"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Brahms

watershed . . .

"Joy" planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

“Joy” planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

Sometimes the term, “watershed” is used to describe a moment when things “before” and “after” are markedly different: water shedding in different directions. In hindsight, it feels to me like this “watershed moment” has been coming on for some time, a long time it seems. Without going into detail, it’s more of a holding than anything else for me which then manifests itself in all kinds of outer events, actions and ideas: like downscaling Christmas from a huge extravaganza to a very modest (almost nonexistent) one.

For whatever reason, I have begun to understand that I wanted to compensate for shortcomings that occurred (for all of us in one way or another) in my childhood or young adult life. Neither of my parents was around much in spirit even when they were present, and I think that I took that ball and ran with it with my own daughters. Whatever my parents didn’t care about nor did for me, I did for my kids. In spades. Now that I am still active but moving a bit slower, I’ve taken stock and it seems it’s time for me to discard that mode and live a much simpler life.

That doesn’t mean that I’m bored or unhappy. It just means that so much of the energy, time and resources that I have applied to “helping” my kids is probably too much both for their sakes and especially for mine. I want to live simpler and formulate a routine that gets me outside to take walks when the weather permits, to clean up the garden and to tend the many plants that have suffered through a Darwinian phase (“survival of the fittest”,) which, laughably is what I think I am doing for myself right now (to survive as fit as I can.)

I’ve already begun last week to cull through my vast music library of CDs, reorganizing them by pianist (Richter, Argerich, Hewitt, Lewis, Gould, Pires, Tureck, Haskil) and by composer (Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky) and listening a LOT to music that I have known so well growing up and which I got away from listening. For example, I remember listening to Khachaturian violin concerto and Shostakovitch 5th Symphony a lot when I was in high school. Now, I play my favorite music aloud on speakers, or use earphones during football games on TV. Talk about multi-tasking: I still manage the remote for the ads that come on the Patriots game while listening to Schumann or Scriabin via the earphones in my head. A little disorienting but not bad.

More than ever, I feel that music is truly the great mover that endlessly nourishes the spirit. No matter if one is rich or poor, with someone or living alone, there is nothing like music to elevate mood, enrich perspective and to just keep company with us, each and every day. A pianist who had dinner with us on Saturday suggested some early recordings by Sviatislav Richter (Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Brahms 2nd with Erich Leinsdorf.) I loved listening to them–thanks to I-Tunes. The technology of being able to search I-Tunes, purchase recordings, copy them to a playlist is so facile it amazes me. I had the Leon Fleisher Brahms recordings but have now added these two Richter recordings to my music library–what a revelation they were! He uses pedal a lot in his Bach recordings and I also listened for the first time to some Brahms sonatas he recorded that I’m unfamiliar with.

In parallel, I’m experimenting with a piano list to practice and learn new pieces, an idea to practice a new program every 3-6 months, or maybe in a year’s time. Although a little arthritis is showing up in my left hand, the rest of me, especially my brain and ear, still seem to be intact, at least, most of the time.

Anyhow, this is a monumental watershed for me in the beginning of December, a time, when I’m usually projecting to spend DAYS preparing for the holidays. Now, whatever happens, happens. I feel a little sad to give it all up, but not as sad as I might have expected. And I have discovered that honesty compensates for all the things I thought I had to do to make other people happy.

Now, I can let them find their way while I follow my own path “not taken” as much as I might have up to now.

A new day. A fresh start. Let’s see what little leaves grow from last year’s box of Joy.

new growth in last year's "Joy" planter . . .

new growth in last year’s “Joy” planter . . .


music “binges” . . .

piano handEver since I was young, I’ve been prone to going on music binges. What that means is that I listen over and over to music that I love, entering a world of tonal joy and ecstasy. I think this kind of visceral and emotional response to music runs in my family, actually, since there are a lot of musicians in the lineage on both my mother’s AND my father’s sides. I’m a pianist and have perfect pitch. My younger sister is a violist and violinist who has played professionally her whole life. I have a first cousin who is a cellist who studied with a famous teacher at Yale before going to medical school and becoming a pathologist. The three of us have played chamber music together on a few occasions in the past.

Be that as it may, it doesn’t really account for these binges that I’ve had where I discover for myself a composition or a related set of pieces and then play them to death. In those days, we didn’t have earphones so I would listen to music as a teenager, holed up in my bedroom with a 33 rpm player. Some of my favorites as a music nerd from that time were Rachmaninoff’s Symphony #3 with the heartbreakingly gorgeous third movement and clarinet solo that was and and still is “to die for.” The opening repeating octaves of Brahms’s Symphony #1 are thrilling every time I listen to it. Other favorites at the time included Leon Fleisher’s recordings of the 1st and 2nd Brahms piano concerti recorded with George Szell; David Oistrakh playing the Khachaturian violin concerto and Jacqueline Du Pre, Daniel Barenboim and Pinchas Zuckerman playing Beethoven trios together when they were still young, vibrant and brimming with life’s exciting possibilities.

Believe me, it was another era in music. It was before Jacqueline du Pre’s career and life were cut short by multiple sclerosis. It was during a time when du Pre and Barenboim ran off to Israel and got tempestuously married with Zubin Mehta taking on a Jewish name so he could attend their wedding. It was before Pinchas Zuckerman divorced his flautist wife, Eugenia and married Tuesday Weld. And it was before Jacqueline du Pre’s life ended in her forties, her erstwhile husband, Daniel Barenboim having secretly abandoned her for a Russian pianist, Elena Bashkirova with whom he had two sons in Paris before du Pre passed away. I’m recounting this history because it illuminates how life takes turns we don’t expect, people change and find other people to love and life sometimes seems unfair.

But come back and listen to du Pre’s famous recording of the Elgar cello concerto conducted by John Barbirolli (who himself was a cellist) and you won’t feel so bad. Her sound and phrasing are incredibly moving. I read online that while playing piano trios together, du Pre (cello) and Zuckerman (violin) shared an unspoken kind of musical intuition that was different from that of Barenboim (piano) who wrote down markings all the time. The other two didn’t bother to note anything in writing but would “take off together” musically on occasion while they played, neither of them able to articulate how it happened or why it worked so well.

Some of you might have heard of the gossipy book and movie made by du Pre’s sister, Hilary after she died. It stars Emily Watson, and whether parts of it were true or not, certainly maligned the cellist’s personal reputation while giving air time for her sister, Hilary. Why do people do this? One of Hilary’s daughters countered her mother’s account, saying her father was serially unfaithful, even while carrying on with Jacqueline during the last years of her life. What family does this to each other in the public’s glare? Why was it important for Hilary to get her digs in after Jacqueline du Pre not only died of multiple sclerosis but whose talent was so glorious? Maybe that’s why. Daniel Barenboim, who doesn’t come off very well no matter how you dice it, was said to have asked plaintively, “Why couldn’t they wait until after I was dead?”

I also read that William Pleeth was with du Pre when she passed away from MS at the age of forty-seven. Pleeth was her teacher for seven years and was a prodigy himself. He was the youngest scholarship student at the Leipzig conservatory when he entered. At the age of fifteen, he had not only learned all of Bach’s cello suites by memory but also had thirty-two violin concerti under his belt by that time. I didn’t even know there were that many violin concerti, familiar only with about a dozen of them. My father was an amateur violinist who would play excerpts from the familiar Mendelssohn violin concerto, especially the poignant melody from the second movement that knocks me out every time I hear it. It’s not only lovely to listen to, it reminds me of a much simpler time in our family’s life.

Other musicians have had incredible lives as well. Anne Sophie Mutter, the premier German violinist who made recordings with Herbert van Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic was married for a few years to Andre Previn, believe it or not.  Lorraine Hunt was a violist and didn’t begin singing seriously until she was in her thirties. She then began a trajectory of concerts and recordings (Handel arias) that were cut short by cancer when she died at the age of fifty-two.

By now, you’ll have noticed that my binges include reading about musicians’ lives as well as listening to favorite recordings they have made. With the advent of I-Tunes, I can now satisfy my OCD-ness by listening to and comparing a number of renditions of a particular piece or movement online without even having to purchase them. Last night, I came across a recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Suites for Two Pianos, recorded by Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire in 1985. It’s an astounding set of movements played with top speed (Argerich) and yet amazing technique and clarity. Argerich has been married three times to two conductors and a pianist. A daughter was born from each union. In the meantime, I’ve always thought that Nelson Freire was in love with her the whole time anyhow even though they were good friends while she went through her marriages. They have not married, but I read somewhere awhile ago that he moved into the townhouse next to hers in London where they live side-by-side. In recent clips, you can see that they both smoke like chimneys while they keep on playing piano music together.

Maybe musicians’ lives are no more or less passionate than other people’s. Maybe actors and theatre people’s lives are similar. I don’t think there are many people who could/would learn thirty-two concerti, never mind that many pieces by the time you were fifteen years old. Daniel Barenboim has survived the approbations of his marriage to and death of Jacqueline du Pre. He’s aged and is now in his early seventies. His wife, Elena Bashkirova doesn’t seem to have aged much at all. It’s noticeable, though, that in their photos, she either has her arms around him, leans in or otherwise is saying with her body language, “he’s mine!” In a 2004 interview, Barenboim was quoted as having asserted that “I don’t think she knew!” referring to Jacqueline du Pre and his affair/family with Bashkirova before she died. As though that’s what he thinks might have mattered the most to her? or to anyone else besides himself?





to do list . . .

ball mumsSome might consider this hiatus of waiting for surgery and then recuperating from surgery to be a time of waiting. Not so, I say to myself after returning from my pre-surgery exam yesterday.

Last night, for some reason, I found it hard to fall asleep and so my mind wandered around and about to take stock and to reflect about what I want or need to do with my time. First of all, I’ve gone through the exercise of putting my affairs in (better) order, talking with my daughters and husband about how they may help each other after I’m gone and going through what I would like each of them to have and also feel free to swap at will. Who knows, I might last a long time after this, but that very intimate task is done, at least a template is in place and can be tweaked every so often. That’s a big load off my mind.

So last night and today, I’m thinking about what I would like to take note of during this chunk of the year while I’m getting back on my feet. Here’s a to-do list that I’m thinking about right now:

1. Be sure to hydrate (drink lots of water) and cut down on bread, butter, potatoes and sweets so that I maintain the weight I’ve lost so far and don’t hapzardly gain a few pounds. Eat more fresh salads with the yummy dressing that I make up ahead of time (garlic slices, olive oil, Marukan seasoned rice vinegar, fresh lemon juice, a little sugar). Handful of mesclun and baby arugula, sliced large fresh mushrooms, ripe pears, marcona almonds, goat cheese. . . like that. It’s so easy to fall back into eating heartier (and higher calorie food) just because it’s tempting to do during this fallow period.

2. Read about recipes and preparations for ramen noodle broth; fixings and condiments; same for soba noodles. Read my Japanese Farmhouse Cookbook, Momofuku and Ivan Ramen Noodles to introduce new dishes into my cookery menus; cold salads and condiments on the side. I love to cook and while I’m slightly limited now, I can still reframe and renew the ideas I’m used to cooking and slowly introduce them into the mix of what we eat.

3. Read lots of books that I enjoy, not what I think I should read. I still have “War and Peace,” “The Tale of Genji” and “Remembrance of Things Past” in the bookshelves, the bindings still tight. I mean, I know I should read “Anna Karenina” but her plight is somewhat dated and I’m not interested in swimming in such deep literary waters. I’d rather dip my reading toes into more enjoyable fare: perhaps Mona Simpson’s new novel that is due out in mid-April. I am still catching up with Lorrie Moore’s “Birds of America” anthology of short stories before I venture towards her new book, “Bark,” which, in the NY Times Book Review sounded like an extraordinary effort towards using puns around the word “bark”–which, if you must know, don’t interest me that much. Lydia Davis, who won the Booker prize for her short stories last year is a writer from Northampton nearby and fun to read every once in awhile.

I used to love to read mysteries and may embark upon re-reading some of the Georges Simenon mysteries which I heard were being re-printed; fun to read about Inspector Maigret and his wife while he solves crime all over Belgium and France. I also enjoyed the Dorothy Sayers series of Lord Peter Whimsey mystery novels. Maybe when I try them out again, they will seem dated, but we’ll see.

4. High on my list is to play the piano with my wheelchair drawn up to my Steinway piano named “Victor.” There’s tons of Bach that can be read without the use of pedal ( my right ankle is gonzo right now.) One of the oscar-winning documentaries was a half-hour film called “The Lady in Room 6” which is about the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz Sommer, who died at the age of 110 two weeks ago. In it, she can be seen joyfully playing Bach Inventions on her Steinway upright piano. She has enormous hands and plays with a calm and sprightly musical aspect. While she was incarcerated in the camps, she took it upon herself to learn the complete Chopin Etudes, very difficult pieces for a pianist. I figured if she could do that, the least I can do now is to learn some new repertoire myself while I’m recuperating. So that’s an inspiration. Take a look at the film if you want some perspective on how nothing matters except love and music.

My own piano to-do list includes sightreading pieces and excerpts from Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, Inventions, Italian Concerto, Fantasie,  French Suites, English Suites, Partitas; Chopin concerti; Brahms concerti; Beethoven sonatas, Rachmaninoff Preludes; Scriabin Prelude, Op. 11, number 11. It might be good exercise for me to play everyday at intervals and use my back, arms and hands.

5. I have four big balls of Noro yarn left over from three vests that I made for a family up in Minneapolis. I think I’ll use a new criss cross pattern to make a piece of some sort for myself to commemorate this happening in my life–something nice to look at and also to keep warm in while reminding myself how lucky I will be to survive this Spring of 2014. It will be fun to figure out how to do it out of the remaining yarn that I have to work with. I gave the spectacular multi-colored vest with patchwork pockets to one of my daughters last weekend. She looks terrific in it and although in my mind’s eye, I thought I would make it for myself, it’s too colorful for my little brown wren personality so it will be perfect for her to wear when she’s teaching her French classes. When she returns next week for a visit, we’ll take a photo and post it.

That’s as far as I have gotten today. Little by little enjoyable things to do. That’s one of the lessons I am learning too: to be more patient, to take care of myself as only I can, and to enjoy something each day.