Monthly Archives: June 2011

Promoting a concert with YouTube videos

I mentioned in my last post that I asked John Kamfonas to make some videos in which he discusses the music he’s performing at Wednesday night’s Greencastle Summer Music Festival concert.  (Hey, if you’re within driving distance of Greencastle, Indiana, the concert’s at 7:30 PM, at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, and it’s free. Directions here.)

Inspired by a project in Greg Sandow‘s Juilliard class (which Greg was kind enough to let me sit in on) this spring, I asked John to talk to the camera about what he loves (or is afraid of, or something else personal) in the pieces he’s playing.  He did a great job of talking about and demonstrating the pieces, as well as editing the video.  We both thought the videos about the music itself–as effective as they are–turned out less personal than we had intended, so he made the first video below as a personal introduction.

The idea we’re trying out is to promote and present concerts in a way that presents an alternative to the classical-music-is-formal-and-boring-and-classical-musicians-are-stiff-and-dull impression many people have.  I can’t say how much I appreciate John going for it.  So here are his videos, starting with his introduction.  Comments welcome!

Thanks and congratulations again to John.  The daunting thing is that I’m playing in two weeks, so now I have to practice what I preach!

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, John Kamfonas (piano), YouTube

Adventures in Concert Presentation: John Kamfonas at the Greencastle Summer Music Festival Wednesday

John Kamfonas

John Kamfonas is a young pianist (early twenties–to me, that’s young; he’s about my son’s age).  He’s playing tomorrow (Wednesday) night on the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, a series of 12 Wednesday-evening concerts I organize (or as the say in NY, “curate”).

To me, John’s a great example of a next-generation musician.  He’s a terrific classical pianist, who just received his Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music (MSM).  (Which is where I met him, when I sat in on some guest presentations at the MSM Center for Music Entrepreneurship). He also improvises and plays in a rock band.

We ended up sitting next to each other when a large group went out for burgers and beer after a presentation by David Cutler, the Savvy Musician himself. When John told me about his improvising and rock lives, I thought he might be great to invite to play in Greencastle. I love his musical diversity, and his youth and rock-music interest might appeal to a younger-than-usual audience. To me, the question for classical-music presenters and performers is how to we attract younger audiences and maintain artistic integrity?  One part of the answer is presenting young performers (with whom young audiences can identify) who play classical and original and/or non-classical music.

So while I was in NY, John, at my invitation, dropped a CD off at my building (ah, how nice it was to have a doorman!) and sent me an email proposing a program with improvisations, classical music (Brahms, Liszt, and Hadjidakis, the latter arrangements of Greek folk tunes) and some rock music–improvisations on Michael Jackson tunes.  Sounded great, and since he’s young and didn’t need a big fee (yet), we could afford to fly him in.

We’re having a “Meet John Kamfonas” pizza party tonight for college and high-school students in town.  That’s proved to be a bit challenging.  There are relatively few DePauw students on campus for the summer, since we don’t have summer classes. I don’t have the contact information for that many of them, and have had to recruit my kids and their friends to pass on Facebook invitations.  I also had to ask friends to host the party at their house, since I don’t have a piano.  They are big supporters of the festival, so they were happy to do it, but I hate asking for help with stuff (something I’m working on).  Since I just got back to Greencastle a week ago, and was shy about asking someone else to host a party, word may have gotten out too late for a big turnout.  We’ll see.

I also asked John to make a YouTube video or two we could use to introduce him–he made four!  I don’t know how much of a difference they’ll make in a small town, but I do know that a number of people appreciate videos on concert venue websites as they decide whether a concert is interesting to them.  This is something Greg Sandow talked a lot about in his Juilliard class: both using videos and having performers talk about themselves and what their personal connection to the music.  They’ll be in my next post.

Meanwhile, in addition to Facebook invites and email invitations, there’s been an article in the local paper and it got picked up by the DePauw site.  My guess is the the DePauw PR director decided to do a story on it because presenting a program combining classical music, improvisations, and Michael Jackson relates to my sabbatical research.

I’ll let you know how the party and concert go!

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Filed under attracting younger audeinces, audeince building, Center for Music Entrepreneurship, Festivals/Series, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, John Kamfonas (piano), Manhattan School of Music, Sandow, Uncategorized, Young Performers

Now I REALLY Love New York (But Greencastle Is Lovely today)

So all these people who know me, and my propensity for brooding-Swede depression, are worried about my emotional health, being back in sleepy, small Greencastle, Indiana, where there are about 8,000 adult residents, just a few restaurants, and a Wal-Mart.  I loved living in New York so much.  And developed some great friendships.  Went to all those concerts.  And classes.  And presentations.  And plays.

What  am I going to do in Greencastle this summer (besides running a weekly concert series, playing on some concerts, cleaning out my mother’s house–and mine–and what not), they want to know.  A difficult case of New-York-withdrawl, return-to-Greencastle syndrome is, obviously, widely predicted.

Today of course, is a day I would love to be in New York: the legislature passed the same-sex marriage bill last night, and Governor Cuomo signed it. Gay marriage has been affirmatively legalized.  “Gay marriage”–that’s really a kind of bullshit term.  Civil Unions–those are a kind of second-class things, gay marriage that really isn’t.

What got passed in New York isn’t gay marriage;  it’s really marriage for everyone.  It’s the government acknowledging we all count.

When you grow up being harassed, called a faggot, believing that you’re a “faggot” and not a fully-human, “normal” person–well, it takes a lot of work to recover from that.  Really, for some of us the emotional scars are always there, something you learn to live with but that never disappear.

So when something like this happens–when through the political process, even Republicans vote for equality–it’s not just a well, finally sort of reaction.  Somewhere, deep inside, it feels like the State of New York saying, “Eric, you are equal.  You are really one of us.  You’re not a less-than-fully-human other.”  Parts of me always know this.  But there are parts I keep discovering that don’t.  So it makes a difference.  Not just to the thousands of couples who want to get married.  But to all of us who are healing from centuries of being treated like shit.  It’s great to be treated like a full human being with a full set of rights.  And imagine the difference it makes for young people.

I would have loved to have been at Sheridan Square last night, with the anti-riot, celebratory crowd outside the Stonewall Inn.  In late June of 1969, the harassed patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against police oppression and an energy was unleashed that is culminating in the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the clearly inevitable establishment of equal marriage rights.  Last night, late June of 2011, a big party, not a riot, outside the same bar, to celebrate a major accomplishment.  That I would loved to have been part of, not just read about.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting on my front porch in Greencastle. It’s beautiful. Sunny day, not too hot, birds making a wonderful sound collage, with distant lawn mowers in the background.

My next-door neighbor and I made coffee for each other this morning: she with her relatively new espresso machine from Italy, me with my amazing Aeropress. Later, I walked to the courthouse square, bought food at the Farmer’s Market, and greeted old friends. Talked about how great the New York marriage news is with a (straight) colleague, who is excited as I am.  Got invited to go to a basketball game in Indianapolis tonight, and am going with old friends and my son.

There’s a lot that’s wonderful here. Friends.  Family.  Soon, in August, students and engaging work.

I’m definitely OK.

And, on this Gay Pride weekend in New York, I more than kinda wish I was there to celebrate it in person.

Because today, more than ever, as beautiful and embracing and pretty and calm as Greencastle is, I really love New York.

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Filed under and everything, being out, gay issues, life in NY

Allen Ginsberg (Indirectly) Solved My New York Dilemma

I wrote a while back:

The thing I like least about New York is that you have to harden your heart to panhandlers.  I live near a “hotel” for very-low-income men.  There’s always several on the street, especially at night.  There’s a young woman who sits in a subway station, reading, with a sign, “unemployed and pregnant.”  I want to give money to each of them–but if I did, I’d go broke in an evening.  So I am doing that don’t-make-eye-contact thing, ignoring another human being as I pass him on the street.  I don’t like that.

David Spelman (whom I met when we were both sitting in on Greg Sandow’s Juilliard class), read that and sent me this:

My friend, the poet and Dean of the spoken word scene, Bob Holman, shared a Ginsberg story with me recently. . . walking down the street, Allen said something to the effect that:

“You may give money to a beggar, or not give money to a beggar.

“But don’t always give money and don’t always not give money.

 “What you always do is make eye contact and acknowledge your mutual humanity.”

That was just what I needed to hear.

So much of life is about human contact.  It’s very easy to be lonely in a city of millions of people, homeless or homed, employed or not.  Ignoring people on the street–people who approached me–gnawed at me. I’m such an all or nothing person. I can’t give money to everyone, so ignore them all (as so  many do).  And, to be honest, when you’re on your own in New York, sometimes the only people who talk to you are asking for money.

But I just didn’t know how to deal with it.

And then Allen to Bob to David to me: a practical, balanced, human way to handle these encounters. I found it liberating. The part of my heart that was closing off reopened.

While I was still living in New York this spring (I got back to Indiana Tuesday morning), some days I’d have some extra change, or a few singles, in my pocket, was prepared to give, and was happy to do so.  Giving away money is enjoyable for me (so is spending it, which may be related to the lowness of my savings and net worth).

When I didn’t have extra money, or my inner sense was this was the day or the moment to give, I’d follow Allen’s advice.

Make eye contact. “Sorry, man, I can’t help you tonight.”  (Sometimes I wanted to confess, “I’ve been in New York for five months and spent all my money and am living on credit cards!”)

Almost always, he (or, less often, it was a she) would . . . thank me. More than once, I got back a smile and a reassuring “that’s OK.”

Yep, the street guy reassuring me.  Acknowledge your mutual humanity.  It works both ways.

I gotta go read some Ginsberg.

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Filed under and everything, life in NY, Sandow

Emily on music as our birthright

From Emily Wright, writing about stage fright:

Finally, it’s good to remember what music is. It’s not something churned out of a conservatory, or reserved for only those who “deserve” it. It is our human birthright, and part of all of us. Who, in the history of anything, did it perfectly every time? And would we want that anyway? Life is short, and good. Enjoy it, even with a little nervousness thrown in on occasion.

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Filed under and everything, Emily Wright, stage fright

Baby Got Bach: Two Shows Sunday

I’ve been in a kind of oh-no-I-go-home-to-Indiana-next-week funk and haven’t gotten myself to write much this week. My daughter keeps reminding to enjoy being here now–always a good idea.  This weekend most of my time is taken up with a big cello playing and teaching seminar in which I’m participating.

If  I wasn’t doing that, I’d head down to the Village tomorrow morning or early afternoon.

One of the most fun events I’ve been to here is Orly Shaham’s Baby Got Bach.  Given the success of the series this year, two more shows were added at LPR, and they are tomorrow at 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM. (And if you hurry over to www.tdf.org, you might snag a discount ticket for the 1:30 PM show.)

No, I don’t have a young kid to take.  But I had so much time hanging out with all the other people’s kids, and feeling like a kid myself last time, it would be great to visit again.

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Leon Fleisher and Jaime Laredo at the 92nd St Y; Inbal Segev and Fernando Otero at LPR

It really was a visit to the past, in a way, my trip to New York’s 92nd St Y to hear Leon Fleisher and Jaime Laredo.

Just the night before, I’d been at [le] poisson rouge where I’d been experiencing one part, anyway, of the future of classical music–a terrific recital by the cellist Inbal Segev, joined for part of the program by the amazing pianist Fernando Otero.

Past the bouncers at the front door, hands stamped, my friend “Cello Mike” and I took a right at the suspended fish tank and headed down the red-lit stairs to the main space.  We wandered around a bit, found two black-draped chairs at a table and stared at the “two items minimum per person” sign on the table.

Segev’s beautiful Rugeri cello was amplified, as was the Yamaha piano Otero played.  Colored lights, spot lights, Segev talking to the audience with a microphone, the music accompanied by cocktail shakers shaking. All streamed live on the Internet.

Me spelling “R-O-B R-O-Y” to a  generally inattentive waitress whose first language isn’t English and didn’t believe me that there was such a drink.  “I don’t think we have that.”  “Yes you do, the bartender will know. I’ll spell it for you.”)  And this, all happening sotto voce, during the performance of Otero’s intense, soulful, and not infrequently stunning Songs for Cello and Piano.  (The rest of the program was two solo cello works: the Prelude from the Bach C Minor Suite and the ever-daunting Kodaly Solo Sonata.)  During that Kodaly, kind of wanting another drink, but not wanting to pay for one.  Luckily, the waitress didn’t come to check if we wanted something else until 30 seconds before the piece ended.  No, we didn’t, and we escaped the two-item minimum.

Classical music in clubs–that’s part of the future. There are advantages and disadvantages.  A cellist friend my age was there, for the first time, and found it all distracting.  Mike, who makes a living busking in the subways and playing just about every possible genre of music, including some classical, said he’d much rather hear a classical concert at a place like LPR than a concert hall.    Dressed in cargo shorts and a black wife beater, he looked perfectly at home in a Greenwich Village club, but would have gotten some stares uptown.  So there you go.

The next night, last night, I put on dress pants and shoes, as well as a white polo shirt and a sport coat, to hear Leon Fleisher and Jamie Laredo at the 92nd St. Y.

Security guards, rather than bouncers, greet you, and you have to walk through a metal detector to get in.  (It’s set to a low enough sensitivity that they tell you to hold onto your keys and cell phone, so I wonder how much good it does.) There’s a lounge area off the concert hall, with a bar, so you can get a drink and snacks there, too.  You just can’t take them to your seat, there’s no minimum, and no servers interrupting you during the music.

The audience was mostly over 40, many well over 50.  As is the case at most traditional classical concerts, I got to feel young.  Dark wood paneling, names of great Jewish figures inscribed over the proscenium (David, Moses, Isaiah), great statesmen (Washington, Jefferson), and great composers (Beethoven, et al) around the top of the walls.  The piano and music stand on a plainly-lit stage.  Two legendary performers–who became legendary decades ago.  The audience quiet and attentive, no clapping between movements.

This is the recent past of classical music, and the role of this sort of concert in this sort of venue in the future is yet to be revealed.

It was a visit to my past as well.  I got a bit dressed up because I knew I’d greet Mr. Fleisher after the concert.  As I wrote about yesterday, I had chamber music coachings from him when I was a student at Peabody, and played principal cello for him in the Annapolis Symphony.  I sat in on lessons once in a while, including a couple he gave my mother.  She had a faculty development grant from the University of Tampa, where she was the piano professor, to work with him on left-hand literature.  “If her right hand works,” Fleisher, whose didn’t at the time, asked me, “why on earth would she want to play this left-hand stuff?”  But she always had problems with her right hand, the result of a childhood injury, while having extraordinary facility with her left hand.

One of the pieces she worked on with him, in the spring of 1980, was the Brahms arrangement of the Bach Chaconne, one of the most extraordinary pieces of music ever composed, from the D Minor violin partita.  I sat there in Fleisher’s studio as he discussed how he approached breaking the opening chords, two notes and two notes, as would a violin.  (I thought, and still do, that if you’re playing it on a piano, play it on the piano and don’t try to imitate a violin.)  There were details of phrasing and voicing and fingerings, how to bring out the key bass notes that are the basis of the variations that form the work.

And it was that piece that was at the center of last night’s recital.  Fleisher and Laredo had started with two Schubert Sonatinas, in in G and A minor.  And then this piece, the piece he coached my mother, now in her dementia dream world, on. It was the first time I’d heard him perform in person with both hands.  Back when I worked with him, the focal dystonia that would cause the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand to snap shut had yet to be successfully treated.  When there was a brief respite in 1982 and he performed the Franck Symphonic Variations with the Baltimore Symphony, I listened to the sold-out concert on the radio, and cried.  The combination of his celebrity, his musical insight, his personal warmth and accessibility (I sat with him at breakfast in the Peabody cafeteria any number of times during my first year there)–I just loved the guy.  There was a kind of a cult around him.  We had his records, some of us, and compared every other pianist (unfavorably) to his two-handed recordings.  And it seemed that at some point each of his male students (including me for a while) grew a beard and trimmed it, narrowly, just like his. (Not so long ago I heard one of his current successful students, and, no surprise, he was sporting a Fleisher beard.)

Whatever had happened to enable him to use both hands at that concert in 1982 didn’t last.  I left Baltimore in 1984, and hadn’t even seen him until last night.  I’ve heard, and rejoiced in, the two-handed recordings he’s made since more successful treatments have worked their magic, and I’ve read his memoir co-authored with Ann Midgette.  So when I read about last night’s concert, I had to go.  I had to see this man who meant so much to me, who taught me so much, who shared his time with my mother.  And I wanted to see him play with two hands, for myself.

He walked out on the stage, the powerful shoulders (he always seemed very muscular to me, and I always wondered if that had something to do with his hand issues) now a bit stooped, the walk a bit slow. Some gray in his hair, but surprisingly little for a guy who is 82.

It was if I’d just seen him yesterday.  What is it about relationships?  Time passes, and yet it’s as if it hasn’t. There he was, Mr. Fleisher.  I felt 23 again.

You get over the personal stuff, and the miracle of the two hands, and the miracle of being 82 and still performing (I know this is hardly remarkable any more, but by the time my dad was 82, a year he didn’t survive, he was so physically fragile he could barely make it to the supermarket, and my mother, at 78, thinks Bach visited her in person), you’re left with the playing.  And as much as anything else, I went to that concert because I’ve loved what I heard in Fleisher’s recent recordings and I wanted to hear him make music with Jaime Laredo.

It was worth it.  Fleisher’s playing is at once supremely lyrical and profoundly architectural.  Singing and structure, in balance with each other. It’s something that’s not at all easy to do, to get that combination right.  There’s a flow that, as he used to work to help us learn to do ourselves, is rhythmic without being metronomic.  His sound is beautiful–rich and mellow.  There may have been more intensity and high drama in his younger years; there’s still a full range, and the music he makes feels both wise and fully alive.

Jaime Laredo is terrific, too.  When I was growing up, my parents treasured his recording of the Mendelssohn concerto.  Somehow, I’ve never heard him before.  He’s got a sound that ranges from soft and delicate to big and energetic, and played with energy imagination.  They both played wonderfully.  I didn’t feel, though, that they were always “clicking.”  The ensemble playing was good; it just never felt magical to me.  The program was originally going to be all piano, and was changed because Fleisher has been recovering from some more work on his right hand, which was still used quite a bit. So I found myself wondering how rehearsed this program was.

The highlight was that Bach Chaconne, after the two sonatinas, just before intermission.  It was insightful, fluid, colorful, deep, dignified without being pompous, and moving.  There was a big standing ovation after it, and no wonder.  After intermission, Fliesher played a two-handed arrangement of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.” I’ve played it in so many wedding services that sometimes I think it will make me scream, but in Fleisher’s hands it was magic.  As he walked off the stage, I thought to myself, “I bet he could even make me like the Pachelbel Canon.

I got to see him, shake his hand, remind him who was (he squinted a bit, in that way he has, and seemed to remember me), and told him what I was doing these days.  He thanked me for coming, and it felt quite sincere.  I let him move on to the next person.  But I forgot to say, “thank you for all you did to help me become the musician I am today.”  So I guess I’ll write him a note.  It’s more for me than for him–I think he knows how much of an impact he’s had on the many young musicians he’s guided.

Life is full of irony.  He plays that Chaconne so extraordinarily well, and includes it even in his two-handed programs.  If those problems with his right hand had never happened, would we ever have gotten to hear him play what has become a kind of signature piece for him, with the mastery and insight that comes from years of performance?  Probably not.  He’d probably be happy to have forgone it.  But that performance last night was so, well, perfect, that I’ll always be grateful. Not just for the playing, but for the pain-tinged beauty he created out of his tragedy.

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Filed under 92nd St Y (Upper East Side), Inbal Segev, Jaime Laredo, Le Poisson Rouge, Leon Fleisher