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Tag: Van Cliburn

path to winning . . .

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Okay, so this is probably the last post I’ll make (for awhile at least) about the 1958 Van Cliburn Tchaikowsky competition. Not only had Russia just launched Sputnik six months earlier at the height of the Cold War, but this was also the very FIRST Tchaikowsky competition ever.

In an interview, Van Cliburn said that he was greeted at the airport by a very nice Russian woman who mispronounced his name – so in Russia, he was known as “Van CLEE-BURN.”

In addition, he said to the interviewer that it was an incredible jury which included world-famous musicians: Dmitry Kabalevsky, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter and chaired by the composer, Dmitri Shostakovitch! Apparently, there were some shenanigans in the scoring that went on as described in the article below – wherein certain jurors were scoring the American with mediocre marks (15s & 16s out of 25.)

Sviatoslav Richter caught on to this and began giving Van Cliburn all 25s, perfect marks while scoring everybody else with zeroes! “Either they have it or they don’t!” Richter was quoted as saying. The jury approached Khrushchev to get his approval for them to declare their choice of Van Cliburn as the winner. On the way home, the stewardess on the plane showed the pianist a copy of TIme Magazine with a pastel portrait of Van Cliburn on the cover.

Postcript:
Liu Shu Kun was a Chinese pianist who placed second in the 1958 Tchaikowsky competition when Van Cliburn won the gold medal. As a pianist, I was introduced to Liu Shu Kun when I visited Beijing in the 1970’s. AND he visited my home in Lexington, MA. in the 1980’s during a trip to the States. Small world, right?

http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/33_folder/33_articles/33_vancliburn.html

the piano . . .

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This summer, I seem to have found my way back to the piano again.

Being able to listen to pianists on our large-screen TV has also helped to inspire me to practice more. After all, when you can witness someone blind from birth (N. Tsuji, who shared the Gold Medal in 2009 Van Cliburn competition) playing Chopin’s first Etude in C major without missing a note, it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself that you can’t even play it at a slow tempo with your eyes open!

The other night, G. and I watched the film taken live of Van Cliburn performing the Tchaikovsky piano concerto in Moscow, conducted by Kiril Kondrashin. His charisma and rather theatrical performance won the hearts of that rapt Russian audience. The jury hesitated before awarding him the gold medal because of the Cold War that was going on between Russia and the United States at the time. And so they asked Khrushchev if he would approve their choice. He asked, “Does he deserve it? Is he the best?” and they said “YES!”

And the rest is history! — including a ticker tape parade celebrating Van Cliburn’s triumph in New York City upon his return to the U.S. Seeing these historic moments are enough to move me to tears every time I watch it. Here’s a link to a Youtube clip of this momentous performance posted In Memoriam when Van Cliburn died in 2013.

I’ve also observed how many really fine pianists there are who are still unknown and who play with so much love for this fabulous instrument! We are so fortunate to have our pianos and it’s wonderful to be playing them again!

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!

 

 

 

before and after . . .


Some of you know that I’ve practiced the piano for a long time. My teacher, Basil Toutorsky, taught me how to practice: read the notes for the right hand, then the left hand. Look at the phrasing lines, the dynamics and then play both hands together. Study only one bar at a time until you can play it accurately three times in a row before you move on to the next bar. Slow and steady. Rigorous. Then, speed it up a little. Practice with the metronome so that your rhythm is accurate. Once this process has been followed for one page, stop there. Go back over that page until the notes and the playing start to make musical sense. Play the entire page three times in a row without mistakes before moving forward to the next page. If you make a mistake on the third try, start over again. This was the drill.

Fast forward to today where my facility for sight-reading sometimes gets in the way of patient study habits. Lately, I’ve been drawn to pieces either transcribed or composed by Franz Liszt. This is a kind of anomaly for me because my favorite composer is Bach. One Liszt piece is called “Liebeslied” when it was written originally by Robert Schumann as a wedding gift for his wife, the concert pianist, Clara Schumann. The melody and the harmonies are simple and very touching. It is also called “Widmung” for reasons I’m not aware of once Liszt took it, added sections and embellished it with his usual fanfare of rolling arpeggios and movie-like thematic blow-ups. When Van Cliburn won his tumultuous victory at the Tchaikovsky competition during the Cold War, he played this piece as an encore. A young Asian pianist, Aimi Kobayashi who looks to be about eleven years old, also played it recently as an encore in Russia. (Click her name for a link to listen to this piece on YouTube.)

Anyhow, back to practicing, there’s usually a point in time, a tipping point if you will, when a piece morphs from a study exercise to a piece of music. This phenomenon happened to me recently, a couple of days ago while playing this piece. It went from a period of time over several months, reading the various sections of the piece and playing all the notes. . . to suddenly playing it with a more intuitive grasp of the piece so that the music flows on its own.

In a way, I was thinking about this as a “before” and “after” — from notes on pieces of paper that are transformed into sounds capable of arousing a listener’s emotions. Even if you’re not a pianist, don’t play a note, or, if you think you’re tone-deaf and can’t listen to music, you’ll get it when you listen to this music and it connects with you.

Nothing better.