Tag Archives: American pianist

Meet the Artist……Jeffrey Biegel, pianist

Jeffrey Biegel, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

There was a piano in the house – an old Estey upright. I gravitated to it after my sister’s piano lessons. Like a magnet, I was drawn to the piano.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

In piano playing, my teachers, of course. Aside from Morton Estrin and Adele Marcus, I would have to say Josef Lhevinne, Artur Schnabel, Rachmaninov and of living pianists, Murray Perahia among many others.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

The greatest challenge in any career is to maintain a steady flow of employment. Fortunately, with standard repertoire, new concerto projects written for me, plus recordings and teaching, there is a nice flow and momentum to keep evolving as a musician.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I would have to say in 1983, performing my debut with orchestra, Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto, with the Juilliard Philharmonic in Lincoln Center; same concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC; Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra; and performances of concerti with the following composers in the audience: Keith Emerson, Neil Sedaka, Lowell Liebermann, William Bolcom, Richard Danielpour, Charles Strouse, Marjorie Rusche and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love playing everything actually. I never know which is best, however.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I normally base the repertoire on new works being premiered and recorded, and the concerti asked for that particular season. next season includes Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Saint-Saens Concerto no. 2, Grieg’s Concerto, and Rachmaninov Concerti nos 2 and 3.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I enjoy everywhere I perform – each venue has its own magic.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Too many to list!!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Too many to list!! In the pop world, David Foster, Keith Emerson, Neil Sedaka (and I can’t get Pink’s song, ‘Just Give Me a Reason’ out of my head – liking it!); pop/classic pianists, Victor Borge and Liberace; classical world – everyone! I always enjoy listening to other pianists and hearing their interpretations of music we all know and love.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If I must narrow it down, it would have to be my New York recital debut on April 14, 1986, in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall for the Juilliard William Petschek Piano Debut Award–an annual honor given to a pianist. I remember looking out through the backstage to see all of my family, friends and colleagues go to their seats. It was like getting married to the instrument, formally, in New York, in front of everyone I know.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

I would suggest creating and maintaining a network of musician friends, and friends in all artistic capacities. You never know when you might collaborate in special projects in performance, audio/video recording etc.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am now at work for a recording project in the fall of 2014 featuring the following works:
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (1924)
Ellington: New World A-Comin’ (1945, orchestration by Maurice Peress; solo cadenza by Sir Roland Hanna)
Keith Emerson: Concerto no. 1 (1977)
Neil Sedaka: Manhattan Intermezzo (2010; piano part enhanced by Jeffrey Biegel)

Additionally, I will record Lucas Richman’s “Piano Concerto: In Truth” during the 2014-15 season; orchestra tba; and will learn a new concerto based on the famous rock group, The Monkees, to be composed by Dick Tunney out of Nashville. That will be premiered with Orchestra Kentucky in January 2015, along with Peter Tork’s “Moderato ma non troppo” for piano and orchestra. Kenneth Fuchs will be composing a Piano Concerto for me, which will have its world premiere in 2015-16 with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in Massachusetts with Kevin Rhodes conducting. For the Dicterow-DeMaine-Biegel trio, I will be learning Suk’s “Elegie”, and Dohnanyi’s “Quintet” for our January debut in Fort Worth, Texas. Also, the world premiere of Jeremy Lubbock’s new composition, “Moods–a duet for Piano and Strings” will take place in February 2015 with the orchestra of Moravian College in Pennsylvania.

 
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Still alive, performing and recording.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

A peaceful world, allowing us to travel anywhere, anytime, without religious or political boundaries.

What is your most treasured possession? 

A photo of pianist Josef Lhevinne to his student (and my teacher) Adele Marcus from May 26, 1928 – Adele changed the date to 1938 to make her younger!

Jeffrey Biegel’s biography

My review of Jeffrey Biegel’s CD ‘A Grand Romance’

 

 
 

CD review: ‘Verbs’ – Keith Porter Snell

‘Verbs’ is a collection of 24 Preludes for left hand only by composer Kathleen Ryan. Commissioned by her friend and colleague American pianist and Steinway Artist, Keith Porter-Snell, the unifying theme of this suite of miniatures is the idea of verbs, one for each prelude to convey an individual quality of energy and motion, with titles such as Wait, Crackle, Drift, Bloom, Murmur, Tease, Tangle and Bless.

Keith Porter-Snell

The repertoire for the left hand alone is wide, including most famously Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne, Op 9, Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand (composed for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during the First War) and studies by Godowsky and others. Many pianists use left hand studies and pieces to improve their technique (the left hand often being the weaker hand for naturally right-handed pianists); others are forced to turn to left hand repertoire for reasons of injury. After suffering a repetitive motion injury to his right hand some years ago, Keith Porter-Snell withdrew from performing to concentrate on his teaching career, while also developing an interest in left hand repertoire. He relaunched his performing career in 2006, specialising in piano music for the left hand alone.

By skillfully switching between the high and low registers of the piano and utilising full textures and bright or unexpected harmonies, Ryan creates the illusion of two hands playing. Coupled with Keith’s clean, lucid and sensitively articulated sound and the wonderfully echoey acoustic of Monkton Coombe School (where the album was recorded in May 2013), these preludes hark back to earlier antecedents by Debussy, Rachmaninov, Chopin and J S Bach in their variety and appeal, creating an album rich in contrasts. Ryan’s composing style is eclectic, referencing jazz, contemporary classical, traditional classical, and American folk songs and hymns: Play, for example, is a vibrant anthem, redolent of sacred harp singing, while other Preludes are more contemplative, tender and wistful (Forgive, Bloom).  Push is energetic and rumbling, suggesting bustling city life, Bounce scampers playfully around the keyboard with jazzy syncopations and colourful harmonies, and Tangle is redolent of some of Prokofiev’s more introspective ‘Visions Fugitives’. The album closes with the meditative Bless.

This interesting and appealing project is a celebration of left hand repertoire, a musical friendship, and the art of the Prelude and the miniature. Recommended.

‘Verbs’ is available from iTunes and other online music stores.

Meet the Artist……Keith Porter-Snell

A History of Left-Hand Piano

Kathleen Ryan’s Meet the Artist interview will be published soon.

 

 

At the Piano with Mark Polishook

What is your first memory of the piano?

My piano journey began more or less when I was 3 or 4 years old. Movers brought a 1932 5’3” Chickering baby grand to our house. It was a gift from my grandparents.

That piano eventually travelled with me from one coast to another in America, which is where I’m from. It came with me when I arrived in the UK 4 years ago.

Last summer I acquired a new Steingraeber Phoenix 205. It’s an amazing instrument. I looked at a lot of pianos in the UK and America  before I selected it. Some of them were very good but none of them had the special, personal “this is the one – this one is it” kind of feeling I was looking for. When I finally met the 205 at Hurstwood Farm Pianos in Surrey it did seem like the one. It’s definitely reaffirmed that to me since arriving in my house.

There are more than a few fascinating lessons I learned looking for a piano which I’ve written up on my blog. Meanwhile, the Chickering has moved to my neighbour’s house for new and more family adventures.

Who was your first teacher and what do you recall about your early days of learning about the piano?

My first teacher was a very nice woman in our town in New Jersey. But after not all that long I mostly taught myself. I wasn’t systematic or organised in what I learned. It was mostly the Chickering was in the house and I’d play by ear.

From the beginning I had an affinity for jazz. I don’t know why or from where or how because I remember hearing Liberace and Victor Borge but not jazz. I also recall trying to pick out bits of the ‘Rite of Spring’ after hearing a recording of it. But picking out tiny bits of the ‘Rite of Spring’ was about all I could do.

Do you remember what you liked to play?

The Joy of Boogie and Blues’ was the book that had my interest. When I played the pieces in it with the right spin they sounded like boogie and blues. But I hadn’t yet heard real boogie boogie such as Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson used to play. And I didn’t know about New-Orleans-style piano playing even though ‘The Joy of Boogie and Blues’ had pieces in that genre. And of course I didn’t know of the great jazz pianists like Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans.

My parents and neighbours used to say I had a “nice touch” when I played boogie-woogie-type things. That phrase resonated with me. I could feel what it meant in my hands. And I could hear how that feeling translated into sound.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

While working towards a PhD in composition at the University of Pittsburgh I taught courses in basic theory and musicianship, jazz history, class piano, and a seminar on Mozart. Teaching was part of what PhdD students did while working towards the degree. So that’s where I began with students and learning about teaching and how to do it – and finding that I really liked it.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

The important teacher who fastened my wheels to the track was Floyd “Floogie” Williams. I met Floyd in the second semester of my first year at university which was mid-1970s. He had recently moved to the area from New York City where he had been a drummer and a percussionist in jazz and studio worlds.

Learning with Floyd was immersion all things musical. I couldn’t possibly have had a better teacher. He had experience in the world I wanted to enter. Essentially he put one on the path towards that world.

Lessons with Floyd always included stories and more stories, all them colourful, about how this or that musician practiced and learned. And there was always an important point that came out of it all. With the piano Floyd boiled it down to one essential: Practice and practice some more.

What he meant was put in time and effort. Serious time and effort – as a method it was brute-force “put-your-back-into-it.” I spent virtually every hour of the day playing Bach, and Chopin, Beethoven, and Oscar Peterson piano transcriptions or picking excerpts out of the Dover editions of scores.

Another big lesson from Floyd was to the importance of being around great pianists – to see and hear firsthand how the did what they did. So Floyd arranged for me to visit to New York City to meet John Lewis, who had who played with Charlie Parker and later formed the Modern Jazz Quartet. A few months later Floyd sent me to New York City again. This time for lessons with Jaki Byard.

Jaki is among the great pianists and teachers in jazz. He played like a one-man jazz repertory orchestra, always with allusions to different pianists and styles, all of which he juxtaposed with wit and great humour.

So for example Jaki’s left hand might play in a stride piano style. But his right hand would play over it in very free bebop style – and perhaps in a different key. But the thing was, no matter what Jaki played he sounded uniquely like Jaki and never like he imitating something. Jaki was postmodern long before postmodernism was a style.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

At New England Conservatory I continued studying with Jaki and then I switched over to William Thomas McKinley who’s a composer and a jazz pianist. Whereas Jaki’s approach to the piano was based on play, play, and play Tom’s way – because  he was a composer – was write, write, write. So I wrote excerpts and examples – I filled notebook after notebook – of what I wanted to improvise.

I also took lessons outside of NEC from Charlie Banacos who had his own fascinating teaching niche. Charlie was a great jazz pianist but he gave up performing to focus exclusively on teaching. And he was well-known as a teacher – as perhaps “the teacher. All his students first went through his two-year waiting list before lessons began. Many of Charlie’s students went on to play with fabulous jazz musicians. And Miles Davis said he wanted to study with Charlie!

Most of what Charlie taught was simple in concept – for example transcribe a McCoy Tyner solo. But to do that required a lot of focused work with a tape recorder. Once the solo was transcribed, the next step was to play it at speed.

With Charlie simplicity of concept definitely wasn’t the same as ease of execution. Some  of the “simple stuff” Charlie showed me a long time ago is still among what I practice now.

The big picture I synthesised from all of that which is right at the centre of how I teach is “Experiment: cast the net freely and widely.” In other words explore, explore, explore – as Robert Frost said very well:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I moved to New York City in the early 1980s after New England Conservatory and Boston. New York was exhilarating because it was populated to beyond bursting with fabulously-skilled musicians. If there’s a genre or a style of music anywhere in the world someone in New York is exploring and playing it at some unbelievably high level. Probably along with an entire community of equally-skilled practitioners.

After several years of freelancing there and all sorts of gigs I completed a Masters’ degree in Jazz Piano at the Manhattan School of Music. One of the classes I took there was an introduction to composition. The solo piano piece I wrote for it – along with Tom McKinley’s prescriptions to write, write, write – launched me on to composing.

So I went from the Manhattan School of Music to the University of Pittsburgh for PhD studies in composition and theory. But at the time – mid-1980s – composition there was focused narrowly on serialism through the lens and teaching of Milton Babbitt. Which wasn’t uncommon at that time. But it wasn’t the direction the interested me so I moved on to the Hartt School of Music where there was more plurality of approach and style. That’s where I completed the doctorate.

Beginning in the 1990s I taught composition, music technology, and jazz piano at the University of Maine at Augusta. From there I went to Central Washington University where I directed the music composition and theory programs. During that period I had short and long-term residencies in the United States and Europe – at the Crakow Academy of Music, STEIM in Amsterdam, the Banff Centre in Canada, and the University of California Santa Barbara, among others. And I was always playing jazz.

How do you teach?

Everyone comes to the piano and improvisation with their own interests, strengths, and abilities. So how I teach depends on the interests and experiences my students bring with them. It’s very much based on what they want to learn.

I’d say what I do as a teacher is help students acquire a musical voice. That means on the one hand exploring what, why, and how we do music- and piano-related things. And being creative with whatever comes back from those questions. On the other hand it’s about building as much technique as we can to support creativity. Creativity and technique are the two sides on the same coin.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

I’m keen on teaching improvisation through Skype to students around the world. What’s amazing to me about Skype is it works without getting in the way. So looking into my studio from a distance literally means looking through Skype.

For me, there’s magic and the miraculous in working with students who literally are all around the world. Because with Skype connections to distant places don’t feel distant.

From time to time I’ll think “Well we’re working together in realtime but there’s a 12-hour time difference between us.” Which to me is mind boggling. I’ve had some improvised, interesting two-piano duets with students on Skype.

I’d say what Skype brings out is it’s the creativity and enthusiasm we bring to the learning process that counts. Which is the same for everyone really – without or with Skype. Creativity and enthusiasm are essential.

The biggest challenge with Skype has been managing clock shifts and timezones around the world. So, for example, I’ve since learned some countries – Iran is one and I have a fantastic student there – set their clocks to the half-hour rather than to the hour.

What do you expect from your students?

The first thing I teach is relaxation helps improvisation and playing the piano enormously. Because when we’re relaxed it’s easier to play and make music.

But after that expectations can easily become “it-has-to-be-this-way” or “it-has-to-be-that-way.” If we can reduce “it-has-to-be-this” to as few instances as possible we’re that much closer to relaxation where music and everything can seem easy. So removing expectations is about learning to play and practice in the moment with the skills we have instead the skills we wish we had.

A different example of a removable expectation is the idea that knowledge of theory – scales and chords  – precedes meaningful improvisation. The reality is thinking about theory when improvising is about as helpful as applying theory to playing anything.

Of course later or sooner theory is among the great extra stuff that broadens and deepens how we play. But as a prerequisite to improvisation – and particularly for students who come to improvisation with technique already – it’s not the start point.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

I’m mostly interested in the quality of experience of the individual – instead of the quantity of quality competition judges have to quantify. The thing is, quality of experience doesn’t depend on prescribed skill levels. A different way to say that is I’m focused on processes of music-making – because experience is process.

On the other hand I competed in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition which is the huge international one of the jazz world. I was a finalist in the the Great American Jazz Piano Competition. My Robots-in-Residence installation which I built in Denmark was a prize-winner in a competition in France. I learned a lot by being in those events and I’m glad I had those experiences.

And many pianists know competitions and such to be exactly what they want to enter into. In that case of course I’m happy to assist and support. But to the question of “are competitions and such things fundamentally part of learning to play an instrument?” my opinion is, no, they’re not.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

Being in the moment with the music we’re making. Focusing on right now. To do that we have to relax. Which isn’t a question of “Are we relaxed? Yes or no?” It’s that relaxation is a continuum. Which means we can always bring it to deeper and deeper levels.

Also important is listening to the sound that comes from the piano. Listening to how the piano resonates. How it projects. One way forward with this  play and listen to single, sustained notes – long tones at the piano.

It’s like magic but ears and mind usually then go right to the moment – because they’re listening to the attack, sustain, and decay of each note and then each note after that.

How do you approach the issue of performance anxiety/tension?

We all deal with it in one way or another. I wish I knew how to banish it once and forever. But the reality probably is that’s just part of music making and not really all that unusual.

My approach is to work with it in small increments – instead of looking to conquer or suppress it once and for all. Small increments could mean learning to use specific relaxation techniques of which breathing is one of them.

Breathing meaning focusing on and recognising the importance of breath while we’re at the piano. And of course listening to the sound of the piano. Focusing on sound as it floats out of the piano. The more we focus on breath and sound the more we go to those worlds and then on to relaxation and the moment of “right now.”

Differentiating between “practice” and “performance” mode can be helpful. Practice mode is about working out details and looking to improve “this thing” or “that thing” or both things or all things. It’s intentionally focused to things such as “play these notes” or “perform that passage softly.”

Performance mode on the other hand doesn’t require analytic thinking. It doesn’t require that we try to do something better today than yesterday. It’s sitting down at the piano and being in the moment: Comfortable, and relaxed with the music we make, the sound we hear, the ability we have. Then “letting” everything flow together into a performance. Instead of “making” it flow together into the performance.

Are there any books you’d recommend to pianists or musicians or anyone interested in improvising?

The book for the desert island, assuming the piano’s already been delivered, is The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music by W.A. Mathieu. It has listening exercises and philosophy for everyone at every level of ability and experience.

How can we contact you?

My Mark Polishook Studio website is a blog about improvising, jazz, and all things of interest to pianists. My email address is mark@polishookstudio.com.

Dr. Mark Polishook, a pianist, composer, and music technologist, teaches improvisation in his studio in Leicester and on the internet through Skype. Among his compositions is Seed of Sarah, an electronic chamber opera that was made into a film seen across North America, Europe, and Australia. As a jazz pianist Dr. Polishook has performed with many eminent artists. 

To the experimental side of sound art Dr. Polishook has worked with graphics tablets, robots, and open-source software. His Robots-in-Residence installation which he created in Denmark was a prize winner in the 2004 International Bourges Electro-acoustic Music Competition in France. 

Dr. Polishook directed the music composition and theory programs at Central Washington University. He’s been a professor of jazz piano at the University of Maine at Augusta and a Senior Fulbright Lecturer at the Crakow Academy of Music in Poland. Dr. Polishook has been a resident artist in the Aarhus Computer Science Department, at STEIM in Amsterdam and at CREATE at the University of California Santa Barbara. 

He has a DMA in Music Composition from the Hartt School of Music, a masters’ degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and the Manhattan School of Music. His undergraduate degree is from the New England Conservatory of Music.

Simone Dinnerstein – Bach: Inventions and Sinfonias

Bach wrote his Inventions as exercises for amateurs and students of the keyboard (including his own sons), as he put it in a preface. The works were intended as an introduction to counterpoint and to demonstrate to the student that both hands could have equal importance in a piece of music.

For many young piano students, these short works are their first contact with Bach’s music and can lead, certainly in my own case, to a lifelong love of Bach’s music, in particular his keyboard music. They offer a wonderful introduction to contrapuntal writing and Bach’s musical wit and inventiveness, and offer valuable insights for further study of works such as the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Partitas and the French and English Suites. In spite of all this, these minor miracles are rarely performed in concert.

Simone Dinnerstein’s new recording for Sony Classical of the Inventions (BWV 772-786) and Sinfonias (BWV 787-801) makes a convincing case for the elevation of these works from student studies to concert pieces, for her reading is anything but dry and academic. While they may be all about form (as distinct from the Partitas and French and English Suites which are dances), Dinnerstein brings vibrant colour and life to these modest works, highlighting their individual characteristics and differences through the sensitive use of tempo, articulation and rubato. Some are sprightly and open-hearted, others introspective and thoughtful. Throughout, her tone is pure and bright, her interpretation honest and unfussy, allowing the beauty of Bach’s writing – and, at times, his modernity – to shine through. In the Sinfonias, with their three-voice writing (sometimes called “three-part inventions”), the sound is richer, more textural, warm but with no loss of clarity. The final Sinfonia, in B minor, is fleeting and witty, with the ghost of a harpsichord in the resonance and strummed sound which Dinnerstein brings to this work. No longer student exercises, Dinnerstein turns these short works into album leaves to be enjoyed and savoured.

 

CD review: A Grand Romance – Jeffrey Biegel, piano

American pianist Jeffrey Biegel adds to his portfolio of recordings for the Steinway & Sons label (which launched with his acclaimed Bach on a Steinway album in 2010) with a collection of romantic works for piano by some of the greatest pianist-composers of the era, including Moszkowski, Paderewski and Rubinstein. The pieces come from an age before the serious recital came into vogue, when performers would delight audiences with light-hearted encores and showpieces, and where musical fireworks, supreme virtuosity and unashamed charm went hand in hand.

But these pieces are not simply saccharine titbits: the selection and programming of the works on the album is thoughtful and well-paced. Obviously virtuosic pieces are followed by works of more depth and sentiment, such as the Lyrica Nova by Samuel Bortkiewicz and Kamennly-Ostrov (Rocky Island) by Rubinstein, both of which are played with sensitivity and warmth by Biegel. The grandiose Schulz-Evier paraphrase of Strauss’s much-loved An der schonen, blauen Donau (The Beautiful Blue Danube) avoids cliché in Biegel’s hands with his delicate attention to its frills and furbelows, and tasteful rubato.

For me, the most enjoyable pieces were those where Biegel’s clarity of tone, silky touch, technical assuredness, and his obvious delight in these works really shine through: Moszkowski’s exuberant Étincelles, Henselt’s Si oiseau j’étais, and Scholzer’s Etudes, Op. 1: no 1. This is an enjoyable album of favourite encores: Biegel’s stylish playing and consistently polished finish remind us of why these pieces continue to enjoy such popularity in piano recitals.

A Grand Romance is available now on the Steinway & Sons label from Arkivmusic and other outlets, and digital download via iTunes

Jeffrey Biegel will feature in a forthcoming Meet the Artist interview

www.jeffreybiegel.com

More about the Steinway & Sons record label here

Meet the Artist……Gregg Kallor, pianist and composer

***NEWS***

Greg Kallor will be performing at Subculture in New York’s NoHo on 26 September, with cellist Laura Metcalf, as part of the venue’s first annual ‘Piano Fest’ and to promote his new music video Broken Sentences, and premiere a new work ‘Undercurrent’. Further details here

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

I’ve always felt a sort of inexorable pull toward music – almost as soon as I could walk I made my way to the piano in my parent’s home. A piece of string was thoughtfully tied around the length of the instrument to prevent the fallboard from crushing my fingers. My older brother studied with a piano teacher whom I begged for lessons every week for a year; she finally relented when I turned six – and I abandoned my assignments almost immediately. (Improvising was more fun than playing, say, “The Typewriter”.) I’ve become somewhat more disciplined. Supportive parents, wonderful teachers, encouraging friends and colleagues – a career in music just seemed… right.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

When I was nine or ten I heard Brad Mehldau play in the jazz band at the high school I would attend a few years later; I was absolutely blown away. (I added jazz piano lessons to my music curriculum so I could play the way he did – but it doesn’t quite work that way, I quickly discovered.)

In college I began studying with Fred Hersch – who, in addition to being a master improviser, produces one of the most beautiful sounds from the piano I have ever heard. He encouraged me to explore the full range of the piano’s sonic possibilities, to pay attention to the sound.

After I moved to New York City, Fred introduced me to his piano teacher, Sophia Rosoff, and to composer Herschel Garfein. I’m so grateful to Sophia and Herschel for encouraging me to draw upon my background in jazz and improvisation in my classical playing and composing – working with them has helped me to embrace all of those elements, and my playing and writing has become much more personal as a result. I’m a musical mutt, I suppose.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

It’s taken me a little while to reconcile all of my musical passions – playing and composing, classical music and jazz – into a professional trajectory that makes sense. Audiences and friends who’ve watched my development have been super-encouraging, and more and more presenters are getting excited by the mix of things that I do.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m really proud of my recording of my piano suite, A Single Noon. It’s a tableau of life in New York City – moments of caffeinated bliss, embarrassing subway mishaps, etc. The interplay of freedom and structure is something I think about a lot, and I wanted to write a piece in which both composition and improvisation would be significant in shaping the musical narrative. (Note to pianists: A Single Noon can be performed with or without improvisation. The sections for improvisation are sort of like scenic detours on a highway; the musical narrative won’t be compromised if you stick to the paved road – you’ll just arrive a little sooner.)

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Wherever I’m playing next.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ginastera’s Argentinian Dances are a blast to perform – brief, but potent miniatures. The second dance has that sort of sad/happy vibe. Seductive. And the last – “Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy” – feels like the musical id of a crazy dancing gaucho on amphetamines. (Probably not what Ginastera intended, but there you go.)

I love performing Rachmaninoff’s Preludes and Etudes-Tableaux, and his Corelli Variations. Gorgeous, and super-pianistic. Rachmaninoff was a master of both the short form and of the long, singing line.

Speaking of which, I love playing songs – particularly those delicious German Romantic lieder. Schumann. Schubert. Brahms. Wolf. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

And Elliott Smith songs. They’re like the Schumann of the (19)’90s.

I had a lot of fun playing Janacek’s Violin Sonata last fall – strange and wonderful piece. Still not entirely sure that I totally get it.

At the risk of sounding egocentric, I’m rather fond of performing my own music – I feel greater freedom to take chances with it than when I play other composers’ music that I love. Of course I try to play their music with the same freedom, but I always feel a little bit like a guest in a friend’s home – no matter how close we are, it’s still probably not a good idea for me to walk around naked just because it’s more comfortable. In my apartment, it’s come as you are. (Maybe I need some new friends.)

Favorite listening? This could take all year…..

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Martha Argerich. That woman must be from another planet.

Brad Mehldau has been an enormous influence since the first time I heard him play, and he continues to inspire me.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin – I’ve heard him conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra twice this season (Verdi Requiem, Stravinsky Rite of Spring). Phenomenal! And such a generous leader/conductor.

Dawn Upshaw. I wrote my Dickinson and Yeats songs with her voice and artistry in mind.

I heard Anthony McGill perform the Copland concerto last year – big fan. Gorgeous tone, soulful playing.

Thomas Quasthoff and Justus Zeyen – left every one of their recitals without tears in my eyes.

Gil Shaham – incredibly beautiful player. Never an impersonal note.

James Levine conducting the MET orchestra = perfection.

Radiohead – one of the most energetic and exciting group of performers I’ve seen/heard.

Alisa Weilerstein, Chris Potter, Byron Janis, Maxim Vengerov, Larry Grenadier… so many. I’m very lucky to live in New York where I get to hear all of these extraordinary musicians.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first Weill Hall solo concert in 2007 was incredibly special. Entering the stage door at Carnegie Hall was surreal (Rachmaninoff walked in this way!), and I giddily assumed that my concert was as momentous for the security guard and the stage manager as it was for me. (They graciously indulged my newbie delusion.) I premiered my Dickinson and Yeats songs with mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala, and played solo pieces by Ginastera, Scriabin, Bach, and Rachmaninoff. Kind of a big night.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Beware of people offering unsolicited advice!

Here’s something that’s not too offensive: take care of your body. Hike, stretch, run, play basketball, swim, lift weights, whatever brings you joy – but be active. It’s good for the long-term health of people with sedentary vocations (um, hello musicians), and it really helps me out of my head. (Not a whole lot of thought going on when veins are popping out of your neck as you struggle to finish that last pull-up.) I used to LOVE rock climbing, but I gave that up when I realized that a cavalier attitude towards injury probably wasn’t recommended for a pianist.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Playing: I’m digging into some of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch – absolute gems. I’m performing them with mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala at the end of the month, along with my settings of Dickinson and Yeats poems. Also, Faure’s insanely beautiful D-flat Nocturne is on my stand, calling to me…

Composing: I just finished my piano concerto! Super excited about that – and about some new chamber music sketches I’m working on for cello and piano, and piano trio. I’m almost ready to play through some of them with friends and see what works and what needs to be burned.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Doing exactly what I’m doing right now – except more of it. And, hopefully, better.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

A beautifully-pulled espresso.

Gregg Kallor’s new album A Single Noon is available now, a musical tableau of life in New York City, told through a combination of composed music and improvisation in nine movements that coalesce into a more complete story like an album of postcards, or memories. Each movement develops an aspect of the Single Noon theme, and improvisation is incorporated throughout the suite as a commentary on and development of the themes in the music.

My review of A Single Noon

Gregg Kallor’s biography

Meet the Artist……Christopher O’Riley, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

My mother taught me to read prior to kindergarten. The nuns at St. Athanasius considered this a problem, as i would be bored and get into trouble. they offered piano or French lessons at $15 a week as an ultimatum. I remember my first piano lesson, and reading music made immediate sense; a connection was made and i never looked back.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

I most admire some of the greats from the past: Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, Gould. i am also inspired by string instruments in their capacity for true expression. with that in mind, i presently gain most inspiration from the kids who play on From the Top, and my colleague, Matt Haimovitz.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Dealing with adverse reactions to my crossing genre lines in my choice of repertoire, mostly from Neanderthals of the Classical music industry.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Knowing when to lead and when to follow, reacting and interacting in the moment.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

My upcoming Liszt recording of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique and other Liszt arrangements; my Stravinsky record; both of my Radiohead CDs.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Hard to choose, but Mechanics Hall in Worcester is a great recording venue, ditto the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Upper Manhattan; Meyerson Hall in Dallas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Nicolaus Harnoncourt, Jordi Savall, Sir James Galway, Bernard Herrmann, Danny Elfman, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Matt Haimovitz

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Listening: my teacher, Russell Sherman in numerous recitals
Performing: collaborating with Matt, Sir James

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

Rachmaninoff and Ravel are two favourites to perform, also Shostakovich.
I listen to The Bad Plus, Bill Evans, Elliott Smith

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

That one’s own creation of the present moment in music is most important, not submitting to some foregone conclusion as to what’s appropriate.

What are you working on at the moment?

Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninoff Concerto #1

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Costa Rica

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Spending all day with my cats

What is your most treasured possession?

Elliott, my Tonkinese cat

What do you enjoy doing most?

Reading

Christopher O’Riley appears with Lara Downes in The Artist Sessions on 29th May, at the historic Yoshi’s SF, with a performance of his new Oxingale Records BluRay/CD O’Riley’s Liszt.

Christopher O’Riley is an American classical pianist and public radio show host. He is the host of the weekly National Public Radio program From the Top. O’Riley is also known for his piano arrangements of songs by alternative artists, including alternative rock band Radiohead.

Christopher O’Riley studied with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music. Christopher O’Riley splits his time between Los Angeles and rural Ohio. His radio and tv show can be found on-line at www.fromthetop.org. His personal website (including a full biography) is at www.christopheroriley.com.

Meet the Artist……Bruce Brubaker, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

My mother brought home from the public library a recording by Vladimir Horowitz. Already, I was studying music and learning to play the piano; but it was those sounds that ignited my musical interest.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

Early on, it was recordings of Horowitz (I only wanted to play pieces he played, for example), and earlier pianists, Hofmann, Petri. Later, I went another direction. My teacher at Juilliard was Jacob Lateiner, an extraordinary virtuoso with nearly Talmudic insights! He offered intensely detailed scrutiny of music and high ideals. He was the most important example to me, and he was my friend. At the same time, my awareness of John Cage’s music and my work with it were important. That makes for some combination of compulsive preparation and considerable letting-go in performance.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenges are simple things, I believe. For virtuosos — or any kind of experts — it’s difficult to resist showing how much you can do, or know, or feel.

Which performances or recordings are you most proud of?

I’m pleased with a new recording of piano music by Meredith Monk that I made with Ursula Oppens. Along with solo pieces, there are 4 new transcriptions of Meredith’s music that I made from pieces that were first written for voices or other instruments.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Many. I play rather frequently in New York at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR). It’s a nightclub where very different kinds of music mingle or collide. One night, I played Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time right before a set by the French star Sylvain Chauveau.

Favourite pieces to perform?

I like performing chamber music. The necessary spontaneity and moment-by-moment awareness when playing with other people make the real pleasure of performing most clear.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably that would be the first time I played in Los Angeles, with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl – but the day before the performance there was an earthquake!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Close listening and curiosity – that’s paying attention!

What are you working on at the moment?

There’s a new piano concerto written for me by William Duckworth. I’m doing a re-editing project based on recordings by Glenn Gould.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxious anticipation. In London at Kings Place on May 19th, I’m offering an improvisation with a backing track I prepared. (As well as composed pieces by Glass, Nico Muhly, and Alvin Curran.) Last season, at the urging of Ran Blake, I did an improv in a public concert. Now I’m hooked.

brucebrubaker.com

artsjounal.com/pianomorphosis

Bruce Brubaker appears at London’s King’s Place on Sunday 19th May in a concert entitled Plugged and Unplugged: Post-Minimalist Piano Music. Further information and tickets here

Bruce Brubaker is an American artist, musician, concert pianist, and writer born in Iowa. Brubaker trained at the Juilliard School, where he received the school’s highest award, the Edward Steuermann Prize, upon graduation. At Juilliard, where he taught from 1995 to 2004, he has appeared in public conversations with Philip Glass, Milton Babbitt, and Meredith Monk.

Full biography here

Win tickets to the launch of ‘A Single Noon’

I recently reviewed Gregg Kallor’s new CD A Single Noon, his pianistic hommage to his home city of New York and daily life in the city, of which one important ritual is enjoying the caffeine-induced buzz from drinking espressos!

Gregg is running a photograph competition via his Facebook page for the chance to win 2 tickets to the release party for his CD,  your photograph as the cover photo on his Facebook page, and a signed copy of his CD A Single Noon.

It’s easy to enter:

  • Post your photograph to Gregg’s Facebook timeline
  • You can also enter by Twitter or Instagram by including @GreggKallor and #EspressoNContest in your post
  • On 13th May, Gregg will upload an album of his favourites and you can vote for your own picture (and others). The image with the most “likes” wins, so enlist friends and family to support you.

More here, including a link to Gregg’s Facebook page

Here’s Gregg playing Espresso Nirvana to inspire you!

Gregg Kallor – Espresso Nirvana

My review of A Single Noon

‘A Single Noon’ – hommage to the Big Apple

Described by composer, pianist and improviser Gregg Kallor as “a love letter to this incredible city”, ‘A Single Noon’ is a pianistic hommage to New York City. It presents a tableau of life in the city through a combination of composed music and improvisation in nine evocative snapshots with titles such as ‘Straphanger’s Lurch’ and ‘Espresso Nirvana’.

Largely jazz-influenced, the music also takes inspiration from earlier American composers and musicians, such as Gershwin (in the fragmentary suggestions of the honking, dissonant New York traffic and bustling streets and cafés in ‘Broken Sentences’), and the toccata-like elements of Brubeck and Adams (most evident perhaps in ‘Espresso Nirvana’ and ‘Straphanger’s Lurch’, which was inspired by Gregg’s “stubborn refusal to hold onto the convenient handholds in the subway cars”). In slower movements, such as ‘Found’, ‘Here Now’ and ‘Giants’, there are nods to Feldman, Messiaen, Debussy and Takemitsu in both the use of chords for timbre and colour rather than strict harmonic progression, and defined, atmospheric pauses and silences, which give the music a sense of repose, and anticipation. ‘Giants’ is, by Kallor’s own admission, his personal paean to “the musical titans I have been privileged to know, and to those who came before”, who, like the imposing skycrapers of the New York skyline, cast huge shadows across the musical landscape.

The entire album resonates with the contrasting energies and vibes of the city, from the sun breaking over the park in the morning, to subway journeys and sidewalk strolls, caffeine-fuelled conversations, and mellow evenings. Played with technical assurance, dramatic flair and sensitively nuanced shadings, Kallor subtly blurs the edges between improvisation and composed sections, classical and jazz, to provide a haunting and vivid portrait of “a life in the day” of the buzzing metropolis.

‘A Single Noon’ is available on CD or to download from iTunes

Listen to a sample here

Meet the Artist……Gregg Kallor

www.greggkallor.com