Podcast #1 - Beethoven Leonora Overture #3

My first attempt at podcasting! Who is Leonora, and why are there three overtures bearing her name? Click on the word "podcast" below, and hear me discuss the opener of our season's opener.

Podcast #2 - Billy Joel's Symphonic Fantasies for Piano and Orchestra

Those of you expecting "Uptown Girl" or "Just the Way You Are" will be very surprised. (Maybe we should have called the piece, "We Didn't Start De Falla"......)
In this podcast, I discuss the Pennsylvania premiere performance of the piano man's latest opus.

Greensboro Trip

I've returned from a week-long trip to my old stomping ground, Greensboro, NC. I was their soloist for their season opener, playing "Rhapsody in Blue" under the baton of my successor as music director, Dmitri Sitkovetsky.

I had a great time. I got to see many dear friends. It brought back a lot of happy memories of my time with that orchestra. The reception I got from the players and patrons was overwhelmingly warm. The music making was relaxed and fun. Dmitri is charming and lovely.

One of the highlights of the week was a chamber music program on Friday night with Dmitri and several of the GSO musicians. The subscription series are on Thursdays and Saturdays, and they always perform chamber music with the guest artists in between. I performed the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio (for piano, clarinet and viola), as well as the Dvorak Piano Quintet, which I had performed earlier in the summer with the Fry Street Quartet. The concert was at UNCG's School of Music recital Hall. What a beautiful facility. I was very envious. Again, the concert was a joy, giving me the opportunity to make music in a more intimate environment with some very dear friends, as well as with Dmitri, a world-class violinist. (An interesting note: Dmitri was unable to bring his Stradivarius violin with him from London, due to airline restrictions, so he ended up borrowing a violin from Sam LeBauer, a doctor friend who luckily owns a Galliano fiddle. Dmitri made the most of a less than perfect situation - it's not easy to suddenly work with a different instrument - and played beautifully.)

I must admit that I arrived in Greensboro with some nervousness. How would the orchestra sound? What would working with Dmitri in this role reversal (last time he was soloist under my baton) be like? Would the orchestra be pleased to see me? How would I play (I don't perform as a concerto soloist often)?

I am pleased to say that my apprehensions were unfounded. The orchestra sounded terrific. Dmitri was a gem. It felt just like the good old days with the players. And, yes, I think I played very well.

Concertante's Opening Concert

I'm back from a lovely family vacation with my parents on Cape Cod, the children are in school, and it's back to blogging!

I had the pleasurable experience of attending the opening concert of Concertante last night at the Rose Lehrman Auditorium at Harrisburg Community College. The program featured a quintet by Boccherini, a world-premiere sextet by Lowell Liebermann, and Elgar's formidable Piano Quintet, with pianist Anton Nell. My wife, Marty, turned pages for Anton (she looked great). I sat with two of my favorite people from Public Radio WITF John Clare and Dick Strawser (Both of them have interesting blogs, the links for which are on my links pages).

The playing was excellent. There is something special about a group of first-rate musicians who have played together regularly for many years. The ensemble is refined. Timing is so crisp and uniform. This is a terrific group.

I particularly liked the Liebermann Sextet. It was haunting and moving, accessible without being banal, and quite lovely. It did end rather abruptly, almost as though the composer ran out of steam. But this didn't detract from what was a superb premiere. The players poured their souls into it, and the audience clearly reacted.

What struck me in the car ride home was something that I've heard from many of my friends about attending my concerts - that their enjoyment of the concerts is greatly enhanced by knowing me personally. Anton Nell (a marvelous pianist who can play anything, and well) and I collaborated a few years back on Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto and made a nice personal connection. One of Concertante's cellists Zvi Plesser and I collaborated on a cello and piano recital last year and have become good friends, and I have met and chatted with Concertante violist Rachel Shapiro on numerous occasions.

Now, I consider myself a fairly discerning and knowledgeable music listener, and I would think that the music itself would be the sole criterion for my enjoyment of the concert. But knowing these performers added tremendously to the concert experience for me. I'll even go further in saying that knowing the other players would have made the concert even better. It's not that I felt nothing from those I didn't know and something only from my friends - that an gross oversimplification. Rather, I was able to get an extra level of enjoyment from the players I knew. I could see their familiar personalities reflected in the music. Most importantly, their performances enhanced my existing understanding of them as people - I got glimpses of new parts of their souls. And I felt pride in knowing them.

This is not news to me, no thunderbolt epiphany. In fact, it is one of the guiding principals of my approach to music making and to music directorship. The more the audience knows me as a person, the better they will enjoy my work as a musician. This is one of the reasons I always talk to an audience onstage before performing, and why I love doing the talk-backs after our HSO concerts. These sorts of concert enhancements chip away at the separation that is always somewhat present in a concert setting. For the same reason, I generally don't mind the interruptions at dinners out and the encounters with patrons at the grocery store. It all goes toward strengthening my relationship with my audience.

One last reflection on the concert. There should have been more people there. I am always baffled and saddened by the lack of audience support that many arts groups get here in Harrisburg (particularly chamber music). The music is easily on a level with what one would here in the great performing venues of the world - in fact, this concert is being repeated at Merkin Hall at Lincoln Center in NYC. The audience size last night was respectable, but should have been much larger, especially given the added attraction of a world premiere by a major composer.

Maybe the players should talk more....