Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ninth Interview – Many Subjects

Updates on The Linton Bequest and E. C. Riegel Blog

Embarking on a ninth interview, aren't you just a bit superstitious?  Laughs
No, not at all. We've been through an exceptionally strange couple of months. For some of it, I was under the weather.
What weather?
I know.  Laughs
Well the interest in your novel, The Linton Bequest, seems pretty slim.
Yes, maybe they know they wouldn't have the time for it, wouldn't enjoy it or more likely they just aren't readers.  Many people aren't readers these days.  They have good reasons.  They don't have the time, they are too busy, or they busy themselves with something else.  Some people I know wont, as they would say, waste their time reading anything but non-fiction.
No doubt you remind them there's a lot of fiction to be found there too.
Sometimes, if they can take it as a joke, but many these days are in no mood for jokes.
Will you be continuing with the instalments then?
Yes, though they may get spread out a little. I know I am overdue and will have another one up soon.
And the E. C. Riegel blog has also received scant attention.
I expected that each of these ventures would take a fairly long time to catch on as they are, let's face it, both quite esoteric.
Will you be continuing the Riegel blog then?
Well right now, I am in the process of trying to make contacts with others more conversant in these subjects than I, who do not know me as yet, and I expect that after private discussions with them, I will decide whether the project will go forward or be discontinued.

A haven of great kindness: Faust Harrison in White Plains, New York (their website)

The back showroom / concert space at Faust Harrison, White Plains, NY
In the foreground a beautiful restored Queen Anne Steinway M from the 1920's.
Your visit was a few weeks back.
Yes, I had the opportunity of transportation, so I decided to pay a visit. It began with Irving Faust, looking splendidly healthy, showing me around their new facility. It was all very well organized with work everywhere running smoothly and at every juncture Irving unfailingly praised his employees.
Wow, you don't hear much of that these days.
You certainly don't see much of it these days either. It was everywhere here, it pervaded the place. One felt as if one was for the time being among the blessed almost; a place that was built to enshrine a sense of quiet peace and calm, happiness and good vibrations.
You said that stepping inside was like entering a sanctuary of a kind.
You could say it that way. It was like entering a hallowed place for music and musicians and pianos, some of them the finest one could ever hope to find anywhere.
So how did it start, which pianos were you interested in?
Well it's also which pianos Irving or indeed the entire staff might be interested in that I could share with the rest of you out there.

New Yamaha and Bechstein grand pianos
The first two were one of the latest hand crafted pianos from Yamaha and a piano by Bechstein said to be built to compete.
Which did you like better?
The Bechstein won by a hair, but the Yamaha was unlike any Yamaha I have ever played before. It did not feel or sound like any Yamaha either. It sounded and felt closest to a good Grotrian or Steingraeber, a more European sound and feel. I felt the colour possibilities of this instrument from Yamaha were really amazing. I don't play anything by Liszt but I'd certainly like to hear some Liszt played on this remarkable new piano.
And the Bechstein?
It had, shall we say, a slightly more polite, less colourful pallet, but was … just overall slightly easier for me to play.
Now you also browsed their showrooms and what else did you find?
They have any number of very nice pianos from a half dozen well known brands, most in very good preparation by the way. They had a huge Bechstein upright, the model Debussy used most often to compose on in his studio, sitting next to it was a large Yamaha upright. It was a wonderful instrument too, I played Somewhere Over the Rainbow on it to the most applause from the staff. But with the words and ideas Sara Faust imparted concerning practice pianos fresh in my mind (she has certainly influenced how I look at any piano right now), I found many in their back showroom. 
Vintage era Steinway O or A
 One pictured here is a beautiful O (or perhaps an A) from before 1910, refurbished of course. I had a great conversation with Chris Pfund, a manager there, and expressed myself of a few opinions worth repeating here.
All right, such as?
For example that Bach played on a piano is usually better than on a harpsichord, with Foss Plays Bach (Lukas Foss) as an example.
That's a nice tip.
JeffreyBiegel's Bach performances, as well as Andrew Violette's Bach, prove this more to be so all the time.
You also talked to him a little about what you were doing learning some piano pieces?
Yes, the Schumann Fantasie Op. 17 in particular. It's coming along. I knew it would take a while for me to learn it the way I like to know a piece, because many things Schumann asks the pianist to do are very subtle. When Maestro Agustin Anievas inspired me to take up this piece, he said it took him 9 months to learn, but that it would take him 90 years to work out the interpretation. That's saying much about any really great piece of piano music, each time one comes to it one has new impressions, new ideas of how best to play it, etc. All of these matters on every conceivable piece of well loved piano music influence how each pianist approaches a piano.
Do you intend on returning to similar subjects in a future interview on pianism?
Yes I do, I am reviewing material to that end right now and maybe in a few months, I'll post something.
Very good. You also told Chris you liked your pianos black.
Yes.  I mentioned the “master class” Sara had inadvertently conducted on that day of my visit to their Manhattan showroom last year and the lasting impression it made on me for pianists to seek out good practice pianos rather than being attracted so easily to what she would term performance pianos. Yes, I told Chris that I like my pianos black. By Sara Faust's criteria, they had a few nice rebuilt or refurbished Steinways in the interior showroom that impressed me more than either of the new latest greatest I'd just played for all the reasons Sara indicated that day, the need to learn how to express yourself on a piano built to require that extra level of concentrated force from a pianist. It was as usual my misfortune (among many) to find most of these pianos were in wood finishes rather than in what is usually called satin ebony; black. How distracting wood grains can sometimes be to me. I told Chris I'd most likely be interested in a nice rebuilt ebony M or O (possibly an L) from maybe 1910 or earlier, to say 1925, made in New York, I do not always share the Hamburg Steinway prejudice.
And about Chinese pianos?
Yes, we spoke about those, Hailun pianos in particular, how I thought it would be good to see Asian lettering proudly displayed on piano fall-boards of pianos from Asian makers, etc.
You also mentioned the need for piano dealers to actively post something about the hypothetical financing with their pianos?
Well, while there are some, perhaps many, who do not need to concern themselves with these matters; they just go into a piano store the same as they might an auto dealership with a wad of cash and make a deal, there are many more who really will need these facts and figures at least somewhere present so that they can understand the relative value of a piano compared with some other typical large capital good, usually a car or truck or some other large machine. Pianos, after all, are large machines.
While you were there, they were doing some interesting restoration on a big antique Steinway concert grand?
Yes, this was another of those wonderful grand pianos from the 1870's, possibly a C or maybe a D, completely and thoroughly rebuilt by Faust Harrison.  This time Irving and Sara have allowed a talented piano technician to improve the action. I'm highly supportive of such activities. There's no reason to slavishly adhere to exact refurbishment if real improvements can be made. As the technician said, it is her intention to make this piano easier to play.
And again the mood of the entire place?
Oh, it was as I've said, a place of great peace, harmony, happiness and above all kindness, which radiates here from the top on down. I highly recommend Faust Harrison to all interested pianists and their families everywhere. Many have come from very far away to do business with them for good reason.

The Music of the Great Composers Series 

Some of us were curious why you started this series?
Some months back, it occurred to me that probably very few people really knew the music by composer the way I do, and really it seemed to me high time to review their contributions and discuss some things about who they really were and the times in which they lived, to give especially younger people, an understanding of what it really meant to make music the way we usually think of it on this blog; the so called “classical” music.
You can find adequate bios if you need them and music too as all your links are on line and elsewhere, so what's the difference?
This series will be on this blog as long as it is up and as I said I'm trying to put out there a basic historical review, from modern perspectives, of the lives and contributions of the great composers.
You haven't included some that at least a few people consider great.
I understand, and I very well might come back with a second tier as it were of neglected composers later after traversing the standard highway of the first tier composers.
Just curious who the last of the greatest composers in your list might be?
I don't know yet myself, possibly Igor Stravinsky. If there's anyone who was born after him that's as important, please let me know.
OK, good.  Which composer comes next?
Probably Richard Wagner.
Are you adding others to the standard list?
Of great composers? If there is such a list, certainly Saint Saens, Bruckner and Mahler belong on it, Puccini too. These each made outstanding individual contributions, so they will each be included. Others such as Bax, Busoni or Stenhammar would be on the second tier.
I've already noticed the degree to which music has been influenced by other art forms, particularly literature.
and later motion pictures. It's difficult for many people these days to hear orchestral classical music without immediately thinking about the movies, cartoons or TV. We could in fact say that the music for movies preceded the movies themselves. In the case of Wagner, coming up next, we have someone who had enough vision to try and create a mass market for his unique art form, the music-drama, not opera as it had ever been before. Many of his his staging ideas anticipated film too. An outdoor festival playhouse as a venue for these total-art-pieces was as close as one would get to large audiences watching movies in huge move houses fifty years later. It's amazing where we have come, but it would be tragic to lose any of what has passed.
Certainly not everything that is old is always still any good, I mean we can't keep this stuff around forever and a lot of it has outlived its usefulness. It even strikes me that much of this music may be as irrelevant as spending time learning ancient Greek or Latin.
Well, perhaps so, perhaps not. It would be nice to have more people with more time able to devote themselves to these rare corridors of our culture and traditions, simply to uncover what may be interesting to somebody today.
Better yet if the performances can be fresh and …
New? Laughs  That's certainly a challenge, to make something perhaps millions have heard before sound immediate and as timeless as if it had just been realized yesterday.  Imagine what this means for each of the musicians, how much time and attention they must put into each phrase!  The whole process of making music this way is concentrated and it is for pianists anyway, activity which has a notably religious aspect to it.   
That's all there was for this one, unless you have some closing words.
I promise, there will be a tenth interview. Laughs


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