Category Archives: Eric Edberg performances

My mother, so present in her absence, at last night’s concert

“I’m not quite sure how to follow that!”  The audience laughed.

Nariaki Sugiura had just finished a virtuoso performance of Alan Jay Kernis’s Superstar Etude No. 1, a rock/classical mashup of a piece, which included Nariaki leaning over and using his (shoeless) left foot on the keyboard.  Very theatrical and really energizing.  Talk about pianistic athleticism.

The concert began with a solo set by Nariaki.  He’d also played a movement of a Haydn sonata and two Cowell pieces.  And then this bombastic entertainment, which the audience loved.

So as a kind of transition, I told a couple of stories.  How my mother and Laura Sias, the strings teacher at Parker Elementary School in Royal Oak, Michigan, conspired to get me started on cello.  How I agreed, with my own eleven-year-old silent conspiracy, to play, knowing that if I refused my mother would be on my case for not trying.  If I played for a few months, however, I could then say I didn’t like it, and my mother would be off my back about playing an instrument.

The joke was on me, though.  I liked the cello and kept playing.

(Despite several attempts to quit, when I’ve been frustrated with my playing, or with myirregular practice habits, with my performances, with the anxiety attacks before (and occasionally during) performances, with the depression and self-recrimination that has sometimes followed performances . . . I always came back.  At some point, I quit quitting.)

Anyway, here I was, almost 43 years later, playing a concert.  About to perform the Schumann Five Pieces in Folk Style for the first time. As I wrote about yesterday, as a boy I used to fall asleep listening to the Pablo Casals recording of them.

Nariaki and I started playing.  And my mother was suddenly very present for me.  A pianist, she was my first accompanist, and we performed together for years.  A wonderful mentor and colleague as I became an adult and a college music professor myself.  We used to love shop talk.

Now, parts of her brain experiencing the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia, she’s in a (lovely) memory-care facility.

Her grandson, my son, visited her Tuesday.  At first she started to introduce him to others as her husband, then when Pete interrupted to say he wasn’t her husband, she said he was her son. He tried to explain he was her grandson, but she ignored it.  “She did not want to be corrected twice,” he told me.  “Her social sense is still intact.”

Howard Hanson (a major 20th-century composer who was the head of the Eastman School of Music for years) visited the University of Tampa when she taught there, and she was the piano soloist on a concert he conducted.  The poster is on a wall of her room.

Now she conflates him with whatever composer she is playing.  So she told Pete about Beethoven visiting her in Florida and the concerts they did together.

I hadn’t played in Greencastle since last summer (I was on sabbatical for the 2010-2011 academic year/concert season).  My parents moved to Greencastle about four years ago.  I’d taken Mom to every concert I’d played here since–and she’d played a few herself.  So this was the first time I’d sat in that church with my cello and not had her there.

And I was playing these pieces that I used to listen to when I started playing the cello.  My 11/12 year old self was very present.  The music is so beautiful.  Memories of how much I loved a particular passage started flashing into my awareness, more strongly than when we rehearsed.

My love and gratitude for my mother, who’d gotten me playing, who’d always supported me, who’d played with me, was so strong.

She was so present for me in her absence.

Somewhere in the first movement, I started to cry.  I held it back, but I was on the brink.  Teared up, for sure.  Afraid I’d lose it.

I didn’t, though. I got through the Schumann, and the rest of the program, just fine.  Had an especially good time playing the Saint-Saëns Concerto and Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango.  

I’ll see Mom Saturday. I’ll take my cello, the cello she and my father took out a second mortgage to buy, and we’ll play some pieces together. She can tell me about her concerts with Beethoven, or whomever.

I’ll probably go over to my ex-wife’s house and cry after that.

(There’s more to say about the experience of last night’s concert, which a friend not there asked me to write about.  When I started to write this post, I didn’t know that it would be about missing my mother. There were many other dimensions, of course–and, writing muse willing, I’ll write about them soon.)

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Filed under Dealing with dementia, Eric Edberg performances, family life, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Nariaki Sugiura

Oh! I’m playing a concert tonight

That's Nariaki. I'm the guy above!

Ha!  I have a little block (maybe more than a little) when it comes to promoting my own concerts.  So I’m just getting this up the afternoon of the show.

Tonight, pianist Nariaki Sugiura and I play a recital as part of the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, which I started about seven years ago and continue to (barely) organize.  There have been stories in the Banner-Graphic (the Greencastle, Indiana paper) and on the DePauw site.

It will probably be Nariaki’s last concert in Greencastle for quite a while.  He starts a new faculty position at the University of North Dakota next month. He’s a fabulous young pianist, who just finished (or is close to finishing) his DMA at Indiana University.  He was the accompanist for Janos Starker’s cello studio for several years, so he knows the cello repertoire inside out.

He’s a delightfully flexible collaborator, too.  Sometimes when a pianist has worked a lot with a famous artist or teacher, he or she will want everyone to play the way the great one did/taught:  “Starker does X!” “Mr. Rose always made a ritard here.”  “Alisa Weilerstein plays this tempo.” So what?  We are playing, not them.

My favorite was when in my own doctoral-student days I was rehearsing the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations with a pianist and triumphantly nailed the final variation.  I sighed, smiled, and looked up at her.

She’d been listening to a recording. “Rostropovich plays faster,” she deadpanned, in her not-yet-fluent English.

With Nariaki, though, it’s always starting fresh, and I like that.  He’s never asked me to play like Starker or anyone else.

Nariaki starts things off tonight with a solo set.  He begins with a vivacious Allegro from a Haydn piano sonata, followed by two short programmatic pieces (“Banshee” and “The Harp of Life”) by the American composer Henry Cowell (1897-1965), and then a piece by a actual living composer: Alan Jay Kernis’s Superstar Etude No. 1.

The Kernis is wild and crazy.  A hard act to follow!

But I’ll give it a try.

Together we’ll play the Five Pieces in Folk Style by Robert Schumann.  I think it’s the first time for both of us, certainly for me.  I grew up listening to these pieces as performed by Pablo Casals.  As I explain in the press release included here, the first cello record I was given included these pieces.  I’d listen to them, or the Schumann Cello Concerto on the other side, almost every night as I went to sleep. (I had an automatic turntable, which would turn itself off when a record was over, in my room.) At some point in my teens, I decided to wait until I was an adult to learn and perform them–I thought it would be nice to “save” them.  Last week, thinking about tonight’s program, I decided now is the time.

That got me thinking about other childhood pieces, and the Saint-Saëns A Minor Concerto started floating through my head.  An album with Leonard Rose playing it, along with the Lalo Concerto and the Fauré Elegy, came into possession early in my cello life as well.  I got to meet Mr. Rose in 1973 after a concert, and he autographed the album for me.  I was with another cello student and he signed it, “Hello fellow sufferers!  Greetings, Leonard Rose.”  The Saint-Saëns Concerto was one of my favorite pieces.  I haven’t performed it since 1989–it’s out of fashion to play concertos with piano accompaniment, although this was done all the time in the 19th century as well as the pre-World War II era in the 20th.  So why not?  It’s such a terrific piece, and it sounds great with piano.

We finish off with Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango, which he composed in 1982 for Mstislav Rostropovich. They didn’t get around to performing it until 1990.  So I definitely didn’t grow up listening to it.  But I love Piazzolla, and this piece is enormously fun to play.

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Filed under Eric Edberg performances, Greencastle Summer Music Festival, Nariaki Sugiura

Tonight (3/16): Weber & Beatboxing & Juggling &, &, &

If you’re a cellist or cello-music lover, you’re probably familiar with the delightful Carl Maria von Weber Adagio & Rondo, arranged for cello and piano by Gregor Piatigorsky. Lovely & fun short virtuoso salon piece.

It probably never occurred to you that what it needs is a beat boxer beatboxing during the Adagio and a juggler juggling during the somewhat circus-like 6/8 Rondo.  Me neither. Sounds like great fun, something very different. Talk about alternative presentation of classical music!

Luckily, it did occur to the minds behind the New York musicians’ collective the International Street Cannibals.  Who have invited me to perform with them.  So I’ll be playing that Weber-Piatigorsky piece, with beatboxing and juggling, as part of tonight’s 8:30 PM program, “&,” at St. Mark’s in the Bowery, an important NY alternative performance space as well as an Episcopal Church (directions and Google map).

Lots of other music and performance art on the program, including the slow movement of the Schubert Death & the Maiden quartet, the timbres darkened by having the second violin part played on viola and the viola part played on a cello.  (I’ll be holding down the actual cello part on a cello, albeit a carbon-fiber one.)  There will also be a Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue performed by the awesome pianist Taka Kigawa, the wonderful composer Gene Pritsker’s new Sex & Death, Dan Barrett‘s arrangement of Heart & Soul . . . and much, much more.

The music is all something & something.

And it’s music & dancing, music & juggling, music & devil sticking, music & . . .

No wonder the program is titled, simply,

&

Wednesday, March 16
8:30 PM
St Mark’s in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street, NYC

Admission $15

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Filed under alternative classical performance, alternative venues, Eric Edberg performances, non-traditional concerts