Posts in Travelogues and Studies
Echoes of a Grand Age: Cleveland’s Vanished Euclid Avenue

At one time, Cleveland was the host to more millionaires than any other city in the world, and they all lived on Euclid Avenue, described by travel guides and America's voice Mark Twain as "the most beautiful street in the world." A glimpse reveals cultivated and manicured lawns with sculptures from around the world, quadruple-lined with handsome American elms, and a parade of 400 mansions in every style, some unbelievable in size.

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My Search for the Old Russian Soul

When I was 23, I embarked on a feverish journey in search of the old Russian soul–if one can call it that. Every evening at 5pm, I locked myself in and immersed myself in Russian music, cinema, art, literature, biographies, history, and even the language, until 4or 5am each morning. This went on for many months, and I share some of the gems I found here–perhaps some will be a revelation. I imagined there were arcane truths and spiritual awakenings and unprecedented discoveries of arresting beauty passed down through the ages in the very soil and air there. Here I limit myself to discoveries on Youtube, and a couple of images that captured my imagination and have stayed with me ever since–it’s really too many to take in all at once here, but perhaps something will resonate with you. I would love to hear about favorites of yours, as surely you have many to add?

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Reflections on the Lake

If you were placed next to two living legends for a week, would you feel inspired, intimidated, overshadowed, amazed, or all of the above? I am still processing a period I just had at the Martha Argerich Project at the Lugano Festival with these two great musicians–memories that will last a lifetime. Two years ago, I had a similar opportunity with the two, but this was even more intense, more incredible, and more inspiring. Still, the lull after such a period is admittedly an enormous comedown.

Because of my close proximity as page turner for the rehearsals, recording session, and concert, I again have to severely limit what I can say publicly so as not to be intrusive into the private workings and process of what I witnessed. But I can say that these are the two hardest-working musicians I have ever witnessed.

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Pennsylvania Station: Destruction of an American Masterpiece

It was a masterpiece of American architecture that evoked the great halls of Rome and the palatial railway stations of Europe, and was a crown jewel in New York City. At its peak in 1945, it handled 100 million travelers a year. Its destruction in 1963 after only 53 years provoked international outrage and was considered a “monumental act of vandalism” and started the historical preservation movement in the United States, saving Grand Central Station from a similar fate.

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Friendship with an Artist: Kaupo

Usually the most illuminating friendships–the ones that inspire us and change us–are the ones that happen by accident. I first met award-winning Estonian photographer Kaupo Kikkas through his famous portraits of the composer Arvo Pärt. I was drawn to the inner radiance, peace, and loneliness of his language–the same qualities that draw me, for example, to the works of Franz Schubert and the paintings of Edward Hopper.

When my publicist Jonathan Eifert suggested I arrange to have more photos taken of me, he first suggested Kaupo. It was a dream that I thought would be out of reach–the cost, and the ocean between Cleveland and Estonia. As it turns out, this photographer is a highly sensitive, perspicacious artist who connects first and foremost with people and subjects. I wrote to him, and thanked him for the inspiration I got from his work.

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A Half-Light between Heaven and Despair

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.

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A Winter Journey: The Making of a Recording in Berlin

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?

My album was released last October–in fact three years after I recorded it. I was starting to think the disc would never see commercial release, even if this was a labor of intensity to which I had given everything of myself. Surely this sense of not feeling needed by the musical world or otherwise is familiar to many of my colleagues. There is rarely a market for new voices in a world that no longer buys CDs in the volume it once did.

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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 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.

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“God is in the (Philadelphia) Details.”

The great German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe once said about buildings that “God is in the Details”. If that is so, then Philadelphia has shown me that its essence as a city takes flight in the timeless beauty of its decorative elements.

I have been in Philadelphia for two weeks for an extremely intense period of study with Robert Durso, with whom I studied this summer in Princeton and with whom I shared a concert here in Philadelphia in March. Because of long daily walks to lessons from where I am staying on Walnut Street in Center City all the way north of Fairmount in the Museum District, I have had a chance each day to take pictures along the way. This was a very time-consuming project, but the beauty of the city made it worth my time, and gave me all the photos you see below. All the photos are my own.

Eastern State Penitentiary was a Quaker prison, and America’s first penitentiary (the idea of reformation in total isolation). Prisoners never saw each other or were made aware of the others’ presence. It was in a wagon-wheel spokes design and ran from 1829 to 1971. Al Capone was briefly here, and the location is one of the most luminous and haunting I can imagine.

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Stages, Stagecoaches, Airplanes, and Old Europe

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.

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106 Degrees of Princeton: Golandsky and the Piano

A mere week in Cleveland separated two trips to Europe, and between these was a week in Princeton I cannot ever forget. This intense week impressed in a lush setting for the Taubman approach for piano at the Golandsky Institute. I truly had no idea what I was about to experience.

The return to reality after spending a week with Martha Argerich and Sergei Babayan at the Lugano Festival was offset by the hosting of a very old friend for the week in Cleveland. We prepared simultaneously for our respective musical projects in rehearsal sessions lasted into the wee hours every night. I wonder how productive the piano world would be, if in fact everybody had such practice buddies.

I must admit that I was flooded with apprehensions that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere, as I headed to Princeton. “What is the Taubman approach to piano playing, and why do I need to study it intensely for a week?”

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After Lugano-The Loire: Wine, Chateaux, and Roses–to Stormy Cleveland by Night

From Lugano to Tours in the heart of the Garden of France in Tours–wine country, a journey to see chateaux, cooking feasts, cool summer evenings, and a journey back to Cleveland to see the tall ships. Although my Lugano project blog finished with the Martha Argerich Project, there were so many people who requested more photos and tales of my travels, that this photo-post from France came about. The dream-like experience and lushness of central France is unlike anything elsewhere~

Departure from Lugano to Milano and then to Paris via airplane. Not a full flight and no excessive announcements, so I was able to sleep. SNCF and its horrendous disorganization should be sued for incompetency, but the train itself went like a dream, topping 300km/h. My teacher and I spent most of the ride in the dining car over espresso and old-recipe butter cookies.

I had arrived to Tours first in 1999 on July 4, exactly 14 years to the day before my arrival this time. The city had an other-worldly, sequestered feel to it–almost as though quietude and removal were hallmarks of the locale.

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