mulberryshoots

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

Tag: Marc Andre Hamelin

Ronald Smith, English pianist . . .

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Ronald Smith‘s playing of Alkan‘s “Concerto for Piano” is so thoughtfully wrought – majestic, musical and just plain gorgeous. We came upon a snippet recording of it on YouTube David Dubal’s 30 minute interview of RS and were astonished that we had never heard this performance before. Up to two nights ago, my husband and I had thought only Marc-Andre Hamelin’s two recordings of it stood as the gold standard of this piece which, truth be told, was the composition which embraced the early days of our courtship.

Now there’s room for this beautiful recording. I had to track it down in a 2004 EMI remastered compendium of Ronald Smith’s ALKAN PROJECT on Amazon.com and download it as a MP3 recording. (I tried to find it again to link to this post but was unable to locate it.)

My husband was an Alkan “nut” when we first met over twenty years ago and although the Internet was not around then, he had amassed almost all of the Alkan scores and CDs of pianists playing Alkan at the time: John Ogdon, Raymond Lewanthal, Marc Andre Hamelin and Laurent Martin. He also had a copy of Ronald Smith’s two-volume biography of Charles Valentin Alkan.

When we travelled to England to visit my daughter who was a graduate student at Cambridge University in 1994, my husband was able to contact Ronald Smith on the telephone, a gracious encounter – and we also had dinner with the Secretary of the Alkan Society in Salisbury when we first arrived.

Ronald Smith has done the musical world a service worth its weight in gold by promoting the music of Charles Valentin Alkan. There is none other as poignantly beautiful. Thank you, Ronald Smith!

a brave new world of music! . . .

Xmas 2005-Spring 2006 579_2_2Well yesterday, with a $6 adapter for my Mac laptop that I ordered from Amazon and from watching YouTube videos on how to connect and program my system preferences, I was able to hook up my computer to our large-screen HDMI TV!!

This may not sound like much, but what it opens up for us is the ability to play YouTube clips of pianists playing the piano: in Van Cliburn competitions, in concert hall recitals as well as viewing videos from individual and other websites. Up to now, I thought that ITunes was the limit, being able to listen to sample clips of various pianists and then being able to download a single selection for a nominal fee, make playlists and send them to friends. Now, there are live performances online that haven’t been recorded on a CD that are FREE and can be viewed on a large screen TV.

Since this new arrangement yesterday, I viewed and listened to these performances:

  • Van Cliburn in 1958 live performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto conducted by Kiril Kondrashin (who also conducted recordings with Sviatoslav Richter.) Watching this incredible event nearly brought me to tears.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHbPDDoVXtQ
  • Jack Gibbons, an English pianist that I had not paid much attention to before, playing Charles Valentin Alkan’s “Concerto for Solo Piano” – and I heard inner voices that I had not noticed before in Marc-Andre Hamelin’s two recordings of the same piece. It turns out Gibbons performed it in Carnegie Hall in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this composition! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-YXdfKK4J0
  • Marc-Andre Hamelin performing with Leonard Slatkin playing George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” a favorite since my college days wherein I even fiddled around with some of the jazzy parts on the piano myself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxUHcXUJZgY

Last night, G. and I watched the 1993 Van Cliburn piano competition (2 hours) downloaded from YouTube on our TV screen, enjoying what was, in our minds, the most impressive group of pianists we’ve ever seen on Van Cliburn competition DVDs (the ones where Andre Schub and Olga Kern won the gold medal had a paucity of contestants compared to this group.) Nearly all of the contestants played well. AND, there was more footage of actual piano playing throughout the stages of the competition so that the viewer could gain a sense of individual pianist’s strengths, unlike the fluff piece that just came out on PBS called “Virtuosity,”which was more like a reality show of pianists (how many dresses did you bring with you?) Here’s a link to the 2 hour 1993 Van Cliburn competition video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DevG2ENlTbw

Do you remember the techie in that old James Bond movie played by a very young Alan Cumming who says “I am inVINC-ible” right before the whole place goes up in flames?? Well, (without the flaming out part,) that’s how I feel when I make progress at a snail’s pace in our technology driven world.

I may be a little tardy coming to this technology party, but believe me, I’m staying late!

 

 

 

how we met . . .


If my husband and I had met when we were younger, we wouldn’t have paid that much attention to each other. I was a goody-two-shoes dean’s list student at an ivy league school. At the same age, G. had hair down to his shoulders and played keyboard in a local rock band that is still well known in this town to this day.

We were both pianists: I started at the age of three, trained the Lechetiszky method by a renowned Russian pianist, Professor Basil Toutorsky (see basil toutorsky) who had 22 pianos in a mansion on 16th Street in Washington. G. was virtually self-taught, went to Berklee School of Music for awhile and played rock and roll, jazz and rhythm and blues. He didn’t get interested in classical music until he was in his 20’s and then shifted his interest to the complete works of a 19th century French composer named Charles Valentin Alkan. Alkan’s piano works are so difficult that very few pianists can play them. Marc Andre Hamelin, a Canadian pianist, has recorded most of his works. Recently Hamelin composed and recorded his own variations of Alkan’s compositions, if you can believe it.

This is all by way of describing how different and how similar we were at the same time. We both loved pianos. We courted to Alkan’s music played by Marc Andre Hamelin. And we met over a piano.

Although I loved the piano, my professional career was in the field of biotechnology (eggs in one basket). Offered a new job, I had just moved to central Massachusetts to a pristine modern condo facing the lake that ran through the town. When the movers put the piano in the living room, they attached the lyre which holds the pedals but forgot to tighten the surrounding hardware.

I looked in the Yellow Pages and found an ad with a handsome logo of a grand piano with the description, “Specializes in Steinways.” When G. arrived at the door of my new condo, I was distracted, on the phone with someone at the office. I was also not interested in getting involved with anyone, having just gotten divorced from my first husband whom I was married to for 26 years.

When we had a cup of tea after he adjusted the lyre, I said, “Let’s just be friends, okay?” He smiled and said, “We already are.” A few months later, I invited a pianist named Ken that I met at a gallery opening to give a piano recital at my house because I was new in town and thought it might be a good way to meet people. It turned out that Ken had been G’s client for over 20 years. The two fell busily to discussing and deciding what to do to improve my Steinway piano for the recital!

Long story short, the recital took place in May. I had put a deposit to buy the condo on the lake when G asked me to think about renting the 2nd floor apartment in his Queen Ann Victorian house. I thought about it for awhile and decided that if there was going to be a chance for a future between us, moving into the house would tell the tale. If it didn’t work out, I could always move somewhere else afterwards. He and his men helped me move out of the condo and got me settled into rooms with a view in the gorgeous house that he had restored for the past twenty years. During this time, an elderly woman who attended one of our piano groups commented enviously to me that living in two apartments a floor apart was ideal–independence and privacy along with the intimacy of being a footstep away from each other.

One day in August, a month after I had moved in, I walked hurriedly into the kitchen, my arms full of groceries. When I turned around, I gasped in surprise because there, in the living room, was a small vintage harpsichord with cherry keys and applied carving on the legs. To paraphrase what Renee Zellweger said to Tom Cruise in the movie “Show Me the Money”: “He had me at the harpsichord.”

We took our time and got to know each other for four years before we married. Once decided, we wanted to marry privately at City Hall, just the two of us. Flowers were delivered to the shop on the first floor of the house. Wedding rings were Fed-Exed from Tiffany’s. Downstairs, none of G’s workmen in the piano shop suspected a thing.

It was a snowy day and I called the Town Clerk to see if he was still there. We read our own vows and returned home; changed our clothes and still the guys were clueless. G. went out to tune a couple of pianos in the late afternoon while I cooked our wedding supper.

Later in the year, we threw a big party with a formal ceremony for family and friends on May 11th. The only way we could keep track of these two anniversaries was to remember that it was the 7th of March and the 11th of May or,. . . seven/eleven.

G had never married and I had been married for a quarter of a century to someone else by the time we met. Whenever I say to G. that I should have left my marriage earlier due to all the trials and tribulations, he quickly disagrees. He believes, and I concur, that had even one thing been different in our pasts, that we might not have met each other at all.

Timing is everything, it seems, even if it takes awhile. We just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Together with the four years we knew each other before we were married, we are going on being together for twenty years. Life is long, and we are grateful to share ours together.