Miramax, had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking — a haven for artists who were complex and defiant. It was everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be.

I had started a journey to produce the film with a different company, but I fought to get it back to take it to Harvey.

I knew him a little bit through my relationship with the director Robert Rodriguez and the producer Elizabeth Avellan, who was then his wife, with whom I had done several films and who had taken me under their wing. All I knew of Harvey at the time was that he had a remarkable intellect, he was a loyal friend and a family man.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it wasn’t my friendship with them — and Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney — that saved me from being raped.

The deal we made initially was that Harvey would pay for the rights of work I had already developed. As an actress, I would be paid the minimum Screen Actors Guild scale plus 10 percent. As a producer, I would receive a credit that would not yet be defined, but no payment, which was not that rare for a female producer in the ’90s. He also demanded a signed deal for me to do several other films with Miramax, which I thought would cement my status as a leading lady.

I did not care about the money; I was so excited to work with him and that company. In my naïveté, I thought my dream had come true. He had validated the last 14 years of my life. He had taken a chance on me — a nobody. He had said yes.

Little did I know it would become my turn to say no.

No to opening the door to him at all hours of the night, hotel after hotel, location after location, where he would show up unexpectedly, including one location where I was doing a movie he wasn’t even involved with.

No to me taking a shower with him.

No to letting him watch me take a shower.

No to letting him give me oral sex.

No to my getting naked with another woman.

No, no, no, no, no …

And with every refusal came Harvey’s Machiavellian rage.

Salma Hayek on the set of the film “Frida”.

I don’t think he hated anything more than the word “no.” The absurdity of his demands went from getting a furious call in the middle of the night asking me to fire my agent for a fight he was having with him about a different movie with a different client to physically dragging me out of the opening gala of the Venice Film Festival, which was in honor of “Frida,” so I could hang out at his private party with him and some women I thought were models but I was told later were high-priced prostitutes.

The range of his persuasion tactics went from sweet-talking me to that one time when, in an attack of fury, he said the terrifying words, “I will kill you, don’t think I can’t.”

When he was finally convinced that I was not going to earn the movie the way he had expected, he told me he had offered my role and my script with my years of research to another actress.

In his eyes, I was not an artist. I wasn’t even a person. I was a thing: not a nobody, but a body.

At that point, I had to resort to using lawyers, not by pursuing a sexual harassment case, but by claiming “bad faith,” as I had worked so hard on a movie that he was not intending to make or sell back to me. I tried to get it out of his company.

He claimed that my name as an actress was not big enough and that I was incompetent as a producer, but to clear himself legally, as I understood it, he gave me a list of impossible tasks with a tight deadline:

1. Get a rewrite of the script, with no additional payment.

2. Raise $10 million to finance the film.

3. Attach an A-list director.

4. Cast four of the smaller roles with prominent actors.

Much to everyone’s amazement, not least my own, I delivered, thanks to a phalanx of angels who came to my rescue, including Edward Norton, who beautifully rewrote the script several times and appallingly never got credit, and my friend Margaret Perenchio, a first-time producer, who put up the money. The brilliant Julie Taymor agreed to direct, and from then on she became my rock. For the other roles, I recruited my friends Antonio Banderas, Edward Norton and my dear Ashley Judd. To this day, I don’t know how I convinced Geoffrey Rush, whom I barely knew at the time.

Now Harvey Weinstein was not only rejected but also about to do a movie he did not want to do.

Ironically, once we started filming, the sexual harassment stopped but the rage escalated. We paid the price for standing up to him nearly every day of shooting. Once, in an interview he said Julie and I were the biggest ball busters he had ever encountered, which we took as a compliment.

Halfway through shooting, Harvey turned up on set and complained about Frida’s “unibrow.” He insisted that I eliminate the limp and berated my performance. Then he asked everyone in the room to step out except for me. He told me that the only thing I had going for me was my sex appeal and that there was none of that in this movie. So he told me he was going to shut down the film because no one would want to see me in that role.

It was soul crushing because, I confess, lost in the fog of a sort of Stockholm syndrome, I wanted him to see me as an artist: not only as a capable actress but also as somebody who could identify a compelling story and had the vision to tell it in an original way.

I was hoping he would acknowledge me as a producer, who on top of delivering his list of demands shepherded the script and obtained the permits to use the paintings. I had negotiated with the Mexican government, and with whomever I had to, to get locations that had never been given to anyone in the past — including Frida Kahlo’s houses and the murals of Kahlo’s husband, Diego Rivera, among others.

But all of this seemed to have no value. The only thing he noticed was that I was not sexy in the movie. He made me doubt if I was any good as an actress, but he never succeeded in making me think that the film was not worth making.

He offered me one option to continue. He would let me finish the film if I agreed to do a sex scene with another woman. And he demanded full-frontal nudity.

He had been constantly asking for more skin, for more sex. Once before, Julie Taymor got him to settle for a tango ending in a kiss instead of the lovemaking scene he wanted us to shoot between the character Tina Modotti, played by Ashley Judd, and Frida.

But this time, it was clear to me he would never let me finish this movie without him having his fantasy one way or another. There was no room for negotiation.

I had to say yes. By now so many years of my life had gone into this film. We were about five weeks into shooting, and I had convinced so many talented people to participate. How could I let their magnificent work go to waste?

I had asked for so many favors, I felt an immense pressure to deliver and a deep sense of gratitude for all those who did believe in me and followed me into this madness. So I agreed to do the senseless scene.

I arrived on the set the day we were to shoot the scene that I believed would save the movie. And for the first and last time in my career, I had a nervous breakdown: My body began to shake uncontrollably, my breath was short and I began to cry and cry, unable to stop, as if I were throwing up tears.

Since those around me had no knowledge of my history of Harvey, they were very surprised by my struggle that morning. It was not because I would be naked with another woman. It was because I would be naked with her for Harvey Weinstein. But I could not tell them then.

My mind understood that I had to do it, but my body wouldn’t stop crying and convulsing. At that point, I started throwing up while a set frozen still waited to shoot. I had to take a tranquilizer, which eventually stopped the crying but made the vomiting worse. As you can imagine, this was not sexy, but it was the only way I could get through the scene.

By the time the filming of the movie was over, I was so emotionally distraught that I had to distance myself during the postproduction.

When Harvey saw the cut film, he said it was not good enough for a theatrical release and that he would send it straight to video.

This time Julie had to fight him without me and got him to agree to release the film in one movie theater in New York if we tested it to an audience and we scored at least an 80.

Less than 10 percent of films achieve that score on a first screening.

I didn’t go to the test. I anxiously awaited to receive the news. The film scored 85.

And again, I heard Harvey raged. In the lobby of a theater after the screening, he screamed at Julie. He balled up one of the scorecards and threw it at her. It bounced off her nose. Her partner, the film’s composer Elliot Goldenthal, stepped in, and Harvey physically threatened him.

Once he calmed down, I found the strength to call Harvey to ask him also to open the movie in a theater in Los Angeles, which made a total of two theaters. And without much ado, he gave me that. I have to say sometimes he was kind, fun and witty — and that was part of the problem: You just never knew which Harvey you were going to get.

Months later, in October 2002, this film, about my hero and inspiration — this Mexican artist who never truly got acknowledged in her time with her limp and her unibrow, this film that Harvey never wanted to do, gave him a box office success that no one could have predicted, and despite his lack of support, added six Academy Award nominations to his collection, including best actress.

Even though “Frida” eventually won him two Oscars, I still didn’t see any joy. He never offered me a starring role in a movie again. The films that I was obliged to do under my original deal with Miramax were all minor supporting roles.

Years later, when I ran into him at an event, he pulled me aside and told me he had stopped smoking and he had had a heart attack. He said he’d fallen in love and married Georgina Chapman, and that he was a changed man. Finally, he said to me: “You did well with ‘Frida’; we did a beautiful movie.”

I believed him. Harvey would never know how much those words meant to me. He also would never know how much he hurt me. I never showed Harvey how terrified I was of him. When I saw him socially, I’d smile and try to remember the good things about him, telling myself that I went to war and I won.

But why do so many of us, as female artists, have to go to war to tell our stories when we have so much to offer? Why do we have to fight tooth and nail to maintain our dignity?

I think it is because we, as women, have been devalued artistically to an indecent state, to the point where the film industry stopped making an effort to find out what female audiences wanted to see and what stories we wanted to tell.

According to a recent study, between 2007 and 2016, only 4 percent of directors were female and 80 percent of those got the chance to make only one film. In 2016, another study found, only 27 percent of words spoken in the biggest movies were spoken by women. And people wonder why you didn’t hear our voices sooner. I think the statistics are self-explanatory — our voices are not welcome.

Until there is equality in our industry, with men and women having the same value in every aspect of it, our community will continue to be a fertile ground for predators.

I am grateful for everyone who is listening to our experiences. I hope that adding my voice to the chorus of those who are finally speaking out will shed light on why it is so difficult, and why so many of us have waited so long. Men sexually harassed because they could. Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can.

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In the next account, Emily Maitlis of the BBC interviews Zelda Perkins, who was a personal assistant to Harvey Weinstein in Miramax’s London office, and well acquainted with what she calls the darker side of his character. As she reveals in the following interview, in 1998 she reached a settlement with Weinstein that paid her £125,000 in exchange for her silence regarding a claim of attempted rape brought against him by one of her co-workers. Here are a few excerpts from that interview:

“With Harvey, there was no such word as ‘no’, and I think that’s really the crux of the matter.”

“It was the entire system. The system essentially protected Harvey in this case, but I can guarantee you it protects a hundred other people like that, because if you have the power and the money to create agreements that cover up essentially a very serious – in this case – crime, criminal action, then I dread to imagine what other things are being covered up.”

“This isn’t about Hollywood. This is about the abuse of power.”

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For yet one more point of view, I want to share the insights of acclaimed British actress Emma Thompson, who in this interview looks beyond the particulars of the Weinstein scandal to a pervasive, underlying male/female dynamic. The following three quotations are from that interview:

“I didn’t know about these things, but they don’t surprise me at all, and they’re endemic to the system anyway.”

“This has been part of our world – women’s world – since time immemorial.”

“What we need to start talking about is the crisis in masculinity, the crisis of extreme masculinity, which is this sort of behavior, and the fact that it is not only okay, but it also is represented by the most powerful man in the world at the moment.”

A personal note: Near the end of this interview, Ms. Thompson says, “I do see and hear a lot of voices, and I do want to add mine to theirs.”

So do I, and I have a blog.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on January 31, 2018 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Maurice Ravel: Boléro (or) A Grown-Up’s Guide to the Orchestra

Maurice Ravel

First, a word about the subtitle. A Grown-Up’s Guide to the Orchestra was my idea obviously, not Ravel’s, inspired by Britten’s Young Person’s Guide which I featured here last month. Having done my best in that post to introduce young people to the orchestra, I feel duty-bound to do the same for grown-ups, and can think of no better way than through Ravel’s Boléro, which shares at least this much in common with Britten’s famous work: both feature the instruments of the orchestra, either in extended solo passages or together with other instruments, in ways designed to showcase their unique voices and character. To be sure, Britten approaches this objective in a more comprehensive, methodical fashion, but his aims were both musical and didactic, while Ravel’s were strictly musical.

Music historian, university professor, and author Betsy Schwarm wrote the following description of Boléro, to which I have added some time stamps from the video below.

Boléro is a one-movement orchestral work composed by Maurice Ravel, known for beginning softly and ending, according to the composer’s instructions, as loudly as possible. Commissioned by the Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein, Boléro was first performed at the Paris Opéra on November 22, 1928, with a dance choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska. The work has been featured in many films since its creation, and was an integral part of the plot in Blake Edwards’ 1979 film “10”, starring Dudley Moore and Bo Derek.

Initially, Rubinstein asked Ravel to create for her a work with Spanish character, suggesting that he – a highly skilled orchestrator who six years earlier had reworked Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – might adapt for orchestra some piano pieces by the Spaniard Isaac Albéniz. But after some consideration, Ravel instead wrote his own original composition, a piece he called Boléro – though some observed that the rhythms were more like those of the fandango and seguidilla than the bolero. At its debut Rubinstein herself took the solo role of a sultry café dancer enticing her masculine audience, whose growing excitement is reflected in the work’s signature crescendo.

Boléro is a set of 18 variations on an original two-part theme – or perhaps, more properly speaking, 18 orchestrations of that theme – for the theme itself does not change, though the instruments do. After an opening rhythm on the snare drum (a rhythm that continues unabated throughout the work, and which always makes me think of castanets – DR), the piece proceeds as follows:

  1. [0:40] solo flute (in the instrument’s low range)
  2. [1:30] solo clarinet (also low in the range)
  3. [2:20] solo bassoon (high in its range)
  4. [3:10] solo E-flat clarinet (smaller and higher in pitch than the standard B-flat clarinet)
  5. [4:00] solo oboe d’amore (between the oboe and the English horn in pitch and tone)
  6. [4:50] muted trumpet and flute (the flute floating like overtones parallel to the trumpet’s line)
  7. [5:40] solo tenor saxophone (an unusual inclusion in an orchestra, but Ravel liked jazz)
  8. [6:30] solo soprano saxophone (a small, straight, high-pitched saxophone)
  9. [7:20] French horn and celesta (the bell-like tones of the latter parallel to the horn’s line)
  10. [8:08] quartet composed of clarinet and three double-reeds (a combination organlike in timbre)
  11. [8:58] solo trombone (replete with sensuously sliding passages)
  12. [9:49] high woodwinds (growing more strident in tone)

With variation 13 [10:38], the strings finally emerge from their background role to take the lead for the remaining variations. The crescendo continues to build; the drumbeat persists, becoming ever more prominent. Before long, trumpet accents are added, contributing to the intensity until, in the final moments, the full orchestra is tossed into the mix – trombones, cymbals, and all – bringing the piece to an exultant, if abrupt, conclusion.

Notes by Betsy Schwarm

In this video, Valery Gergiev (pronounced va-ler-y ger-gyev) leads the London Symphony Orchestra. You will notice that Gergiev doesn’t conduct with a baton, as most conductors do, nor with his bare hands, as he does in my post of his performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird. “But what,” I hear you ask, “is with the toothpick?” I confess, I don’t know why he conducts with a toothpick. Some have suggested that he uses it as a protest against those who have criticised him for not using a baton when he conducts, just his hands. Others have said that he began using a toothpick after his baton flew into the orchestra or the audience. Still others have postulated that using a toothpick requires the musicians to watch the conductor more attentively. I haven’t found a definitive answer, which may have to wait until Gergiev himself addresses this question.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this extraordinary performance of one of Ravel’s many masterpieces.

Published in: on December 31, 2017 at 5:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Benjamin Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Benjamin Britten

Once again, the gift-giving season is upon us, and once again, I have a special treat for young viewers: Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, which is subtitled, “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell”.

I can’t think of a better way to introduce young people – or people of any age, for that matter – to the wonders of the symphony orchestra. The Young Person’s Guide is a masterpiece. I’m especially pleased with the attached video. The audio quality is superb, and the many close-ups make it easy to associate each of the instruments with its particular sound.

This is a short video – only 17 minutes – and I encourage parents of young children to watch it with them. In it, the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne is conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste. I’ve added time indicators to the description below to help match up the various instruments of the orchestra with their appearance in the video.

The following description of The Young Person’s Guide was written by the noted American music critic, Richard Freed.

In 1945, just after the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes, Britten was asked by the British Ministry of Education to compose the music for a film to be called “Instruments of the Orchestra”, designed to acquaint young people with the characters of the various instruments and instrumental choirs that make up the modern orchestra. He went to work on this assignment early the following year, turning to the variation form that figures so prominently in his catalogue of works and taking his theme in this case from the rondeau Henry Purcell composed in 1695 for a play by Mrs. Aphra Behn called “Abdelazer” or “The Moor’s Revenge”.

For the film version, a spoken text, to introduce the respective variations and instruments, was written by Eric Crozier, who was to provide Britten in the next few years with librettos for three operas and the cantata “Saint Nicolas”. Some six weeks after the concert premiere, in the fall of 1946, the film had its first showing in London; within a year or so The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra was well on the way to establishing itself as the most widely known work composed by an Englishman since Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance Marches” and, like those marches, a stunning showpiece for the virtuoso orchestra.

The theme itself is given a full workout before the sequence of variations begins. It is stated first by the full orchestra [0:05], then given to the woodwinds [0:27], then to the brass [0:50], then (in slightly varied shape) to the strings and harp [1:10], and finally declaimed rhythmically by the percussion [1:27] before being restated by the orchestra at full strength [1:43]. The various choirs having been thus introduced, we proceed to the chain of variations, 13 in number, in which the individual instruments are spotlighted.

Each of the variations reflects a different character: some tender, some slightly sardonic, some mysterious, some straightforwardly humorous, all charged with great originality and wit, in the following sequence: flutes and piccolo, with harp accompaniment [2:01]; oboes [2:34]; clarinets [3:35]; bassoons [4:20]; violins [5:11]; violas [5:44]; cellos [6:45]; double basses [7:55]; harp [8:54]; horns [9:44]; trumpets [10:34]; trombones and tuba [11:02]; percussion [12:15]. The timpani begin the final variation, and provide a ritornello between the appearances of the other instruments: bass drum with cymbals [12:31], tambourine with triangle [12:43], snare drum with wood block [12:55], xylophone [13:06], castanets with gong [13:18], and finally, the whip [13:33]. The entire percussion section then celebrates the end of the chain of variations, subsiding to permit the xylophone to lead into the fugue.

In this final section, Britten puts his fragmented orchestra back together in the grandest style, beginning with the piccolo [14:11], moving through the other instruments and choirs, and concluding with a glorious proclamation of the original Purcell theme by the brass as the woodwinds and strings exult in the fugue theme and the percussion link the two in a festive frame.

Notes by Richard Freed

Published in: on November 30, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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Movie Review: Lost in Translation

“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” – Bob Harris

Lost in Translation was written and directed by Sofia Coppola, and released in 2003. It tells the story of two people, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a fifty-something movie star who has come to Tokyo to film a com­mercial for Suntory Whiskey, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman of twenty-one who is there with her husband John, a professional photographer on assignment.

In the scene that follows, we  get our first glimpse into the problems created by the language barrier, as Bob’s Japanese interpreter does a less than adequate job of translating the director’s instructions. A clear example of “lost in translation.” Note: When viewing this video, in order to understand the director and interpreter, it is necessary to click on the CC (Closed captioning) button in the lower right-hand corner of the video.

There is a 16-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tokyo, and Bob and Charlotte are both suffering from jet lag, which is a constant presence in this movie. Unable to sleep, their paths cross in the hotel bar, where they begin to get acquainted. Though Bob has been married for 25 years – “25 long ones” he tells Charlotte – and Charlotte for only two, both are feeling increasingly distant from their spouses. When Charlotte asks Bob what he’s doing in Tokyo, he answers, “Taking a break from my wife, forgetting my son’s birthday, and getting paid two million dollars to endorse a whiskey when I could be doing a play somewhere.” Later, we see Charlotte talking on the phone with her friend Lauren, to whom she confides, “John is using these hair products. I don’t know who I married.” It’s interesting to contrast John’s nagging Charlotte about her smoking with Bob’s readiness to light her cigarette.

We see quickly that Bob and his wife are just going through the motions, as are Charlotte and John. With each other, however, they feel an immediate rapport, born in part out of their relief at meeting someone from home when they are feeling lost and alone in a foreign country. Charlotte is also attracted by Bob’s ability to make her laugh, and he by how natural she is with him. She isn’t at all impressed by his celebrity.

For my money, Lost in Translation is worth any number of big-budget action flicks. Watching Bob and Charlotte as they forge bonds of friendship and trust is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I can remember. These are people with real lives, real problems. I’m reminded of something I wrote years ago in my review of Bagdad Cafe:

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this movie is how much we come to care about these people and how quickly we are drawn into their world. Credit for this must go… to writer/director Percy Adlon and his wife and writing partner Eleonore, who understand that great cinema does not depend on spectacle and special effects, but on finding and exploring situations in which the audience can relate to their characters.

In short, this is an exceptional movie, with many subtleties that reveal themselves only upon repeated viewings. It’s a great date night movie, rated R only because of one brief, unerotic scene in a Tokyo topless bar.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on October 31, 2017 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Concert Review: Hamelin Pinch-Hits for Lang Lang, Belts Home Run

Marc-André Hamelin

Two nights ago, Marc-André Hamelin stepped up to the plate in Seattle to pinch-hit for an ailing Lang Lang, who is reported to have been sidelined since last April with inflammation in his left arm.  Not an easy assignment, filling in for the Chinese superstar.  How did Hamelin do?  Quite simply, he hit it out of the park.  He hit it a country mile.

The first half of the program was devoted to the music of Franz Liszt, but notably absent were Lisztian warhorses like the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, “Funerailles”, “Un Sospiro”, and the monumental B minor Sonata.  Instead, Hamelin favored us with three lesser-known works, and showed us a side of Liszt we seldom see, one that is deeply personal and startlingly profound.

First on the program was the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13.  Not as well known as many of Liszt’s rhapsodies, the 13th reminds us that not all gypsy tunes are brilliant, up-tempo dances.  The Andante was suffused with a vague melancholy, while in the concluding Vivace, Hamelin’s legendary technique was much in evidence, with fleet-fingered passagework alternating with fortissimo passages of great power.

This was followed by Liszt’s “Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude” (The Blessing of God in Solitude).  The opening to this piece is perhaps the most reflective thing Liszt ever wrote, and Hamelin made it a very personal statement.  The second movement is simplicity itself, and in Hamelin’s hands, nothing was rushed.  He gave the music space to breathe, and in so doing, let it speak to us.  The third movement is as profound as anything in Liszt.  It is Liszt looking deep within himself.  I’ve never heard anything like it.

The last piece on the first half was Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on B.A.C.H.  This is not an attempt to compose in the style of Bach, but rather an homage to him, based on the four notes that correspond to the letters of Bach’s name.  We learn from flagmusic.com that,

In the German system of key spellings, the lettering runs from A through H, rather than A through G.  Our B-flat is the German B, and B is denoted H.  This allows one to spell the name B-A-C-H on the keys, thus:”

This is a very dark piece.  Where the “Bénédiction” is the ultimate in introspective reflection, and might be described as a soul at peace, this is an impassioned cry in which we seem to have a soul in torment.  At its climax, Hamelin created a volume of sound such as I have never before heard from a piano.  The effect was overwhelming.  At its conclusion, the audience gave Hamelin a standing ovation, even though it was just the end of the first half of the program.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.

The first piece after the intermission was the Sonata No. 4 by Samuil Feinberg (1890-1962), whose music was entirely unknown to me prior to this recital.  Feinberg has been called a musical heir to Scriabin, and like much of Scriabin’s music, this sonata is mysterious, dark, and impassioned.  From the first notes, it created such tension and suspense that I almost felt the need to hold my breath.

Throughout his career, Hamelin has made it a point to program and record lesser-known works.  Several years ago, he introduced me to Medtner, and now to Feinberg, so I’m particularly grateful for his dedication to lesser known composers.  He’s planning to record the first six of Feinberg’s twelve piano sonatas, and I’m eagerly looking forward to that release.

Next on the program was Debussy’s Images, Book I.  No one could paint pictures with music like Debussy, or coax such lovely sounds from the piano.  The first two pieces, Reflets dans l’eau and Hommage à Rameau, felt very improvisational.  Hamelin allowed these pieces to whisper to the audience in a way that held us in rapt attention throughout.  By contrast, the third piece, Mouvement, was a welcome expression of shared joy.

The final work on the program was Godowsky’s Symphonic Metamorphoses on Wine, Women, and Song after Johann Strauss.  This kind of pianistic tour de force is meat and potatoes for Hamelin, and despite its complexity and technical difficulties, offered the audience some delightfully tuneful interludes.

This was a recital one might wish would go on and on into the night, but as Chaucer reminds us, “All good things must come to an end.”  Hamelin gave us two encores.  The first was Godowsky’s “The Gardens of Buitenzorg” from the Java Suite, and the second was one of Hamelin’s own compositions, a toccata based on the old French song, “L’homme armé”, which he wrote for the recently concluded Van Cliburn Competition.

Hamelin does so many things well, he is impossible to classify.  Just when you think he’s a Liszt specialist, he plays Debussy like no one else you’ve ever heard.  Then he plays a Strauss waltz in an absolutely captivating manner.  If you have the chance to hear him in person, you mustn’t let it pass you by.  You will almost certainly hear something new, and you will without a doubt hear piano playing that you will never forget.

As for me, this was the second time I’ve heard Hamelin in person.  The first was in 2010 when I heard him play Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.  This was, however, the first time I’ve heard him in recital, which is the best way to appreciate the range of his talent.

I hope it won’t be the last.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on September 30, 2017 at 10:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beethoven: Piano Trio Op. 97 “Archduke” The Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio

Ludwig van Beethoven

Of the seven trios that Beethoven wrote for piano, violin, and cello, it is the seventh, the “Archduke”, that is the best known.  Composer and author Kathy Henkel, who writes regularly for the LA Philharmonic web­site, wrote a short article about the “Archduke”, which you can read here in its entirely.  Here is a brief excerpt:

It was in the summertime of 1810 that Beethoven began sketching what would become his final and finest piano trio.  Earlier that year, he had harbored serious thoughts of marrying his doctor’s lovely 18-year-old niece, Therese Malfatti.  When his hopes were dashed, the composer slunk off to Baden for a few months, where he nursed his wounds and distracted himself by jotting down plans for a string quartet and a piano trio.  On his return to Vienna in October, he completed the quartet – his striking Op. 95, “Serioso.”  The piano trio itself was written in a flurry of inspiration from March 3 to 26 the following year.  It completed a decade of awesome creativity which had begun with the “Eroica” Symphony.  Coming at the end of this so-called “heroic” decade, the “Archduke” Trio represented the full bloom and the crowning achievement of the composer’s Middle Period.  It is music of sweeping grandeur for a trio of virtuosos.

Indeed, it was just such a trio of virtuosos – Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern, and Leonard Rose – who joined forces in 1961 to form the Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio, featured in the video below.  All three enjoyed long and distinguished careers as solo artists.  Their collaboration would continue for 23 years – until the death of Leonard Rose in 1984 – and they received a Grammy Award in 1971 for their recording of the complete Beethoven piano trios.

The noted Beethoven authority John Suchet has written movingly about the premiere of the “Archduke” trio:

The most beautiful of all Beethoven’s Piano Trios, and one that holds a poignant place in his life.  At its first public performance Beethoven insisted on playing the piano part, although his hearing was now (1814) seriously defective.  The composer and violinist Louis Spohr reported:

It was not a good performance.  In the first place the piano was badly out of tune, which was of little concern to Beethoven because he could not hear it.  Secondly, on account of his deafness, there was scarcely anything left of the virtuosity of the artist which had formerly been so greatly admired.  In forte passages the poor deaf man pounded on the keys till the strings jangled, and in piano he played so softly that whole groups of notes were omitted, so that the music was unintelligible.  I was deeply saddened at so harsh a fate.  It is a great misfor­tune for anyone to be deaf, but how can a musician endure it without giving way to despair?  From now on Beethoven’s continual melancholy was no longer a riddle to me.

Beethoven knew it too.  Apart from one more performance a few weeks later, he never performed in public again.  Listen to the glorious slow movement [at 21:15 in the video below] of the Archduke Trio knowing that, and it will carry a whole new meaning.

The tempo indications of the four movements, and their start times in the video below, are as follows:

1. Allegro moderato – 0:00
2. Scherzo (Allegro) – 13:52
3. Andante cantabile ma però con moto – 21:15
4. Allegro moderato – 34:26

Published in: on August 31, 2017 at 7:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Albéniz: Iberia – Recorded Live in Concert by Alicia de Larrocha

Isaac Albéniz

On March 2, 1980, a remarkable recital took place at London’s Royal Festival Hall.  The pianist was Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009), and the program consisted entirely of music by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909): the twelve pieces of the Iberia suite and, as an encore, Navarra.  Just how remarkable this program was can be gathered from remarks about Iberia made by Harold Schonberg in his 1963 book, The Great Pianists:

In the last three years of his life [Albéniz] set to work on a series of complicated piano pieces, and with them was assured of immortality.  They were published in four books under the title of Iberia.

Nothing in Albéniz’ previous work had led anybody to expect from him music of this complexity, muscularity and difficulty.  His friend, the fine French pianist Blanche Selva, read the manuscript and was appalled.  “It is unplayable,” she said – a remark echoed by many later pianists who have struggled with Triana, Fête-Dieu à Seville and El Puerto.  Albéniz reassured Selva.  “You will play it,” he said.  She eventually did.  But those twelve pieces in Iberia are reserved only for superior pianists.

In the same book, Schonberg also writes, albeit briefly, about Alicia de Larrocha:

The most impressive Spanish pianist to have emerged after the war is Alicia de Larrocha, a tiny woman who tosses off things like the Albéniz Iberia and Granados Goyescas as though they were basic Czerny.

Though this is an obvious case of poetic license – nobody tosses off Iberia and Goyescas as though they were basic Czerny – it’s clear that Alicia de Larrocha had an exceptional technique, even in an age in which the exceptional seems to have become the rule.

Her London recital was reviewed by Frank Barker of The Guardian, who wrote of it as follows:

It was a rare treat to have a piano recital devoted to Iberia in its entirety, all 12 of the masterly impressions of Spanish scenes with which Albéniz finally proved himself a composer of real international stature.  Not only did he prompt Debussy to declare that “music has never achieved such diversified and colourful impressions”; he also exploited the expressive potential of the piano as delicately yet surely as did Chopin in his different time and place.

Alicia de Larrocha, one of the few great pianists of our time who carries thoroughly professional dedication to the composer to the point of self-effacement, proved herself the ideal interpreter.

She adjusted with deceptive artistic ease to the essential spirit of each pianistic impression, gently dreamy in the opening Evocation, powerful in the pealing of bells during the Corpus Christi procession in Seville [Fête-Dieu à Seville], vibrantly brooding in El Albaicin, arguably the most evocative of all these impressions and one which will make anyone who has penetrated the gypsy quarter of Granada hold his breath.

Alicia de Larrocha’s unfailingly poetic realisation of each individual scene merits a whole page of praise, but let me just salute her for bringing Iberia to life in a performance to be cherished.

The recital was also reviewed by Joan Chissell, who wrote, “Since all 12 pieces were equally evocative (and incidentally all were played from memory with quite astonishing accuracy) it seems almost invidious to pick out one rather than another.”  Just the same, I want to mention a few of my favorite movements – and moments – from this magnificent work.  I have loved the first movement, Evocación, almost from the first time I heard it.  It has always felt to me like an invitation – a welcome – to the suite as a whole, and evokes in me feelings of sadness, perhaps, or some undefinable melancholy.  El Puerto, on the other hand, is a cheerful, extroverted companion to the introspective Evocación.  Finally, in Fête-dieu à Seville, we have one of my favorite passages in the entire work, from 12:20 to 14:16 in the attached video, which conveys to me a peace that is almost otherworldly.

Albéniz’ great achievement in Iberia, it seems to me, was to create a suite of pieces so evocative of Spain that, after listening to it, you feel as though you’ve been there.

This recital is almost an hour and a half long, but there’s no need to listen to it all in one sitting.  If time is an issue, you can listen to Iberia one book at a time.  The titles of the twelve movements, and their start times in the attached video, are as follows:

Book I                                       Book III
Evocación 0:07                       El Albaicín 41:40
El Puerto 5:42                         El Polo 48:54
Fête-dieu à Seville 9:55         Lavapiés 56:00

Book II                                      Book IV
Rondeña 19:11                         Málaga 1:03:00
Almería 26:32                         Jerez 1:07:53
Triana 36:14                            Eritaña 1:17:14

Encore: Navarra 1:22:59

 

Published in: on July 31, 2017 at 8:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Schubert: Wanderer Fantasy in C major Pianist – Evgeny Kissin

Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder (Click to enlarge.)

This month I am excited to present one of the landmarks of the piano repertoire, Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy.  I was introduced to the Wanderer many years ago, in a recording by Sviatoslav Richter for Angel Records, where it is paired with the Sonata in A major, D 664.  I still have that record, and have reproduced here a portion of the liner notes by Robin Golding.

The “WANDERER” FANTASY – so called because it uses, in its slow movement, the tune of Schubert’s own song of that name – occupies a unique position in Schubert’s work, and indeed in musical history, in using a “motto” theme to link its separate movements.  It was, of course, this same device that Liszt was to develop in his concertos and in the B minor Sonata, and from which Wagner was to evolve the principle of the Leitmotif.  No wonder that Liszt was sufficiently interested in this Fantasy (and, no doubt, by the patently “orchestral” quality of much of the piano writing) to make an arrangement of it as a concerto for piano and orchestra.  Schubert’s original dates from November 1822, a few days after he began writing out the full score of the “Unfinished” Symphony.

As we have seen, the Wanderer tune appears in full in the C sharp minor Adagio, where it is the subject of seven continuous (and often very brilliant) variations.  It is the theme’s characteristic hammering rhythm that really binds the other movements together.  The opening Allegro is permeated by it; formally the movement is more like a Rondo than a regular sonata-form structure, the explosive discussion of the principal theme twice giving way to more lyrical episodes deriving from it.  After the Adagio comes a dynamic Scherzo in A flat in which the rhythmic figure is transformed into triple time, with a song-like Trio in D flat whose material is derived from the first movement’s second episode.  The Finale begins fugally, with the theme once more in common time, but before long develops into a free and highly virtuosic peroration on the Wanderer tune.  Schubert himself was no great virtuoso at the keyboard, and it is said that he once stopped playing in the middle of the last movement and exclaimed: “Let the devil play it!”

As Golding mentions, it is Schubert’s own song, “Der Wanderer”, that gives its name to this piece and that serves as the theme of the Adagio section, which begins at 6:12 in the video below.  The interested reader can hear the song in its original version by clicking here.

In this video, we hear a stunning performance by a young Evgeny Kissin.  The tempo markings of the four movements, and their start times, are as follows:

I.  Allegro con Fuoco – 0:01
II.  Adagio – 6:12
III.  Presto – 13:41
IV.  Allegro – 18:10

I invite you now to embark on a journey through strange and wonderful lands, and to share Schubert’s joy as, at 19:20 or so (maybe not until 19:50), his Wanderer reaches his destination.

Published in: on June 30, 2017 at 5:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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