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Robert Schumann

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

June 30

Playing with Sir Simon is all passion and precision. Now I get back to grit

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discOur diarist Anthea Kreston just had her second big night in the Berlin Philharmonic. Just to remind you: she’s an American in Berlin, member of an international string quartet and an adventurous piano trio, mother of two, and she can’t resist the lure of new musical experiences. Read on… This week I had the spectacular pleasure of working under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, as a substitute violist in the Berlin Philharmonic. A feeling of utter warmth and confidence exudes from him – passion and precision are perfectly married. I felt enveloped in his warm smile, his inclusivity. I was able to chat with him a couple of times – he asked after the Schumann quartet music I am researching . I was on Cloud 9. As we pack our car for the summer trip, I am eager to dig in, once again, to piano trio repertoire as our Amelia Piano Trio, crippled and barely surviving this immense life change to our new career and circumstances in Germany, begins a relaunch. This is our time together – two weeks in the Dolomite mountains of Northern Italy, with six new trios to learn and perform. We have plans for this coming year – concerts and projects in Europe. I think we can balance it all – I know we can. Which brings me to grit. I was reading about success the other week, and came across something interesting. Angela Lee Duckworth is an American academic, psychologist and popular science writer, and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant. Her studies about success have turned previous conclusions on their head – her conclusion – success comes down to one factor – whether the person has grit. Forgot about all that other stuff – the Five Personality model (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism). Now you only need one thing – Grit. That seems much easier. You can have that, regardless of income, background, education. We don’t know how to get it, but I do have an idea. Learn to play the violin. Tell me if I am wrong – doesn’t this perfectly describe all of the things a person must have to learn an instrument (it doesn’t even mean the person does it well – that is beside the point). Grit is, according to Wikipedia, “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Sure – ability helps, but, as Dr. Suzuki believed, music is just a tool by which to become a better person – music is food for the soul irregardless of ability. Duckworth and colleagues studied famous leaders from history, and although high achievers had special abilities, it was the next step – “zeal” and “persistence of motive and effort” which drove them towards something spectacular. Grit is also something which does not require positive feedback – it is a stable, inherent thing. People with grit can stay focused on very difficult things over very long periods – failure is seen as temporary – adversity is expected. Passion drives them – they can steer through the setbacks because they believe in themselves, or in their goals. Jason has a belief that, if every sitting American president were required to give one, live (tv) violin recital per year, they would understand the true meaning of fear, responsibility, intricate planning and courage. Even book 1 suzuki would be a huge challenge. So what do we learn through music? Grit. Courage. Fearlessness. Generosity. Planning. Failure. Passion. And some pretty darned good tunes.

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

July 14

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Denmark. Oh, not Denmark…

In which our diarist Anthea Kreston gets her travel diary all tied up in strings. We were packing to leave for our two weeks in Italy as a huge afternoon rainstorm began. Within 20 minutes, the sidewalk in front of our house had amassed enough water to come above my ankles, and I waded to our car in order to pick up our elder daughter from school. By the time we got home, Jason was in the main floor bathroom, nervously eyeing the bathtub as it was filling with dark murky water, eerily coming up through the drain. I quickly called our landlord (once again remembering how glad I was to be renting rather than owning!), as the tub reached the brink and began to overflow. A bucket brigade was started, all towels from the house were gathered, and every pot in the house began to be filled with water. Then, I began to nervously eye the toilet, as the level began to rise there as well. In addition, with the amount of water coming down (they later said that this was the heaviest rainfall in Berlin in the last century), our outdoor drains were backing up. As the toilet started to overflow, we made a quick retreat, closing the bathroom door and stuffing the pile of towels into the crack below the door. Another call to the landlord, as Jason began to bring all of the furniture upstairs – and he and I moved the piano up to an adjoining room which was about one foot higher. He somehow managed to bring every single thing upstairs by himself, including bookcases, a bed and frame. Jason was on his belly outside, manually unclogging the outside drains, pulling up one handful of debris after another. His next handful was a huge living frog as he yelped and sent the frog flying. One drain problem solved! The rains continued through the night, burning through the motors of two different pumps. Eventually there was more than a foot of water covering the floor, but the next higher room, which contained our piano, was not breached. All of our belongings (including our extra instruments and music) were saved by Jason’s quick evacuation. Two nights ago, Jason casually asked me what was going on this next week – how and when do we get home, when do we fly to the United States. I have to admit here, that more often than not in this past year and a half, I am so overwhelmed by my day-to-day life that I often don’t know where/when I am flying to for a quartet concert until dangerously close to take-off. Sometimes I don’t even know which country (or where that country exactly is). I vaguely answered Jason – we drive back to Berlin, you drop me at the airport in Munich on the way, and I fly somewhere for a quartet concert and then fly home and then we fly to the States for a bunch of weeks. After everyone was asleep, I dug through my emails and documents (I always compile the basics into our family google calendar, but hadn’t done so for this next set of trips). I blinked, rubbed my eyes, and took a few deep breaths as I noticed my flight back from the quartet concert landed in Berlin 2 hours after our family was supposed to depart for Spokane, Washington. Deep breath. Ok – first – where is this concert? Is it accessible by train, car or an earlier flight? Answer – it is a part of the largest Scandinavian classical music festival, which is in Denmark. Ok. This must not be too hard. Google maps then pinpoint the location – it is in the Northern part of Denmark – then Wikipedia tells me it is the northernmost district of Denmark, separated from the main island by the Limfjord. This does not sound good. Fjords are big, right? More deep breaths. The concert is a drive away from the small town of Aalborg, the closest airport. We fly out of Berlin as a family at 12:55. How can I get from %{€|+{^ Denmark to Berlin between midnight Monday and 12:55 Tuesday? Rent a car and drive to Berlin? 16 hours and several ferries needed. Drive to Copenhagen? 7 hours plus ferries (which don’t run between midnight and 8 am). Change flights to USA? 6,000 dollars. I wake up our quartet assistant with my WhatsApp messages. There are some flights I could get, if I can get a ride to Aalsborg after the concert, which depart at 6:30 am. The connections are too close in Copenhagen or Amsterdam to show up, but I could buy two separate legs and run for it. So – $650 later, I have two flights that will have me arriving at Berlin Tegel at 11:15, where I will meet Jason and the girls, in (hopefully) enough time to make the flight leaving at 12:55. I bet northern Denmark is gorgeous – these destinations always are – and I know I will love to play Schumann, Webern and late Beethoven again with my quartet. On Tuesday, after my first two flights, I will meet my family and take the next two flights. After a 5 hour set of flights and a 17 hour set of flights, I will gladly collapse on the floor of my mother-in-laws condo rental, where I will sleep on a mattress for two days before heading to Philadelphia to teach at Curtis. Maybe when I get back to Washington, their newly built house will be finished and we will find ourselves all together again, enjoying daily swims in the lakes with a rotating calendar of visits from family and friends, as I prepare daily for this concert-packed next season with quartet.




My Classical Notes

June 27

Volodos Plays in Vienna

In April of this year, I shared with you my reactions when I heard Russian pianist Arcadi Volodos play the music of Johannes Brahms on a Sony recording. He played some of my great favorites, including the three Intermezzos Opus 117, which I had used as introduction music for my radio show. One of my readers commented last night about his own great enjoyment of Mr. Volodos’ fine playing. So, today I bring you more music as performed by Arcadi Volodos, from his concert in Vienna several years ago: Mr. Volodos performs the following music: Sicilienne (after Vivaldi) (Encore) Bach Lullaby in a Storm (Encore) Tchaikovsky / Volodos Liszt: Après une lecture du Dante, fantasia quasi sonata (Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7) Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales Schumann: Waldszenen, Op. 82 Scriabin: Prelude, Op. 37 No. 1 in B flat minor Prelude, Op. 11 No. 16 in B flat minor Danse languide, Op. 51 No. 4 Guirlandes, Op. 73 No. 1 Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 64 ‘White Mass’ Feuillet d’album, Op. 45 No. 1 (Encore) All performed by Arcadi Volodos (piano) Since his debut recording released in 1997, Arcadi Volodos continues to be celebrated as a keyboard genius, and is without a doubt one of today’s most outstanding and internationally interesting pianists. His unlimited virtuosity along with his unique sense of timing, colour and poetry made him a romantic narrator of intensive stories. Several years ago, Volodos played at the Musikverein in Vienna, and subsequently toured the Vienna concert program in several German cities. The BBC Music magazine wrote: “The performance is an awesome display of keyboard command…The recorded sound does gorgeous justice both to the playing itself, and to the surrounding Vienna Musikvereinsaal acoustic.” Here is the video of the concert from Vienna!



Robert Schumann
(1810 – 1856)

Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 - 29 July 1856) was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law to return to music, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. He had been assured by his teacher, Friedrich Wieck, that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury caused by a device he created with the false belief that it would help increase the size of his hands prevented that. One of the most promising careers as a pianist had thus come to an end. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing. Schumann's published compositions were written exclusively for the piano until 1840; he later composed works for piano and orchestra; many lieder (songs for voice and piano); four symphonies; an opera; and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. His writings about music appeared mostly in the New Journal for Music, a Leipzig-based publication which he jointly founded. In 1840, Schumann married pianist Clara Wieck when she was of age, following a long and acrimonious legal battle with her father, his former teacher, to gain his approval of the match. Clara also composed music and had a considerable concert career. For the last two years of his life, after an attempted suicide, Schumann was confined to a mental institution, at his own request.



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