Rediscovering Brahms

As many of you know, I tend to gravitate in preference toward the music of French and Slavic composers. Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, etc… I could go on for a while! It’s not that I don’t love the music of the great Germanic (and Austrian) School (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert etc…). Indeed, I do love these composers. But if I had to generalize, I would say that I feel a particular ease and comfort with the former.

When I was a teenager, however, I could not get enough of the Germanic (and Austrian) greats. Brahms, in particular, was a favorite of mine during those years. I steeped myself in his music; the Symphonies, Chamber Music, Piano Music, Concerti, and of course the Requiem were all extremely important to me; I COULD NOT get enough of these pieces. Day after day, year after year, I would constantly play and listen to Brahms. Somewhere along the line, I started to “burn out” on this music and shift my focus toward the composers mentioned at the beginning of this post. Debussy, Ravel, and Chopin especially took precedence, and I felt as if the weight of Brahms had been lifted from my musical life. Although I still loved his music, Brahms just seemed too thick, dense, and somewhat academic to me.

This Spring, I had the extraordinary opportunity to play Brahms’ great C Major Piano Trio Op. 87. with the Atlanta Chamber Players. As I was preparing the work, I realized that it had been TEN YEARS since I last performed Brahms! I couldn’t believe it! My last performance of Brahms was as a Master’s student at the Cleveland Institute of Music playing the gorgeous Intermezzi Op. 117 (my all-time favorite solo piano work of his). Somehow, this respite rejuvenated my love of his music and as I worked on the trio, I began to feel waves of the same passion that I had for his music when I was a teenager. It was a phenomenal experience, and I have since found myself yearning to play and listen to more Brahms. I may still identify more closely with the French and Slavic composers; we all have composers that we feel closer to than others,and those composers may change throughout our lives. However, I can be sure that Brahms is not likely to take a ten-year hiatus from my repertoire ever again!

Maybe my next post will explain why I love French music so much!

Please leave a comment if you like…

The Ten Greatest Pianists of All Time

These types of lists show up on the internet from time to time.  I guess they are a bit silly, because it is (of course) impossible to narrow generations of pianists down to the “ten greatest.”  But, it’s fun to discuss these things, and it certainly gives food for thought about what makes certain musicians stand out above others.  I’ll go ahead and include the link to the article in this post, but in case the link eventually goes down – here is the list (chosen by several notable modern-day concert pianists).  I think it is a pretty predictable list, though I was surprised to not see Hoffmann, Lhevinne, Michelangeli, Serkin, and a few others.

 

Read the article here

10 – Artur Schnabel

9 – Wilhelm Kempff

8 – Alfred Brendel

7 – Glenn Gould

6 – Alfred Cortot

5 – Emil Gilels

4 – Artur Rubinstein

3 – Sviatoslav Richter

2 – Vladimir Horowitz

1 – Sergei Rachmaninov

I don’t think I could come up with my list of the ten greatest, but if I ever did, I’m sure that names like Friedman , Cliburn, Argerich, and Zimerman would be in there!  Rubinstein would be – without a doubt – in first place.  I think I will write about Rubinstein in my next post!

 

Please comment and let me know what you think of this list!

Piano Music from France

It is with great excitement that I am releasing my new CD: “Piano Music from France.” Most of you that already know me are aware of my profound love and admiration of French music, and it is fitting that my first CD be comprised of music of Ravel, Debussy, and Chopin. Some of you may wonder why I chose to include Chopin on this album. It is true that Chopin was born in Poland, and retained a unique Polish voice throughout his musical oeuvre, however he spent most of his short life in Paris, and was fully assimilated into nineteenth-century French culture. Each of the three works of Chopin on this disc were written in Paris.

Ravel’s Miroirs is a piece that I have always found especially intriguing. I find it to be a particularly fine example of his unique sound-world. Furthermore I find the piano writing especially idiomatic and comfortable under the hands. This is not to say that the music is easy to play – on the contrary, movements such as Noctuelles, Une barque sur l’océan, and Alborada del gracioso are fiendishly difficult, yet the writing always feels physically “logical.” Fortunately, I’ve had to opportunity to perform this suite a number of times, and I never tire of it.

I feel that Debussy’s Images book 1 is a wonderful counterpart to Miroirs. Both suites are examples of the impressionistic tendencies of each composer, yet the movements in Images could never be mistaken for Ravel. Although I love the entire suite, I find Reflets dans l’eau to be the stand-out movement. I consider Reflets to be a feat of compositional perfection – one of the finest works in the entire piano literature. It is at once architecturally sound, pianistically inventive, and astonishingly beautiful.

The two Mazurkas on the CD are favorites of mine. The C Major sparkles with a graceful melody – rustically tinged with the Lydian mode. It’s a piece that I often use as an encore, and I hope that it is as much of a delight to hear as it is to play! The C-sharp minor Mazurka is, to me, the most beautiful of all of Chopin’s Mazurkas. My personal favorite recording is Rachmaninoff’s, and if you haven’t heard it, I would encourage you to do so! I hear this Mazurka as being seductive and sultry, rather than outwardly emotive, and my hope is to give a reading that conveys these affects. The fourth Ballade is another piece that is very close to my heart. Aside from being extremely technically demanding, this ballade requires an enormous palette of color and imagination. Particularly challenging is the sheer thickness of texture and counterpoint; from the ethereal opening to the devastating final chords, the F minor ballade is a masterpiece of melodic layering. There are just so many beautiful lines happening simultaneously that it is very difficult to do justice to each one! The artistic and physical demands of the fourth Ballade are infamous, yet it is a piece that I always return to with excitement, love, and inspiration.

Thank you so much for visiting my new website, and please leave me a message if you like!

-Alex