Monthly Archives: October 2009

That’s no violinist, that’s my (then) wife!

You know the old joke.  A suspicious friend asks, “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?”  He replies, ‘That was no lady, that was my wife!”  Oops.

Anyway, Googling myself I came across this photo taken in 1986(!) at Florida State University on the www.floridamemory.com site.  It’s captioned “Eric Edberg, cellist kisses a violinist.” (Yes, another comma is needed, but I’m quoting.) Who was Allison Guest Edberg, then my wife and now my best friend and ex-wife.  I remember the session; Florida State was sending us to perform somewhere and had a staff photographer take some photos, I think.

erickissingallison1986

Here’s a more serious pose:

ericandallison1986

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I would rather die than play this up bow!

“Where’s the melody?” asked Nathaniel Rosen (“Nick” to anyone old or familiar enough not to call him “Mr. Rosen”), the 60-year-old cellist who, after studying with Gregor Piatigorsky for over a decade and becoming principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony, won the Naumburg and Tchaikovsky competitions in the late 1970s and has had an international career ever since.   Cellist James Waldo, a very accomplished Mannes College graduate student, and pianist Elena Aksenoya had just performed the exposition and development of the Mendelssohn Sonata in D Major in a master class hosted by the Violoncello Society of New York at the elegant Kosciuszko Foundation townhouse on 65th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue.

And so began an animated session in which Nick, with passion, humor, and regular-guy directness, engaged five young musicians in exploring the possibilities of more fully bringing to life  the music they were performing.  “Jab when you have the accompaniment, and bring out your left hook when you have the melody,” he exhorted James, using an apt metaphor for accents, particularly since Nick was sporting a bandage on the palm of his left hand (due to recent minor surgery as he later told the audience).

Balance between cello and piano in sonatas is always tricky, especially since the piano has grown substantially in size and power since the classical and romantic repertoire was composed, while we’re playing essentially the same cello, only slightly souped up with a higher bridge, the end pin, and steel and alloy strings.  Nick got both young artists listening to each other more closely, got the piano softer most of the time, and suddenly there was a genuine quality of interaction in their playing.  What had been fine playing with good ensemble was now a give-and-take dance, or, given Nick’s pugilistic metaphor and the energy of the piece, two boxers going back and forth.

Nick worked as much with Elena, the pianist, as with James. He coached her to play the opening hymn-like rolled-chord chorale of the slow movement with more shape, playing the melody along with her on his cello, showing her where to roll a chord more slowly for more emphasis, sometimes conducting.  James got ready to play the first cello entrance rather early.  “Piatigorsky used to say that when a string player player puts the bow up that far in advance it’s as if a soprano stood with her mouth wide open a measure before she starts to sing.”  He had him wait.  “No, wait more!” Nick interrupted.  “Now, give your sermon.”

“It’s always great when you attend a master class and see the students smiling,” Jeff Solow, the Violoncello Society’s president, commented to me at the reception.  He’s right. Giving a master class is an art unto itself;  the agenda of the teacher becomes clear early on.  With some, it’s to put the students down and make themselves look good. Others give a brief lesson, half mumbling, that the audience can’t hear, as if they wish the audience weren’t there at all.  Rostropovich’s classes, as my former teacher Bernard Greenhouse put it once, were “great theater.”

Nick spoke almost always to the musicians, occasionally to the audience, demonstrating frequently without turning the class into a listen-to-me-and-how-much-better-than-I-am-than-you affair. He made direct, to-the-point comments, and offered many metaphors. “You have to make the audience feel what you feel,” he told one of the students.  (The implication was clear that you have to actually feel something.  How?) “There are many ways to do it.  I always tell myself a story.”

The proceedings were often leavened with slightly self-deprecating humor. “I better watch the music for this one,” he told us before Yves Dharamraj played the first three movements of the Britten Suite No. 2.  “I’m not going to say I don’t know this piece.”

Pause.

Grin.

“But I don’t know this piece!” (laughter)

Yves, who I last heard play in the early 1990s when he was a young boy studying at the Interlochen Arts Camp with Pamela Frame, is developing a significant career while he finishes his Juilliard doctorate, and gave a stunningly assured, elegant, thoughtful, and musical performance of the Britten.  “You can’t talk about this piece without talking about Rostropovich,” Nick said, “so let’s talk about Slava.”  A great actor, Rostropovich was someone Britten could count on to give a dramatic performance. Nick explored ways Yves could make his own performance of the opening Declamato both more dramatic and more rhythmic.  “What’s the tempo?” he asked, wanting to feel the the underlying beat more strongly in both this movement and the Scherzo.

It’s an adventure to watch a master class when the teacher is coaching a piece or he or she doesn’t play.  Not everyone will do it, but when a major artist is willing, it is fascinating to see how his or her approach is brought to bear, what is noticed, what is emphasized.  (Interestingly, I heard Janos Starker coach a student on another Britten Suite this summer, which he said he didn’t know.) What did Nick talk about?  Drama.  Rhythmic integrity.  Practical ideas for bow distribution.  Regardless of whether Yves would ever want to be as extroverted a performer as Nick, he clearly enjoyed this interaction in which Nick pushed him to make music more passionately while simultaneously challenging him to play more strictly. (Casals’s motto, “Freedom and order!” comes to mind.)

Rounding out the evening was Matthew Park, a highly gifted sophomore at the Manhattan School of Music, who gave a passionate account of the last movement (and later a portion of the slow movement) of the Rachmaninoff Sonata with the fine pianist Alexandra Beliakovich. Beautiful playing. Nick worked with them to bring more shape, and better balance, to their performance.  At one point he told Alexandra to play the right-hand melody in the solo opening of the slow movement as if it was a singer ignoring the accompanist, and to let the rest of the notes be “just accompaniment.”

Suddenly the playing shifted and the line sang out in a new way.  It’s to experience transforming moments like this that we go to  masterclasses.

And, at a Nick Rosen class, for lines like this, as he excitedly dealt with the big b-flat to e-flat descending fifth at the climax of the slow movement: “I would sooner DIE than play this up bow!  If I did that on stage I would stop and and tell the audience, ‘I’m sorry, we have to start this movement over!’”

It is good to see students smiling in a master class.

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(Le) Poisson Rouge

Finally!

Since it first opened in 2008, I’ve been wanting to experience (Le) Poisson Rouge, the “multimedia arts cabaret” on Bleeker St. in Greenwich Village, in the space that once housed the Village Gate (with a Duane Reed drugstore there for part of the interregnum, a friend thinks).  Alternative presentation of classical music is one of my strongest interests and a theme in the first-year seminar course I teach at DePauw.  So a visit to LPR during this visit-my-daughter trip to New York was a top priority.

Last night there were two contemporary-classical events, each a CD release party.  At 6:00, Nonesuch hosted a reception in the Gallery Bar for Alarm Will Sound‘s new album, “a/rhythmia.”  Then at 7:30 PM the incredible flutist Claire Chase performed a concert introducing works from her debut solo album “Aliento” in the main space.

My daughter and I arrived about 6:15 PM to find the front staff, friendly early-twenty-somethings, surprisingly unsure of exactly what was going on.  The Alarm Will Sound party was free, but the Claire Chase event was $10 or free with a $50 annual membership, which grants admission for two to all free-for-members events.  The kids working the front didn’t know this, though;  one told the other to look it up on the website.  Then they didn’t know how to sign me up for a membership.  One went off and came back with the slightly rumpled Justin Kantor, the cellist (about 30 or so) who is a co-founder and manager of the club.  Justin, who I recognized from some how-to–play-the-cello videos on the web, had the membership forms, gently explained to the kids what to do, and had a nice chat with me before going back to work.

As all this was going on, my friend and DePauw colleague Cleveland Johnson, who is on leave directing the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship program in NY, emerged from the darkness.  He’d emailed me earlier in the day about getting together while I’m in town, and I’d emailed him back that I was going to LPR that evening.  Turned out he was as well, and was there with his daughter, a graduate student at Columbia.

“Alcohol is our patron,” Justin and his business partner like to say, and this became clear quite quickly.  The Gallery Bar was beautiful, the drinks fairly (although not overly) expensive, and the food menu inviting.  By this time it was, say, 6:30 or so, and nothing was yet happening regarding Alarm Will Sound.  “Things here often run late,” Cleveland, a LPR regular, explained.  “Some things don’t start for an hour after they’re scheduled.  And you never know how crowded it will be. You can show up for something you think no one would come to, and there will be a line around the block.  And then you come early for something you think everyone in New York will want to attend, and there’s hardly anyone here.”

My daughter and I were going to order food, but I spotted a buffet table with food waiting to be uncovered.  About 6:45 PM the coverings came off and guests started helping themselves.  The sound system was still playing something that was definitely not Alarm Will Sound.  A bit before 7:00 PM the new album did start playing, but by the time the Johnsons and the Edbergs migrated to the main space (about 7:15 PM) for the Claire Chase event, there were still no CDs or group members or Nonesuch execs around (or at least identified).

Now this event was well organized and produced.  To our delight, there was a table with CDs and flyers, and the CDs were free.  Now that’s a release party!  (On the other hand, I think they could have sold a bunch of them.)  The main space is visually extraordinary, and the stage had alto and bass flutes on piano benches.  I didn’t look at my watch, but it must have been quite close to 7:30 PM that Claire began her program, performing works for flute and electronics (two using prerecorded tracks, one with live processing including some looping) by Dan Fujikura, Nathan Davis, and Du Yun.  It was an extraordinary performance by an artist who has consummate technical command, musicality, and emotional involvement. The pieces were fantastic.  I was especially moved by Dy Yon’s Run in a Graveyard, which was given it’s world premiere at the event.

The lighting and amplification was brilliant;  a lot of money has gone into this space.  There was a two-item-per-person minimum, so despite being pretty full from the Alarm Will Sound party, we ordered food from the $5 appetizer menu along with drinks.

Now I had been wondering how things would work in a cabaret setting.  Surprisingly well.  The music was amplified, and the audience, at least for this event, was remarkably quiet and attentive, even while eating and drinking.  The wait staff was quietly efficient.  I look forward to hearing an unamplified acoustic event there and see how that goes.

As soon as Claire’s performance ended, the doors between the Gallery bar and the main space were opened.  After good conversation with DePauw music alum and extraordinary flutist himself Eric Lamb (who is a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble which Claire co-founded and serves as the Executive Director for) we headed out through the bar, a bit before 9:00 PM.  Now there was a table with Alarm Will Sound’s new CD;  I bought one.  The band (or some of them, there are 20 in it) had come and gone.

My daughter and I had a lovely walk uptown to her dorm, and made plans to see the 50th-anniversary hi-def digital restoration of The Wizard of Oz this afternoon at a nearby theater.  Of all the movies in New York . . . well, what could be a more nostalgic father/daughter outing?  It’s what we both want/need today, I think.

Great links about LPR here, here, here, and here (the last is on the design firm’s site and has a gallery of photos).

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The Stella Adler Studio

I’m in New York because it is DePauw’s week-long fall break, and my daughter is living here, a first-year drama major attending the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, where she is studying in the Stella Adler Studio. I came up Friday night.  Yesterday (Saturday) was NYU Parent’s Day;  I’m in town until Thursday morning.

How my daughter came to be placed in the Adler Studio, I don’t know.  She auditioned for Tisch in Chicago, was accepted, got a scholarship, and was informed she was in the Adler Studio.  OK.  She wanted to go to school in New York, Tisch has a fantastic reputation, and it worked out financially.  But there was this lingering question in my mind:  was this studio (there are several she could could have been placed in) the best place for her?

Well, that’s what I call a wrong question, with no answer possible (or at least discoverable).  Better put: is this place really a good fit for her?  Will this training give her the tools she needs to fully express her considerable gifts?  We she be nurtured as a person as well as rigorously challenged as an actor?

Having attended yesterday afternoon’s Parent’s Day presentation at the Adler Studio, I can answer that question in the affirmative.

The New York Adler Studio is in one of those grimy-looking New York buildings with narrow staircases and hallways, no money wasted on interior design or recent paint.  You know, the kind of place where real artists work.  (I remember when I attended Juilliard in the late 1970s, in what was then still being referred to as the “new” building at Lincoln Center, it reminded me more of a bank building than what I thought a music conservatory should look like).

Artistic Director Tom Oppenheim gave an inspiring talk explaining the Adler Studio’s history and evolving philosophy.  I was struck by his emphasis on how growth as an artist (he probably only said “actor,” but if so I’m generalizing it on purpose) is inextricably linked with growth as a human being.

In classical music, we don’t talk about that much, and to our detriment, I think.  The 20th-century emphasis on the abstractness of music, and the philosophy of performers “realizing” a score (as Ravel put it), of being executants who should play exactly what is on the page and do nothing more, made it almost impermissible to discuss the “meaning” of a piece of music, or a musical event, without being laughed at.  I’ve only heard a very few people, at least in classical music circles, explicitly discuss how who one is as a person affects how one plays music.  Or how the music one plays (and how one plays and listens and responds) affects who one is as a person.  And yet this is at the core of art.

Tom also talked about the Adler Studio’s core value of social engagement and relevance.  As we think about what’s not working in classical music, isn’t that a big part of it?  I’m nuts for the writings of musicologist Christopher Small, who emphasizes the the inherently social nature of musical events.  I could go on and on, and will at some point here.  Read the Adler Studio philosophy yourself.  Genuinely stimulating, it has me looking anew at my own work in exploring ways to combine traditional classical approaches with the humanistic ways of approaching improvisational music making I’ve experienced in the the drum-circle work of Arthur Hull and David Darling and Music for People.

Several of the faculty talked about their work, with a group of second-year students serving as a demonstration group.  We saw examples of movement techniques, voice and speech work, character development, and the Adler technique.  All fascinating.  I want to go to acting school, too.

This presentation/demonstration, along with some lengthy discussions with my daughter about the work she’s doing, have me feeling great about the hands she’s in.  (And for added reassurance, it was nice to see a major film star, who is an extraordinary actor and not just a good-looking celebrity with a flash-in-the-pan career, sitting not too far from me, beaming throughout the presentation, clearly delighted that her or his child is in these hands as well.)

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Adventures in air travel

6:45 PM, October 16

OK, this is irritating.  I’m sitting in Café Patachou (a fine place to be stranded, by the way) in  the central area of the Indianapolis International Airport, waiting for my delayed flight to La Guardia.

I booked the flight through Northwest, and when I went online at school today to get a boarding pass, information came up that the flight was delayed from 6:40 to 7:40 PM.  This didn’t bother me too much, since some more time at home to sort laundry and finish packing my carry-on offered welcome relief.

So I called my student who was driving me to the airport (in my car) and told him to come by an hour later than originally agreed.  No problem.

Once home, I checked the flight status online in case of further delay.  But now the news was we’d be departing at 6:48 PM, only eight minutes.  Yikes!  I called Colin and said get right over, and packed like a madman, all the while suspecting that 6:48PM was unlikely, but nevertheless feeling it was essential to get there soon just in case.

On the way to the airport, we called Northwest and the automated voice announced at 7:10 PM takeoff.  OK, better safe than sorry.  Not enough time to hit a non-airport place for dinner on the way, but what the heck.

At the airport, there was no Northwest flight to LaGuardia listed at all.  Not even a Northwest counter.

WTF?

A closer look revealed a Delta flight with the same number and (original) departure time, headed to LGA.  A trek to the Delta counter brought me the Delta sign including, in small letters, “now serving Northwest.”  A friendly agent at the counter confirmed that the Delta flight was the Northwest fight, which is actually operated by Piannacle, whoever they are, anyway.

And now the flight was scheduled for 7:50 PM.  So on to Café Patachou for an omelet (delicious, by the way, and the service friendly and efficient).

I hopped on to the Indy airport’s free wireless.  That’s nice, free wireless.  But the screens one goes through to find the button to log on are, clearly, purposely confusing, and try to seduce you into downloading movies or games or who knows what.  Eventually I found the very small hidden button allowing me to log on.  Triumph, and no money inadvertently spent.  Heck yah, I’ll navigate a maze for free wireless.

As long as I was web surfing while eating, the connection was great. Lightning fast. But once I decided to write this post?  Barely any service.  Wordpress took forever to load, there was only one little bar in the connection icon instead of a bunch, and I gave up and switched to Word.  And started writing this post with the words, ‘This is irritating.”

9:00 PM

Now we’re in the air.  I left the restaurant at 7:03 PM, plenty of time to get through security and to the gate for the 7:50 departure.

But now the departure sign said we’d be leaving at 7:20 PM.

WTF?

Just a touch worried that I might miss the flight after all this, the stronger emotion was a healthy skepticism.  But still I moved “with alacrity” as we who assisted at est events were once urged to do.

The security line was, to my relief, like a ghost town.  No waiting.  It still took a while to get through, since I travel with a bipap machine (for sleep apnea) which always has to be tested for explosive residue.  The woman manning the xray machine just sat there looking at something in one of my bags for so long, and with such a blank expression, that her colleague at the metal detector asked, “Are you sleeping over there?” (My question exactly, but I didn’t think it prudent to make any antagonistic comments.)  Once they finally were done with me (the bipap still just a bipap), a very brisk walk took me to the gate. 7:15  and the boarding process was just getting under way.

Hah! I was right.

Once in that tube you walk through to actually get to the airplane, gridlock.  No movement.  The captain came out and told us that we couldn’t leave the runway until 8:15 and that there was no air conditioning on the plane and it wouldn’t be fair to make us sit in the plane under those conditions.  (Well, that’s a lot better than the horror stories of hours on the runway I’ve heard.)

So back to the gate area.  We finally took of a bit after 8:30 PM.

Meanwhile, I ran into a colleague from DePauw whom I like very much.  We had a great chat diagnosing some of the many ills of DePauw’s money-draining purchase of the Walden Inn in Greencastle and the Inn’s current ineffective management.  That settled, we moved on to what each of us would be doing and attending in New York this fall break week.  It was a great way to pass the time.

All my problems should have such a happy ending.

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