27 Jun

The Lucky Piano

620_IMG_0916Yesterday, I gave a private recital on an old piano, just like the one on this picture. However, the pictured piano is taken from one of the countless ads for pianos that are given away for free nowadays. You have probably seen them too, it’s such a sad development. The piano I played yesterday, is a Lucky Piano: It is still being played!

Not only that. The Lucky Piano has had a peculiar life. First, it was purchased second-hand by a family in Budapest. When they decided to move to the UK, they brought the piano, despite the expense and toil. It was a cherished instrument, not the least by the children who played it. The children grew up, happily playing the piano (at least, that’s what I imagine!) Later, one of them moved to Norway – and at the birth of her first daughter, she had the piano brought to her new home. It became the childhood piano of another generation of musical kids. Sometimes, I would come and play together with these kids, on the piano which had travelled so far. We played Brahms, Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart. We played Christmas songs and Frank Bridge. After some years, the piano began to suffer. It was overhauled and the hammers even sent to Germany for refelting! It came back happy and continued to live. It moved from a house to an apartment, it keeps being played and tuned and bringing joy.

Yesterday was a special day in the life of the Lucky Piano. It turned 100 years! Maybe not exactly yesterday, but approximately enough for a celebration. The owner of the Lucky Piano got the idea that we should meet up in the honour of the Lucky Piano and all the joy it has brought throughout its life. To celebrate, we performed music from all the places it has lived. Schubert lieder (as the piano came from Vienna originally), Bartok pieces for children, a Clementi sonatina, a Norwegian lullaby and some pieces by Schumann to honour the new hammer felt (eh, I needed an excuse!) The daughter of the piano owner attended – with her baby son! Schumann is already his favourite and he seemed to enjoy the whole event. As far as we know, he probably made the decision of starting piano lessons soon – on his grandma’s old piano.

He is one lucky kid!

12 Jun

Last 3 hours to support me!

You’ve got 3 – THREE – last hours to support my Carnegie Hall Debut! Since I met the minimum goal of $ 4000 yesterday, thanks to amazing supporters, I have stretched my goal: If I get additional $ 400, I will spend them on a flight to Toronto, to volunteer with colleague Shari Tallon on her charity project for Liberty for Youth! YOU can make it happen!

Here’s the link to my Kickstarter campaign!

Here’s the link to an Interview by Michael Miller, which is just released!

11 Jun

Thoughts on music and charity

Why should musicians and artists care about society? Should we not simply be appreciated and admired for what we do? Are we perhaps afraid that being involved in charity destroys the picture of us as the struggling artists…? (That would a win, I’d say!)

Of course, we want people to appreciate art, but we also have a responsibility of bringing art to people, regardless of their ability to actively support us in return. Personally, I see it as part of our duty to explain and demonstrate what art can do for people. It’s about people, after all! And we – as musicians and artists – have something to give!

After the article in the New York Times last summer, which presented my research on 19th-century piano technique, I got in touch with so many great people! One of them is Canadian pianist and flutist Shari Tallon. We have e-mailed, skyped and sent messages and links over the last few months. We have exchanged ideas and inspired each other!

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Shari (photo) is extremely passionate about charity. What I admire about her, is how she connects people to each other in the process, enriching so many lives. When Shari recently began working for Steinway Piano Gallery Toronto (Tom Lee Musuc), she immediately initiated a partnership with Hamilton School of Music. Now, the music school school is holding a Practice-a-thon all throughout June in order to help Liberty for Youth. According to their website, this organization “provide[s] prevention and intervention mentorship for at-risk youth”, 12-25 years of age. The Practice-a-thon at Hamilton School of Music will help Liberty for Youth to acquire a piano for their music room! How cool is that?! I can’t wait for an update on this exciting project!

Hamilton school of music

In the meantime, please be inspired to think about how your artistic endeavors may benefit people around you! Dare to think big and reach out to people outside your everyday circle with an idea, a thought, a suggestion. Sooner or later, you will find your charity partner!

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Do you want to support me going to Toronto in March, right after my debut recital in Carnegie Hall, to teach, perform and give these kids some great musical experiences? Act fast: support my Kickstarter campaign for my Carnegie debut which is already funded in full thanks to all of you generous piano lovers – the next $ 400 will cover my flight to Toronto!!

UPDATE: The Kickstarter was funded, but not (as of yet) the flight to Toronto. However, prospective donors are welcome to get in touch With Shari or me for arrangements!

08 Jun

Robert Schumann: Intensity of feeling, expressed in music

Forget about When Harry met Sally. When Robert met Clara would beat most romantic movies!

It is unclear whether Robert met Clara at some private concert and therefore wanted to study with her father, or whether he came to Leipzig to study with renowned piano pedagogue Friedrick Wieck and therefore met his talented daughter Clara. In any case, they met! In 1828. And it was the beginning of a long, painful, joyful love story.

robert + Clara

Robert Schumann, the literary addict, took intensity, courtship and romantic longing to a new level. First, let’s remember that the thought of matrimony because of love was a rather new thought in the early 19th century, perhaps introduced by Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (Sorrows of the Young Werther) in 1774. Yes, we know that Schumann liked Jean Paul! But I would argue that he also owed a great deal to Goethe. The psychological depth is present with both authors, and Schumann’s complex personality embraced and portrayed childish simplicity one minute and unequalled intensity of human feeling the next – just listen to Kinderszenen (op. 15) and Fantasie (op. 17) respectively! I also strongly suspect that Schubert was a strong inspiration regarding both of these aspects. (Schumann’s admiration for Schubert is documented by the fact that he bought scores from Ferdinand Schubert and saw to it that Schubert’s Great C major symphony was premiered).

Let us return to Schumann’s personal love story. After a romantic relationship slowly evolved with Clara, Friedrich Wieck did more than his share in preventing a future marriage. He simply forbade the two to meet, and during long periods even to write letters. This does not mean that no letters were written, though. Friends and maids served as secret mail service agents to keep a minimum of conversation going. The only communication allowed by Wieck, was the exchange of musical compositions – and this strict rule was even enforced after their engagement! Wieck did respect Schumann as a composer, and he did want his daughter to compose. Clara was allowed to perform Robert’s works even if they were not allowed to meet. Imagine the feelings contained in their works – feelings which had only one expression: sound. Sound, modelled for piano. In tones and chords and phrases, as they thought of each other.

1 September 1838, Clara writes to Robert:

Did you pass by our window last night? Alwin claimed to have seen you. Did you perhaps hear that I rehearsed your music?

The heart-breaking answer reads:

Yesterday and the day before yesterday, I passed by your window. I thought that you’d come out. It was thundering and I was standing at your house for half an hour. Didn’t you feel it?

Adieu. When will we get to talk???

Robert Schumann endured it. He endured the thunder and the rain and the separation and the longing which seemed to have no end. After an unsuccessful engagement to Ernestine von Fricken, his heart was set on Clara (then 16 years), and he refused to live without the woman he loved. He and Clara did not give up, and they did marry in the end. It is questionable whether they lived happily ever after, but there were clearly times of shared happiness, success and enjoyment.

Perhaps you cannot express intense joy without knowing the pain of missing it?

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Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856