Opening concert gets Brahms series off to glorious start

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer

Between this just-past Sunday afternoon and a Sunday afternoon next April, eight distinguished members of the faculty at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music will be immersed in a fascinating and noble performance project: to play all the chamber music Johannes Brahms wrote for three or more musicians.

That effort will fill six Sunday concerts to the brim with music and, in the process, probably fill Auer Hall to the brim with Brahms enthusiasts. The audience that came to Auer on Sunday for the first concert of the series had good reason to be excited about what was and what is to come.

The octet of musicians began their “Brahms: An Intimate Portrait” series with the Piano Trio in B Major, Opus 8; the Piano Quartet Number 3 in C Minor, and the String Sextet Number 2 in G Major, more than two solid hours of music. And who are “they?” They, the project participants, are instrumentalists of vast experience and reputation, each also an IU professor with a studio of students: pianists Evelyne Brancart and Norman Krieger, violinists Jorja Fleezanis and Simin Ganatra, violists Edward Gazouleas and Stephen Wyrczynski, and cellists Eric Kim and Brandon Vamos, a stellar line-up to be sure.

Sunday’s program opened with the Opus 8 Piano Trio, both the earliest of Brahms’ chamber works and one of the latest: earliest because he wrote it at age 21, making it the first such composition that he kept rather than destroyed in the furnace; latest because he kept fiddling with the trio over a span of 36 years. And even then, he wondered, according to what he wrote to his beloved Clara Schumann, “It will not be so muddled up as it was — but will it be better?”

We know today that he needn’t have wondered. It’s a gloriously passionate piece of music, intimate when called upon to be but also scored symphonically, with a trio of instruments caused to sound like a far heftier ensemble, a talent for which Brahms had throughout his compositional life. Add the passion that pianist Krieger, violinist Ganatra, and cellist Kim contributed to the score, and what one heard sizzled. Burn, thankfully, the reading did not; everything remained under control, though invitingly heated.

The Opus 60 Piano Quartet also received extended treatment; 20 years separated its first finish and the second. When initially written, Brahms was emotionally torn by friend Robert Schumann’s mental illness and concerned about Robert’s wife Clara and their seven children. The melancholy opening Allegro non troppo set the tone for the quartet, undoubtedly inspired by events in the composer’s life.

Twenty years later, circumstances involving his unrequited love for Clara continued to have an impact on the quartet’s music, especially on the work’s Andante movement, a radiant love song that provides an emotional center for the quartet, one that can bring tears to a listener. Surely it was so as performed by pianist Brancart, violinist Fleezanis, violist Wyrczynski, and cellist Vamos; their interpretation of the music’s stunning beauty made clear why it has become one of the composer’s best loved works.

The six string players of the octet took good care of the Opus 36 String Quartet Number 2, a piece written while Brahms had an aborted love affair with another woman. Some say it was written because, after the break, he felt like a “scoundrel” and needed to assuage his conscience. Whether that worked, who knows? But ours is the reward, another Brahms work of substance and intensity, meat for Sunday’s sextet of talents and satisfaction for an enthusiastic audience.

A propitious opening, this fine concert.

© Harold Times Online 2016

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Menahem Pressler’s Life in Music From Kristallnacht to Lang Lang

by Benjamin Ivry

The German-born Israeli-American pianist Menahem Pressler will be 93 in December. Best recalled as long-time cornerstone of the Beaux Arts Trio, Pressler has since thrived as a solo performer and collaborative musician. He also continues a distinguished teaching career at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University and overseas. “This Desire for Beauty”, a book of conversations with the journalist Holger Noltze, has appeared in Germany from Körber-Stiftung. During a recent stopover in London, Professor Pressler discussed with “The Forward’s” Benjamin Ivry about the importance of music in his life.

Benjamin Ivry: You have described how during Kristallnacht in 1938, your father’s clothing store in Magdeburg, Germany was wrecked. The next day you practiced the piano as usual. Why?

Menahem Pressler: Piano practice for me was the fulfillment of the inner desire to make music. I had a hunger to practice. Music was for me a religion, although you know I am Jewish and was brought up in an Orthodox house.

After you fled with your parents to Trieste, then Haifa, you suffered from weakness and anorexia until two Israeli boys, the cellist Menachem Meir and violinist Nakdimon Tubin, asked you play with them in a trio. This first trio experience proved a salvation. At the time did it matter that Menahem was the son of the then-Minister of Labor Golda Meir?

That didn’t come into the thought at all. After the two boys spoke to me, I asked, ‘What do you mean by a trio?’ It was an overwhelming experience to play a Schubert trio, so exquisite. Menachem Meir was actually a very good cellist, studying very, very seriously. He kept a journal inscribed on the cover, ‘Menachem Meir, the best cellist in the world.’

Your family arrived in Haifa in October 1939, which was quite late, considering that they had contemplated the move for a while. Why did they wait so long?

This was my mother. My mother believed that Hitler was something that would surely be over soon. By the time they decided to leave, in hindsight we knew it was at the last minute.

You were born Max Pressler, and used the name Menahem in Israel. As you point out, Menahem means consoler or comforter, although since Menachem Begin, the meaning may have been somewhat obscured. Why did you retain the name Menahem after you left Israel for America in the 1950s?

As a Jewish boy I was born with the name Max Menahem, so I had my Hebrew name from the beginning. When I was called to the Torah, I had my Hebrew name, which was Menahem. I felt that when I went to San Francisco for the Debussy competition, I felt that I represent the Jewish people and the Jewish state, so I used the name Menahem.

Your teachers in Israel included Leo Kestenberg, an influential music educator who encouraged you to read musical scores through the prism of literature and philosophy. Is this approach possible today when students have less appetite or time to read great books?

The ones who have less time are less educated. They may play the piano more fast and loud for audiences that are less educated. You know the most popular pianist now is Lang Lang, a delightful boy who studied with me a little in Ravinia. You know, culture is not a major aspect for him. I certainly try to influence my students to build an inner life that has meaning. It’s not like a business, to make a living, but to build a life. Like the rabbis, we hope there is a great inner life that is higher up and that, too, I hope for with young musicians.

Kestenberg asked you to call him by his first name, which you found impossible to do, out of respect. Would you ever ask one of your own students to call you by your first name?

Never, and I never could call Kestenberg by his first name. Of course I could not call him by his first name. I never dared to. I regard a teacher very, very highly. [A teacher] is someone in your life who plays an enormous role. To become free of the teacher, who puts you in touch with so many things, means that you grow up inside. You can compare this to a bar mitzvah, when a young boy supposedly becomes a man.

You have discussed the harsh mutual criticism during rehearsals and even performances with the Beaux Arts Trio.. You mention that the violinist Isidore Cohen, who joined the trio in 1968, had problems with “taste,” and had they not been resolved, he would not have continued with the trio. Did seniority give you the status to say who could play in the trio and what was acceptable playing? The previous violinist, Daniel Guilet, would tell you and the cellist Bernard Greenhouse: “You’re peasants, and you don’t understand.”

No, it was not completely that way. Guilet was originally Guilevitch. He came from [a Russian Jewish family] and went through France. When he played chamber music, he was insulting, it’s true, but not to me. I didn’t feel it as an insult, but Greenhouse did. [Guilet] had some fire in his chamber music. I liked that, I took that and learned from it and it deepened my playing. Cohen was another story. His parents, like good Jewish parents, wanted him to become a doctor, so he went to university. He became the oldest violin student on the G. I. Bill. Now he was a man who had idiosyncrasies, and some of them, in my opinion, led to bad things, so I offered my insights. To have Greenhouse as a cellist was a blessing, one of the most beautiful cellists ever. Cohen’s taste was not as pure, and so there would be fights, yes.

You claim that while the pianist Arthur Rubinstein was “enormously talented, a child of the sun,” Vladimir Horowitz was more of a “hothouse plant.” How so?

You see, the example at that time for any young pianist was Horowitz. He played the most unexpected piano. You could not understand the Mazurkas of Chopin the way he played them. Colors came out you never expected to see. With Rubinstein, the beauty of his playing was so natural that when you heard him you felt, yes, that is the nature of the piece, that is the way I would like to play it. Rubinstein came to hear our trio for the first time and told me backstage that when he was told the Beaux Arts Trio was the greatest, he was sure they had to be three Japanese musicians. Instead we were three old Jews playing.

You call your friend the American pianist and musicologist Robert Levin the Talmudist. Why?

First of all, Levin has read more about music and knows more music than anyone I have ever met. So anything about Mozart, he knows, like somebody who can speak 20 languages. He is far, far, far beyond anyone I have ever met.

In Los Angeles in the late 1940s, you performed for such celebrities as Alma Mahler and the conductor Bruno Walter.

At the time Los Angeles did not have any air conditioning. I said, Mrs. Mahler, ‘I’m terribly sorry, may I take off my jacket?’ I was very respectfully dressed. She said, ‘You can undress if you want to.’ I remained dressed. When she spoke of Bruno Walter, she used his [original] Jewish name, Schlesinger. She would say, “Oh, Schlesinger loves music.” Bruno Walter was the most beautiful man, and he said to me that one of the most beautiful things that has happened in our world was the creation of the state of Israel.

With students you often paraphrase a Talmudic saying, “I learned a great deal from my teachers, I learned even more from myself, and I learned most of all from my students.” The Misha cites R. Chanina: “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students.” (Ta’anis 7a). Your version leaves out colleagues; you haven’t learned much from them?

Oh no, that is not what I meant. I didn’t know that about the colleagues, of course I learn from my colleagues. But when I speak of myself, it means I look within myself for answers and find solutions by osmosis. You do not have to spell it out when investigating yourself. With a student, you do have to spell it out, even if many good ones understand immediately.


Benjamin Ivry is a frequent contributor to the Forward:

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Performance highlights summer piano workshop

A highlight of the Edward Auer Summer Piano Workshop was Wednesday evening’s guest recital, given in Auer Hall by Winston Choi who, not so many years ago, earned two degrees from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

A winner of major keyboard competitions and very active performer in recital and with orchestras cross-country, Choi also serves as head of piano studies at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, a division of Roosevelt University.

He happens to be a highly gifted pianist, having studied with two outstanding teachers: Menahem Pressler at IU and Ursula Oppens at Northwestern. His command of the instrument is extraordinary, and he exhibited it from beginning through encore on Wednesday, focusing heavily on the impressionism of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

As a commissioner and promoter of contemporary music, Choi also included two recent compositions. One is a 20-minute piece premiered last year, “Europa,” by Choi’s close friend and fellow IU slum, Jonathan Howard Katz (a commission). The other is “Agalma” (a promotion), written in 2008 by French composer Jacques Lenot.

The whole of the concert must have been taxing, to say the least. But Choi seemed energized by the self-imposed challenge. He spoke in behalf of the contemporary works and, when Katz’s “Europa” was about to be played, he first switched the spotlight to Katz for a composer’s perspective. The title “Europa,” he explained, refers to Jupiter’s moon, “one of the prime candidates for the existence of extraterrestrial water,” a substance that apparently interests the composer for its qualities and mysterious presence here on earth as well as on that distant orb. The music, heavy on ripples and scales, suggests something liquid and a touch elusive. And if you can imagine the piano works of Debussy as updated a century in dissonance and stylistic quirks, you might come close to capturing the sounds so impressively made manifest by Choi.

Lenot’s “Agalma” approximates so much of the music composed several decades ago featuring plinks, plunks, short trills, if I remember correctly, and carefully timed silences as punctuation. It’s not music this reviewer particularly cares for. Choi played it with all the necessary skill and attention to detail, but he didn’t win me over.

From the works of Debussy, Choi chose the seriously challenging Series 2 of “Images” and the very popular “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune.” Whatever was called for – transparent textures, fluid arpeggios, floating in-the-air sonorities, flutters and ripples – Choi produced with elegance. His strong technique and his sense for control made a listener’s journey a joyful privilege.

The similar demands and qualities called for in Ravel’s piano music — “Jeux d’Eau” (“Play of the Water”) and “Gaspard e la Nuit,” three musical poems based on literary poems by the French writer Louis Bertrand – also profited from Choi’s expert pianism and the introspective and expressive performance he added. Responding to enthusiastic applause, Choi returned to the stage to perform an encore, another work requiring finger acrobatics, Debussy’s Ballade. Radiantly beautiful it was.

Copyright Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer

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Cohen Plays a Masterful Brahms Piano Concerto in D Minor with the San Diego Symphony

by Ken Herman

As San Diego’s Upright and Grand Piano Festival pulls into the home stretch, it was fitting to feature a mighty Romantic piano concerto on the San Diego Symphony’s concert at the Jacobs Music Center Friday (January 29). Music Director Jahja Ling has always favored the popular piano concertos by Russian composers—Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev—but this time he selected Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15.

Arnaldo Cohen [photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony]

Arnaldo Cohen [photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony]

It proved an inspired choice, with Ling and the orchestra boldly complementing guest soloist Arnaldo Cohen’s intuitive, commanding take on this towering concerto of the Romantic canon. According to my records, Cohen last performed in San Diego in December of 2011, a highly successful solo piano recital for the La Jolla Music Society. The Brazilian pianist’s refined, masterful technique realized Brahms’ flamboyant displays with confident assurance, but, more importantly, he portrayed the poetry in the concerto’s reflective forays with soulful insight.

Although the D Minor is Brahms’ youthful piano concerto, we benefited from the maturity of Cohen’s interpretation. After the first movement’s extended, symphonic introduction, which Ling conducted with unrelenting drive and dark determination, the piano’s subdued entry theme can sound underwhelming, but Cohen’s deep touch and resonant sonority gave it the gravitas of the composer’s late Intermezzos. I appreciated that Cohen crafted clear intention into every phrase, and his linear clarity served Brahms’ classically oriented Romantic style well.

Ling underscored the serenity of the Adagio, finding with Cohen a mystical quality the composer’s sober character too rarely portrayed, and they unleashed finale’s assertive rondo with a disciplined vigor that brought the audience instantly to its feet at the final cadence.

Cohen offered Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz as his encore.

Ling chose Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastorale,” to open his program, apparently not wanting to steal any of the Brahms Concerto’s thunder. Especially in the Symphony’s first two movements, the orchestra’s string sections produced that warm, polished sound we associate with the great Central European orchestras, a trait Ling has averred on numerous occasions to be an important goal he hoped to accomplish during his tenure at the San Diego Symphony. This velvet sound, combined with Ling’s joyous, unhurried tempos, allowed these movements to unfold gracefully, replete with noble solos from Principal Flute Rose Lombardo and Principal Bassoon Valentin Martchev. The solid horn section energized the Scherzo, and the first violins and violas reveled in their solo moments in the final movements.

Unlike the other Beethoven symphonies, which end with climactic, dramatic flourishes, the “Pastorale” ends quietly, simply folding up its tent and walking into the sunset. Ling continues to champion this anomaly in the Beethoven symphonic canon, and I can only salute his commitment.

Arnaldo Cohen Bio

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Arnaldo Cohen shines in SD Symphony debut

Piano virtuoso fills in for Horacio Gutiérrez Friday and delivers dramatic performance


©The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Franz Liszt Mini-Fest a hit

ALS performers 620-21Karen Shaw, chair of the Department of Piano and president of the American Liszt Society IU chapter, recently presented “Franz Liszt, Master of the Piano Transcription” in two concerts featuring IU alumni pianists, on June 20 and 21 in Auer Hall. Fifteen guest pianists appeared in solo and duo-piano repertoire, with a finale of a two-piano, eight-hand arrangement of “The Grand Galop Chromatic.”

The festive event drew capacity audiences, and both concerts were received with standing ovations!

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Alumnus Krishna Thiagarajan named chief executive of Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Krishna-Thiagarajan-600x321Jacobs alumnus Krishna Thiagarajan has been named chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO).

Thiagarajan earned both his B.M. in Piano Performance and his M.M. in Piano Performance from the Jacobs School of Music, studying with Leonard Hokanson. In addition, he taught as an associate instructor of piano at the school.

Read the RSNO release.

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Emile Naoumoff attends the UK premiere of his Sacred Concerto for Piano and Choir

Emile Naoumoff travelled to England last week to attend the UK premiere of his Sacred Concerto for Piano and Choir, presented at the Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral by the  Colchester Chamber Choir. The performance was conducted by Roderick Earle who was the initiator of the concert. Naoumoff’s former student Yau Cheng undertook the challenging piano solo part.

Watch a video of the moving performance below!

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Emile Naoumoff & Yau Cheng release new album

Gouvy: Sonatas for Piano Four Hands

Emile Naoumoff & Yau Cheng


emile naoumoffFeaturing pianists Emile Naoumoff and Yau Chang, this Grand Piano release showcases three Sonatas for piano four hands by the prolific composer and eminent member of Frances musical establishment in the later 19th c., Louis Theodore Gouvy (1819-98).  These works, all written in the 1860s, reveal considerable technical command as well as flowing elegance, some of it reminiscent of Schubert and Schumann.  Gouvys considerable uvre, including a large body of four-hand piano music, has been undergoing critical reconsideration and something of a revival on record in recent years.






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Jacobs professor inducted into Hall of Fame

By Alison Graham & Audrey Perkins


Jacobs School of Music professor and pianist Andre Watts has been inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

Located in Cincinnati, the American Classical Music Hall of Fame was founded in 1996, according to its website. The organization “seeks to build and sustain enthusiasm for classical music in America by celebrating diverse facets of classical music excellence.”

Past inductees include Gustav Mahler, Antonin Dvorak, George Gershwin and Yo-Yo Ma.

Andre Watts

Andre Watts

Watts has played before royalty in Europe and heads of government in nations all around the world, according to the organization’s website. Watts received a 2011 National Medal of Arts, given by the President of the United States to “individuals who are deserving of special recognition for their outstanding contributions to the excellent growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”

Watts first entered the music world at 16, according to the organization’s website, when Leonard Bernstein chose him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic in its Young People’s Concerts.

The concert was broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV. Two weeks later, Bernstein asked Watts to substitute for Glenn Gould at the last minute in performances of Liszt’s E-flat Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. This moment, according to the American classical Music Hall of Fame, was when Watt’s career launched in storybook fashion.

Watts joined the music school in 2004 as a faculty member, according to the school’s website.

Watts is an active musician and continues to give numerous performances around the world. He makes regular visits to major summer music festivals, including Ravinia, Tanglewood, Saratoga, the Mann Music Center, Mostly Mozart and the Hollywood Bowl.

The pianist joins fellow professor and pianist Menahem Pressler, who was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame on Sept. 9.

Watts received his honor during his concert Oct. 24 at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, according to the Jacobs School of Music.

“What a pleasure to accept something given to my trio, which I still dearly, dearly love,” Pressler said in a press release. “And knowing that André also received it makes the award even sweeter and more 
important to me.”

Watts was also awarded the MacDowell Medal at the Oct. 24 concert from the Cincinnati MacDowell 

The Cincinnati MacDowell Society is the oldest group honoring American composer Edward MacDowell, who composed during the Romantic Period and died in 1908.


© Indiana Daily Student 2014



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