Sunday, September 16, 2012

Performing with the Barriers Down

I just played the last of the Classics of Childhood series for a small audience that included people who had never heard me perform.  On the program was a selection of Minuets and Marches by J.S. Bach and C.P.E. Bach, pieces I know well but had not actually performed.  It revealed a whole new aspect of what it feels like to improvise through the repeat of music that I had somehow been led to believe is cut and dried.  As it turns out, no such animal! The improvisation teases are actually written into the compositions--tricky augmentations, ornaments turned written-out figures and vice versa.  I had a wonderful time--more than a bit risky but completely fired.

Another risk taken: I played two Clementi Exercises, essentially scale studies in E minor and E major.  The point of playing them was to expose their inventive rapport with the keyboard and the lyrical feel of the tonalities.  I find these exercises brilliant when approached as organic to the hand, the ear, and the instrument rather than as recipes for turning all three into automatons. 

Two hours after I finished the audience was still animatedly talking about all kinds of performance-related experiences: poetry, dance, music.

Thanks to those wonderful listeners I am in performer's heaven.

Everybody's Doin' It

When people describe their childhood piano lessons they invariably make a face connoting utter tedium, then describe rituals of meaningless repetition--no need to go further, I'm sure.

I recall my bafflement on hearing other children play the piano--children who were far more dutiful in practicing than I ever was:  "Am I supposed to sound like that?" I wondered.  A few years ago my singer/songwriter/improviser daughter told me that she had experienced a similar questioning as a child. 

Then there was Myra Hess.  I was given a ticket to hear her play three Mozart concertos with the Chicago Symphony.  She didn't do anything right: the beats were irregular, the scales uneven.  What was that about?

That raises a new, not frequently asked question:  Given the current standardization of classical music performance, would anyone alive now give her the time of day?