Protected: Echoes of a Grand Age: Cleveland’s Vanished Euclid Avenue

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“Living the Classical Life”: Why Bother?


Filming in Ohio: the early days were filmed as a portrait of me: there was not an idea for interviews yet.

An Accidental Start:

“Living the Classical Life”. So, what is it? Why do I bother hosting it when I should be practicing piano? How did it start? Why should anybody care?

The show seeks to illuminate the world of classical musicians, to interest new audiences, and to provide hope and wisdom for aspiring musicians from the experiences of seasoned performers. It is neither a blog nor vlog, nor merely an internet venture–though sometimes, for lack of category, people have referred to it as such.

Few people know it started out as a filmed portrait about me that accidentally turned into interviews within a series. Some of my closest friends in Oberlin wanted to help establish a short film to put on my website, but after filming in Ohio and in New York, it became clear that I was asking others about their paths, so Peter Hobbs and Elyria Pictures created an interview series out of footage of me with my close friend Joshua Roman, cellist. The first few episodes were derived from similar material. The early incarnation of the show was called “Zsolt Bognár and Friends” until the rebranding.

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A Half-Light between Heaven and Despair

Wilhelm Kempff's mountain-top estate is today the home of the Kempff Foundation Beethoven Courses

The view from Casa Orfeo: Wilhelm Kempff’s mountain-top estate is today the home of the Kempff Foundation Beethoven Courses. He built the home especially for the purpose.

Two years ago, I was in Positano for an unforgettable period in October 2013–somehow the sense of awe was so much that I could not bring myself to write about it until now. Every year, eight pianists from around the world participate in an intense two-week course on the interpretation of Beethoven Sonatas, which were a specialty of the great German pianist Wilhelm Kempff. These take place in the Amalfi Coast of Italy, which is of a jagged, stark beauty. Started in 1957 by Kempff, the courses are today led by the very illuminating Bernd Goetzke, who was the final pupil of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. I was very ill for weeks before I arrived, and was still very unwell during my stay; the impressions were nevertheless for a lifetime. Anybody who has had any type of extended convalescence understands the type of transformation that one goes through–almost as though a soul has aged through years of wisdom in sped-up time that simultaneously seems frozen while going through it.

Kempff was a master at spiritual illumination of music, and a poetic messenger of its essence. He was at his best in concert.

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) was a master at spiritual illumination of music, and a poetic messenger of its essence. He was at his best in concert.

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A Winter Journey: The Making of a Recording in Berlin

The b-sharp Studios in Berlin

The b-sharp Studios in Berlin, where I recorded with Grammy-winning producer-engineer (“tonmeister” is the appelation in German) Philipp Nedel

What’s in a recording? The published reviews for my debut CD recording were dizzying, but I had had a tremendous amount of help from fellow musicians with the psychological preparation. For me, this sense of calm made all the difference. So, what was required of the intense world of the studio? Many of my colleagues have written to me to ask how I did it, and so I recall those intense three days in December 2010 here. It seems the feeling among all of us is that the stress of an unfamiliar process necessarily means a meltdown, given the costs involved. How does one not get bogged down in an impossible pursuit of committing perfection to disc?


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Have Piano, Will Fly

Musicians are great at freaking out, especially in the face of deadlines. Notes have to be learned and settled. The calm but sharp focus required ahead of concerts feels frighteningly ethereal. Memory has to be checked continually. So, what if you are scheduled to join a family vacation for two weeks, in the two weeks leading up to concerts in Europe? I did not see canceling a rare family vacation to Athens, the Greek Islands, and Rome as a happy solution at all. Had I not been sick for a very extended period this spring, I would have been ready for my concerts by now. But I wasn’t. I was at a total loss for what to do and feeling unwell about it.

The problems with bringing a piano began in Cleveland. Photo Tom Bueno

The problems with bringing a piano overseas began in Cleveland. I had no clue what to do. (Photo Tom Bueno)

The solution was suggested to me by Elizabeth DeMio, and then I remembered that Christopher O’Riley does this regularly and advised me in great detail–to fly an instrument over there. Great solution, but the problems only piled on from there. I had to think though, that over 100 years ago in 1909, Rachmaninoff sailed to New York by ship and was so nervous to premiere his own Third Concerto that he brought a silent dummy keyboard to learn the notes. He disembarked the ship and went straight to the rehearsals with the NY Philharmonic, and the conductors were none other than…Gustav Mahler and Walter Damrosch.

Rachmaninoff--pictured here in Amsterdam--took a dummy keyboard with him when sailing overseas

Rachmaninoff–pictured here in Amsterdam–took a dummy keyboard with him when sailing overseas. I don’t think he would have blogged about it though.

Many colleagues of mine have asked how I pulled this off for solutions for practicing on the road. I’ll keep and update a brief blog about practicing here on a traveling instrument through Europe. Cellists and violinists do this all the time. But cellos and violins are lighter.

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