Stages, Stagecoaches, Airplanes, and Old Europe
(This is the final post as part of a project involving the International Festival Society for my projects this summer–many thanks to Mr. Joe Piropato.)
Europe, Round Two: Concerts
Two trips to Europe with two weeks between, in Cleveland and in Princeton. The first was in the presence of Martha Argerich and Sergei Babayan. The second was for my own concerts. The atmosphere is of course very different as such–it is tricky for a pianist to be on the road and find adequate time to practice. Chopin, for example, found great difficulties in the days of stagecoaches in which transcontinental travel took months–he had in one instance three days to practice “as he never had before” and to get into shape, physically and mentally. But, he did not have to do so too many times, as his lifetime total of concerts (upon which his reputation as one of history’s greatest pianists rested) totaled only 30. Liszt, however, gave over 2,500 concerts in countries that reached as far as Turkey and Russia. Thankfully I had neither to travel by stagecoach, nor by ship, but I was still in a constant state of wondering the condition of my peak performance. I wondered about my friend and upstairs neighbor in my building in Cleveland’s University Circle, Daniil Trifonov–he gives over a hundred concerts a year and is seemingly always on the road.
In my days in Berlin, hours upon hours at the piano were a great pleasure, because my host Klaus has in his living room one of the ten-foot Fazioli concert grands. It will eventually go into a new hall that will be built as part of the KlangAkademie Berlin, which will include the world’s first holographically acoustic hall. For now, I was able to enjoy this great instrument with its prismatic range and its four pedals (it includes two variations of “left pedal”).
The streets of Berlin have become a familiar homey sight. I have felt very excited and lucky that in my life, everywhere I go, I have been hosted by wonderful families or individuals, who invariably seem happy to open their homes, their lives, and to share everything. Out of all of my hosts, Klaus is surely one of the most generous.
My concert in Berlin was hosted by my friend Matt Rubenstein–this concert series was a lot of fun to be a part of. An intimate venue in a piano shop, the concert instrument is showcased with a backlit display. I started out with Schubert and Beethoven. By the time the intermission came around, the heat of the hall and the energy of the performance soaked my jacket, which I removed for the second half. I wasn’t thrilled with my performance of the Schumann Second Sonata in the second half, so I nicely hid away in a ventilated back room away from the (albeit very enthusiastic) crowd. Matt and I spoke about all things related to stage, and these musician to musician talks are always great fun. I noted later that it was probably one of my best performances of the Beethoven Sonata Opus 10#2, but all I could think about was wanting to play the Grieg and the Schumann better.
A train journey from Berlin to Vienna via Prague was long, over-crowded, poorly ventilated, and we were in the middle of a 100-degree heat wave. If I felt stifled, I can only imagine living in the days before air conditioning–after all, most people survived, and as such, pianists performed in halls.
My time in Vienna was similarly indoors due to the extreme heat wave. Practicing indoors was a great refuge, and I had wonderful instruments on which to play–it was though I had been given a new, infinitely larger palette with which to paint.
A Very Distinguished Crowd
I gave a private recital in Vienna before an invited audience in an estate near the edge of Vienna, near the woods. Luckily, all of the program went much better than in Berlin, including the Grieg and Schumann pieces. There were ambassadors, prominent politicians, including the President of the Austrian Parliament, Barbara Prammer, and there were actors and movie directors. Perhaps most exciting for me was the presence of Samy Molcho, who along with Marcel Marceau was one of two famous mimes in the 20th century. He spoke to me at great length with great admiration for my playing and my presentation on stage. He also gave me a lot of food for thought on the subject of necessary pride in one’s self and work on stage. He called it the “Me.” It seems to me that whereas performance on stage is essentially a self-less journey, the presentation framing it is not.