casper mountain goes to an elevation of about 8,000 feet, and the bridle trail is close to 5 miles long. the walk is full of fresh air, ponderosa pine, and aspen trees. apparently a homesteader who lived on the mountain, Elizabeth Neal Forsling, gave an acreage to the county to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve, and created a bunch of fairy shrines for the purpose. i did not see those sadly.
Poets of the Piano arrived in Casper, WY, which I have been looking forward to all summer. how often do you get to go to wyoming? or casper for that matter. if you like trout fishing, apparently that’s where you would go.
but they also have a lively arts scene with a terrific community college, the facilities were superb. the recital took place in the recital hall which doubled as a choir rehearsal room, a new Steinway D, lovely acoustic.
there’s an influential languages professor in town that has taught several people to speak French, so casper stays in my memory with a French accent. the night before the concert, we watched Les Choristes, an inspirational French film about a failed composer who ends up at a reform school for troubled boys, and shapes them into a fabulous choir. get the soundtrack
Poets of the Piano arrived in Reston VA at the Rose Gallery, an art gallery in the center off Lake Anne that does indeed have a grand piano. sadly i did not get a picture of the performance tableau, due to the long receiving line following the concert, but a picture of my host and friend Ben B of Falls church will at least illustrate one corner of the gallery.
i was able to stay with him and his fiancée in falls church, where i could also practice and visited her job at the Creative Cauldron. puppets and edgar allen poe tombstones.
driving through farmington after playing the palace in waterbury i passed miss porter’s. an involuntary memory straight out of proust popped into my head: i had been here before, inside this very building. probably around 2003, a cellist classmate at yale asked me to learn and record the piano reduction to Schoenberg’s cello concerto (!) which i did. we recorded it around midnight, in the parlor or hall or whatever of this building of miss porter’s academy. i also recorded schoenberg’s three pieces op.11, for piano solo. maybe if you can find that recording, it will be worth something. i don’t have it myself. and i have forgotten every note of the cello concerto!
David Garrido Cid was a classmate from the Arcadian yale years and is now master of music at St Thomas the Apostle in west hartford, where he plays piano, organ, directs cantors and choirs, and performs piano concerts in this 5 second long reverb acoustic. you might think that’s hard to deal with, but actually it makes everything easier, you have to play so slow.
this striking statue of Noah Webster is in west hartford. it has a severity that highlights the strict Calvinism of its subject. but doing a little reading on this statue, i fell down a rabbit hole. the sculptor is a Polish immigrant, Ziolkowski, who also crafted a prize-winning monumental bust of his compatriot, the pianist and statesman Paderewski.
although Ziolkowski is now dead, his legacy continues, as he never finished his truly monumental naturalistic carving of Crazy Horse in the Black Hills of south dakota. this is a huge mountain carving, larger apparently than mount rushmore, begun in the late 1940’s, and still in progress. you can visit their website here.
a reminder to always stop and smell the roses. i had no idea of the sculptor and his vision when i took this imposing picture!
the palace theater was the location for poets of the piano - a night at the theater. the second concert in this series features music written for the stage, transformed in some way or other to be played on the piano.
one of the great finds i put on this program was a Stephen Hough arrangement of ‘my favorite things’ from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Sound of music. he did three R&H arrangements in the 80’s, and it seems amazing to me that it took a pianist that long to realize the potential. but still they are excellent concert pieces.
it just goes to show that musicians of the past, were far more engaged with the music of their time, than what you might see today. the addition of these R&H pieces, true to the originals but in that virtuoso concert tradition, is invaluable, not only for expanding the repertoire but for reaching the audience in a different way.
somebody asked me after the concert, if it was possible that so many years down the line, we would see virtuoso arrangements of the pop songs of today.. some of that already exists, thinking of Christopher O’Reilly and Coldplay; the artists he mentioned were elton john and billy joel, well billy joel does have an album of piano solos out, published by Schirmer. but who knows. maybe their music will be the transcriptions of the future.
poets of the piano swung south to Nashua NH for the last performance of Cosmopolitan Pianist.
there may have been some small mis communication about the actual instrument. however the action was perfectly even and the tuning was exemplary.
hybrid instruments like this come with an acoustic of their own, kind of built-in to the audio output, and to those who find themselves in this situation my advice is to play to the instrument not the room! you can actually make a lot of layers of sound on these, and you can play super lightly, because every touch registers. on the other side, there’s a cap on the volume really, so the octaves in liszt spanish rhapsody might have to look more dramatic than they sound.
hanover is home to dartmouth college, and dartmouth is home to the Orozco murals. jose clemente orozco won a commission to paint these murals in the 1930’s. they are called The Epic of American Civilization, and like the diego rivera murals in the palacio nacional of mexico city they illustrate the progress of civilization, for better or worse, from prehistoric times to the age of steel.
what interested me also was the story of how they came to be, there was money for murals, but rivera was the more famous of the pair. however it seems that the board, or commission or whatever, had already decided they wanted Orozco; so in order to raise his profile and ease the way for his triumphal entry, they staged a number of shows of his art in the region. they acted as show-runners so to speak.
it’s a reminder that even great art has to be received somehow, it has to be bought and sold not only in terms of the money but in terms of the community. the relationship between artist and community is not irrelevant or even trivial. in that sense, art doesn’t ‘speak for itself.’ it speaks for a wider community and bigger vision than even itself.
Lyme NH was the site of the next Poets of the Piano, in this 1813 church right in the town square across from the common and civil war memorial. the church is home to a fabulous Steinway A from the 1920’s in perfect condition. in fact the stiffness of the action led me to ask if it had been rebuilt, and the answer was no no no. all original.. while the center of the church aisle is carpeted we positioned the piano off to the side, on the wooden plank floor, and i’m telling you the sound was terrific. this piano responded to everything and of course the whisper test, playing as soft and even as possible. the A is about 6’2” in size.
St Andrew's Episcopal was the site of the Goldberg Variations. Sadly the Yamaha is trapped in the transept, but the acoustics of this church are superb for piano, unlike many other big liturgical churches, and who knows, maybe it sounded better from there projected from the lower ceiling. Bach would have been able to tell us. according to his son CPE, Bach was an expert on church acoustics, and as organ consultant could tell a church where best to install this or that set of pipes. The Nekrolog, or obituary, is still one of my favorite music-historic reads, for the insight into the real character of Bach. very little exists in his own words..
Foxdale Village in State College was the scene of the next performance of Cosmopolitan Pianist. This ballroom has a glorious Steinway D with terrific action. It's the ability to play as soft as possible while hearing every note that does it for me with the D.
the program covers for this Poets of the Piano tour are a high resolution photograph of a calligraphy piece by Cheryl Jacobsen in Iowa City. the paper is hand-made at the university of iowa center for the book. she also created a 'Gospel of Jesus' for the Jesus Seminar, written on vellum ;and is currently preparing a one-of -a-kind Beowulf with both anglo-saxon and english on historically appropriate goatskin.
this piece i used for the cover, is calligraphy with acryllic and gold leaf highlights.
This is a live, not note perfect performance of Louis-Moreau Gottschalk's ballade, La Savane.
Gottschalk was a unique figure in Classical music history, because he was an America, born in New Orleans, who conquered the capitals of Europe with his virtuoso pianism. Chopin apparently told him he would be the 'king of pianists.' Sadly he died young, just a little older than Chopin, at the age of 40 from a quinine overdose, trying to treat the yellow fever. Quinine should always be enjoyed responsibly.
Not only was he exotic in that he was American, but his Creole heritage added another level of flavor. He inflected his music with Creole and Puerto Rican sources, and was surely the only person in Classical music doing that in the mid-19th century.
While his music has all the hallmarks of the Romanticism and cinematic piano writing of the time, he was never able to develop his art to the degree of Chopin or Liszt, and for me, some of his music that must have been charming at the time now sounds pretty dated.
This piece, La Savane, is subtitled Creole Ballade, and is apparently based on a Creole song, "Pov'piti Lolotte." It's really a set of variations on that tune. Most people hear 'Skip to my lou' but the minor key gives it the haunting atmosphere. The ballade itself is a story of runaway slaves, trying to escape through the swamp; they die and are transformed into menacing oak trees. Hence the ghostly quality of the variations.
I programmed this piece for 'The Cosmopolitan Pianist' specifically for concerts in Louisiana, but it was just too popular, and so am still playing it on the road. It's a bit of a novelty item; there's very few recordings, and of well-known pianists I've only heard Eugene List and Lambert Orkis play it.
terre haute is a town a little over an hour from indianapolis and was the site for the next Cosmopolitan Pianist. the recital hall is gorgeous if a little zealously air-conditioned and the steinway D is superb with new hammers and dampers.
after the concert i met Bill Hughes, who was on piano faculty there for 40 years. he told me that in 1968 he was drafted for vietnam, and his temporary, two-year replacement was Anthony Smetona, my formative teacher in my cleveland years. they never met in person. it was Anthony's name in my bio, that brought him to the concert.
i didn't realize till later, that my idolized view of Anthony was not shared by the wider musical community in cleveland, and the realization of how wide that gulf was still haunts me today. every appearance of his name is like a mirror i can't help peer into - but dimly. still dimly.
i had planned to scrap the Gottschalk 'La Savane' after baton rouge but it proved too popular, and played it again.