Week in review, February 7-13

In the eternal search for more consistent ways to blog, I'm borrowing an idea from my new colleague Ken Freeman. Here's a snapshot of my week: 

I was privileged to hear a phenomenal recital of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder on Monday, with Ken on piano and bass-baritone Brian Kuhnert singing. I hadn't experienced those songs live before...what an impact. Doesn't hurt (help?) that we have two children and one more on the way! Even more astonishing is that Friedrich Rückert, the poet, wrote 425 of these poems after the death of his children. There's definitely an amazing history behind this work. 

The semester in which I teach piano lit is always enjoyable. This week we covered the French Baroque, Scarlatti, and the Sons of Bach (or S.O.B.'s, as we endearingly call them). It is really gratifying to see the students engage with these pieces, which we rarely see in recital programs. We specially enjoyed the colorful titles and sound effects in various pieces by Couperin. 

It's become something of a routine for me this semester to have a "concerto of the week" and a "chamber piece of the week" to help round out my holes. I've played quite a few recitals, but not more than a handful of concerti and, much to my embarrassment, very little chamber music. Lessons learned too late from being a quiet personality through school... Anyway, this week was Beethoven's "Emperor" and the Faure piano quartets. I always have a total blast working on the Beethoven concertos; it seems like every note is perfectly placed (by Beethoven, not by me!!) and the spiritual content of these works is on a completely different plane. Plus, yesterday I found myself listening to Alfred Brendel's recordings of Beethoven 4 and 5 with Sir Simon Rattle and found my whole idea of the concertos transformed. Brendel seemed to find the perfect tempos and inflections to make these pieces into epic movies, full of fireworks and action but also incredible pathos and tenderness. I've never heard anything like it. 

Unfortunately I can't say the same about the Faure quartets - I listened several times to both of them, did some reading, and just couldn't get into them. It is probably my issue rather than Faure's...thankfully I get to work with his "melodies" quite a bit during my accompanist duties. 

One thought on practicing before I'm done: Always be thorough, even on a time budget. I found myself working through the Emperor and not really focusing as well as I should have been. With such a big piece, and with 60-90 minutes per day, I felt that I had to cover more material, and so I didn't spend enough time polishing phrases and fixing technical issues. By Friday (maybe inspired by Brendel?) I learned my lesson, and went back to polishing several of the trickiest spots so that they shone, rather than just looked nice from a distance. Plus, this has the added benefit of making much less work down the line, should I ever get the opportunity to actually perform the piece. 

I hope this was interesting...I think I can finally promise that it will at least be regular.