Saturday, October 31, 2015

Boo Review Two

I'm a little disappointed that I haven't created many frightening videos (depending on your point-of-view) in the past two years since I last posted a Halloween sampler. It's especially remarkable given that I've dabbled in 12-tone composition (see here, here, here, and here) and viola shredding.

Indeed, yesterday's "trill of doom" journey* may be the best dabbling with darkness I've down lately, so I'm just gonna celebrate today with a reprise of 2013's reprise of 2011's Halloween post. Yeah, you could click those links, but I've done the work for you by copying everything below. Cue whirring time-travel arpeggios as we head back to October 31, 2013 and then back to 2011:

Boo Review (originally posted, 10/31/13)

Two years ago, I posted a set of creepy videos (many mine) for Halloween, and it's coming back from the dead here. So, my work for today is mostly done, but I'll just begin by adding this (from last month) to the mix.

...and now, let's revisit the past:

Boo (originally posted, 10/31/11)

I'm giving myself only five minutes to write this Halloween post, relying as it does on already existing multimedia:

For quietly scary fun, there's this mashup I created a couple of years ago, combining the final two movements of Chopin's Piano Sonata No.2. It features the most famous funeral march ever with the terrifying ghostly echoes of the whirlwind finale:

So, that's to set the mood.

Then there are these two videos which I regret to say I didn't create. But they're frightening visual companions to Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire. First...

The companion video is no longer on YouTube, but you can still view it on Facebook here.

So, no, I didn't make those, but they did inspire me to make this, which is pretty unsettling: (Check out the look on the sun's face.)

Now, let's pause for an ad from J. Peterman.

[2015 UPDATE: If you've never heard this song, you might enjoy watching this version today:


Here's my own little take on Pierrot lunaire, combined with some Stravinsky. Creepy clown!

And if you like Stravinsky jabbing at you unexpectedly, you might give this a try. [Click on image below.]

Finally, in light of the surprising intersection of wintry snow cover and October we're having here in the Northeast [remember, this was 2011], you can find all manner of creepiness in these various versions of Schubert's "Der Leiermann," from his song-cycle Winterreise. (None of these are mine: this is just a little playlist I put together for Twitter-based reasons a couple of days ago.) I'll embed one here, but you can find the others by following the link just above:

Enjoy the day!

* And back here in 2015, I've realized that my "Just trillin' with doom" post title from yesterday was inspired by this "Alan Gilbert, chillin' with death" article I found a few days ago while looking for this fantastic video:

So that's something new for this year, even though it's not new and I had nothing to do with creating it.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Just trillin' with doom

Alex Ross has a new article in The New Yorker focusing on the mysterious "trill of doom" that interrupts the beautiful opening theme of Schubert's final piano sonata. Michael Agger, Ross's fellow New Yorker-er, promoted the article with the following tweet:
“It’s the most extraordinary trill in the history of music.” @alexrossmusic on Schubert, now with TRILL AUDIO: 
To which Ross responded:
Soon, all @NewYorker articles will be outfitted with TRILL AUDIO
This got me to thinking about what else this trill might disrupt, and...well, before we get to that, here's what the trill sounded like in a 2006 performance by yours truly:

[If you'd like to hear all fifteen minutes of this movement, here's my unedited, live performance, which I don't think I'd listened to since 2006. It's got some rushing and other issues here and there, but I didn't mind listening to it just now. Also, I don't take the exposition repeat which AndrĂ¡s Schiff insists must be taken - that'll save you five minutes. I prefer my trill to Schiff's, anyway.]

So, finally, here's that trill (Leon Fleisher's version) finding its way into other contexts:

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Turning the page...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: "I love a good mistake." I have strong memories as a young musician of being fascinated when a clarinetist clonked a passage somewhere in the middle of the Met's broadcast of the Ring Cycle. In the midst of all those hours of fantastic playing, there was something particularly gratifying and life-affirming about hearing such a moment of humanity. (My family taped all four of the operas, and that's the moment I most remember watching and re-watching.) I also remember well a low-budget family VHS of a Russian production of The Nutcracker in which one of the partygoing dancers got caught on the wrong side of the closing stage curtain. (In retrospect, I suppose this could have been an intentional bit of comedy.) I can still hear exactly what the orchestra was playing at that moment, and any time I hear that bit of music again, I instantly see that poor Russian woman fighting her way under the big velvet monster.

I've written many posts about this perverse attraction of mine. Here I discussed indelible memories of Suzuki students crushing a chord in Veracini; here I detailed a wide variety of memorable miscues, with a Mendelssohn misreading, a Dvorak missed shift, a Grieg misprint and a Ravel missed landing all taking a bow and making me smile. One of my worst-ever "can't stop laughing" struggles occurred years ago when I was turning pages for my piano teacher in a performance of the Franck Violin Sonata on a retirement home piano that needed retiring itself. During the performance of the manic second movement, I can still vividly remember the sight of old, broken ivories literally flying off the keyboard; I felt tears stream down my face as I tried to hold back laughter.

Not surprisingly, notable in-concert mistakes make the rounds among musicians every now and then because they're so strangely compelling. There's Maria Pires surprised to hear the orchestra starting the wrong concerto, Christian Zacharias stopping because a cellphone interrupts his Haydn (isn't Haydn supposed to love surprises?), and the resourceful violist who took up a cellphone ring tune for a quick bit of improvisation. But those aren't mistakes made by the performers in the moment.

Today, Jessica Duchen posted a video of a virtual Victor Borge routine breaking out at a violin recital due to a series of page-turning mishaps. In this performance by superstar violinist Christian Tetzlaff of the Brahms "F-A-E" Scherzo, Tetzlaff tries unsuccessfully to execute a quick page turn and comedy ensues.* There's so much to enjoy here that I couldn't resist making my own little annotated version.

Original, unannotated video is here

What to Enjoy (I've now studied this thing like the Zapruder film):
  • 0:18 Tetzlaff has less than two full measures (in a very quick tempo) to turn. He lifts the page with his bow hand, but the page flips back on him. It's on!
  • 0:20 Probably my favorite thing is that his bow has returned to the violin, so he now tries to resume Brahms while fixing the music with his left hand, which is, um, also important in violin playing. The first two notes he's supposed to play are a G-A above middle C. He gamely plays them both on the open A string while trying to restore order.
  • 0:21 He realizes the left hand isn't up to the task (it would have to reach far across his body to grab the page from the right) and that bowing isn't doing much good without the other hand, so he bails for a second and uses both hands to whip the page over...
    • IMPORTANT POINT: The page turner is a very accomplished violinist who hears right away that something is amiss and looks up at Tetzlaff. 
  • 0:22 ...and the music goes crashing to the floor.
  • 0:23 It's almost as if the force of the music falling pulls Tetzlaff towards it, and so, while having immediately resumed playing (with what must be a heightened sense of scherzo energy), he stomp-marches over to the piano to look over the piano score. Pianist Lars Vogt looks amused, though it's hard to tell for sure given the video quality.
    • Meanwhile, our intrepid page-turner, Anna Reszniak, is up in a flash and moves through the space vacated by Tetzlaff to pick up the music and reset it. She checks the pages and turns to what she must think/hope is the right place.
  • 0:30 Tetzlaff glances over at the violin stand and apparently doesn't see the right page, because he resumes playing from the piano score while Reszniak heads back to her position, looking back to see that something probably isn't quite right.
  • 0:33 - 0:53 Music by Brahms.
  • 0:53 The music has reached a low ebb before the final big buildup, and it's about time for Reszniak to turn the last page in the piano score. 
  • 0:56 She turns - and a loose page comes tumbling out. It's the final page, but at least Vogt has the left-side page still in front of him. He grins again. Suspense!
  • 0:58 Reszniak starts back towards Tetzlaff.
  • 0:59 Tetzlaff gracefully counters her, moving back with a little hop in his step to let Reszniak cross in front of him this time to retrieve the loose page. 
  • 1:02 She carefully places it back on the piano, as Tetzlaff crosses around her back towards the piano so he can see the music!
  • 1:04 Reszniak calmly turns the violin part to the right place and circles back to her seat as Tetzlaff counters back to his place at the violin stand. All is well as...
  • 1:10 ...the violin soars to the final big climax. The drama has been perfectly timed, and the unrehearsed footwork of Tetzlaff and Reszniak looks as effortless as the ice routines of Torvill and Dean.
I enjoy all of this in part because I've been in such situations before and know well how strangely thrilling it is to have a sudden extra layer of difficulty putting everyone on red alert (like that time when the lights went out). Seconds feel like minutes and every sense is heightened. Teztlaff, especially, had to make multiple split-second decisions, all while negotiating Brahms's high-wire act. 

Actually, something kind of like this happened to me last Saturday night. I was accompanying a voice recital, reading the music from an iPad and using a pedal to turn pages. In a fairly straightforward song, I somehow turned a page ahead? Or perhaps panicked and turned back to fix what didn't need fixing? I actually don't remember exactly what happened, and I wasn't sure for a second (felt like a minute) if I needed to tap the screen to go back or forward. I sort of half-heartedly kept playing something semi-random with one hand while tapping the screen with the other, and can remember realizing that the soprano was half-glancing back at me. Then suddenly everything was fine again.

Of course, any live performance involves an exciting combination of 1) relying on deeply rooted muscle memory and 2) reacting at a split-second level to what's going on around. In rehearsed performances, there's always the danger of falling too much into routine and losing the exhilaration of being in the moment, and though I'm sure Tetzlaff regrets having to leave out a few measures (and playing an eighth-note G with an open A), I wouldn't be surprised if he and Vogt (and the audience!) found themselves experiencing an extra gear of musical excitement in what is already a hard-driving piece. (We can be sure Reszniak's heart was beating a little faster, though she may have enjoyed the music least of all.) They were living out the desperate emotions that Brahms had encoded so long ago.

As for me, I can't get enough of it, as you can see below. After all, there's humor in repetition.

See also: My end is my beginning

* I also wrote once about a clearly audible page turn I cherish in a Beaux Arts Trio recording of the Ravel trio - but the only "mistake" there was how loudly the turn sounded. Yeah, I made a video then, too:

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pugilistic Pianism

Sometimes, the less said, the better, so I'll keep this simple.

Someone posted this on Facebook yesterday:

And, perhaps inevitably, having thought about what "Rockymaninoff" might sound like, this ended up happening:

If you're curious, it borrows from this, this, and this.

See also: The Rite of Spring Sonata