Indiana University Bloomington

Norman Krieger garners “majestic” Carnegie Hall recital review

Key Pianists presents Norman Krieger in Review

Norman Krieger, piano; Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
Wednesday, October 17, 2018, 8PM

The fourth season of the wonderful Key Pianists series opened on Wednesday, October 17th with a majestic recital by the American pianist Norman Krieger. Key Pianists has a mission of presenting lesser-known pianists, often stellar in quality, who may not “fit” into the established “star” system.

Norman Krieger

Norman Krieger

Mr. Krieger has everything: technique (of course, one assumes), but one that never calls attention to itself, only to the musical ideas- a truly admirable virtue. He has the thundering fortes (but never harsh, surely the inheritance of his former teacher Adele Marcus) and the breathtaking, whispering piano dynamics, along with everything in between. He has the intellectual probity of another of his mentors, Alfred Brendel. His phrasing is generous, and his elasticity always in proportion. He presents the ideal combination of respect for the score, along with a fusion of the composers’ emotional message without sacrificing the performer’s own passion and point of view.

I can always tell by the first two or three notes if I am going to be comfortable in a recital and really enjoy the pianist. Thus, when the opening arpeggio of the first work of the evening, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 31, No. 2, often referred to as “The Tempest,” was played with absolute perfection, followed by meticulous portamenti, ascending the triad, I was set at ease. The alternation of stormy fast outbursts with the mysteries of the way the arpeggiation is developed were balanced and exciting. I have never heard a more thrilling rendition of the pedaled recitativo sections, which caused me to hold my breath until they were over. The middle movement, Adagio, sang and consoled with evocations of muffled timpani and horns, and the final Allegretto was not rushed, without losing any propulsion or demonic subtext.

Mr. Krieger then had the inspired idea of presenting two sets of preludes by relatively unknown composers. I had never heard a note of Henri Lazarof performed live, only on recordings, and Michael Fine was new to me. The prelude as a free-standing genre piece (not the introduction to something else) has benefited many composers for its concise expression: Chopin, Debussy, Fauré, Rachmaninoff, to name but a few. Mr. Krieger prefaced the performances with well-chosen verbal commentary. In the case of Lazarof, a Bulgarian-born composer who finished his life in the United States, he mentioned correspondences between modern visual art and the late-Romantic and even sometimes twelve-tone language of Lazarof. The three preludes (from a larger set of twelve) were redolent with finely gauged attention to color. Fine, an American-born composer who now resides in Europe, created preludes that are more aphoristic, containing more than a bit of Copland-esque typically “American” atmosphere, something Mr. Krieger said we needed now “more than ever.” His delicacy and wit in these miniatures was delightful.

Mr. Krieger finished the first half with three brief but difficult works by Chopin. First, Chopin’s very first nocturne, the B- flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1, whose debt to Bellini-style cantabile is apparent from the first measure. Once again, Krieger rose to the poetic demands with wonderful variation of the many repeated passages. He followed with two of the etudes, Op. 25, No. 1 in A-flat major and Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor. I have heard the A-flat (sometimes called the “Aeolian Harp”) played with greater delicacy, but rarely greater evenness. Then he gave a truly masterful “no-nonsense” reading of the great C minor (“Revolutionary”) that masked just how difficult it is, so great was his command.

After intermission, just one work dominated: the enormous four-movement Brahms Sonata No. 1 in C major, his Opus 1. This work strains against the boundaries of what a solo piano can do, often sounding like an orchestra. It also contains a nightmarish compendium of technical, musical, and balance problems for the interpreter—we were in good hands however. What amazed me most was Mr. Krieger’s ability within a fast, loud, and propulsive movement (of which there are three in this work) to find oases of great calm and yearning. This allowed me to appreciate how, for a work in a major key, Brahms loves to stray and dwell in the minor mode, typical of his Romantic-era unfulfilled longing. In the second movement, Mr. Krieger captured the sound of the German Männerchor, with its solo call and choral response, through atmospheric pedaling. The exacting leaps of the final two movements posed no apparent problems for Mr. Krieger, as he accelerated to the thrilling conclusion, and rose from the bench with one last release of all that energy.

The audience rose too, as one, and was favored with one encore: Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2, a masterclass on the “art of artlessness” by Mr. Krieger.

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Dominic Muzzi scores in piano competitions


Dominic Muzzi

Dominic Muzzi, a doctoral student of Roberto Plano, has scored big in numerous recent competitions.

This month, he won the gold medal in the 2018 Wideman International Piano Competition, after winning the 2018 Indiana State MTNA Competition in the Young Artist Piano category in November.

Muzzi also was selected as one of the top three candidates from the North American preliminaries of the Hastings International Concerto Competition and will travel to the U.K. in February on scholarship to compete.

In addition, he was chosen as one of the 16 semi-finalists in the Ann & Charles Eisemann International Young Artists Competition for piano. The competition will continue in Texas in January.

Muzzi completed his M.M. with Karen Shaw and was an undergraduate student of Jacobs School of Music alumnus Read Gainsford at Florida State University.

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Review: Pacifica transcends changing of the guard with ease

It seems as if it was painless, even without problems.

That cannot have been totally so. When there are changes in personnel that make up an ensemble, such as a string quartet of long standing, the process that takes musicians away and takes others in simply must be jarring. And the change in the Pacifica Quartet, the Indiana University School of Music’s faculty string quartet in residence, was dramatic: two of its long-time members left for other opportunities at one time. Two successors had to be found at one time.

Well, now the ensemble is about a year into its changed membership. We’ve had several opportunities to hear the altered cast in performance. One can report, or at least I can report: all is well.

On listening to the re-formed Pacifica last Friday evening in Auer Hall, I heard a world-class string quartet that is still a world-class string quartet, performing – as it has since I first had the privilege of hearing this remarkable chamber ensemble live or on recordings – at a supreme and distinctive level of quality. The unifying purpose remains. The precision of attack has not weakened. The carefully resolved interpretation is present. The sense of playing as a unit while allowing individual voices to shine through the total weave has been sustained.

Certainly, one misses the familiar elements, now gone: second violinist Sibbi Bernhardssohn and violist Masumi Per Rostad; they were part of the package we came to know. But violinist Austin Hartman and violist Guy Ben-Zioni as added to the remaining first violinist Simin Ganatra and cellist Brandon Vamos, we’ve discovered, have kept the Pacifica a quartet of equally high stature.

That was once again fully noticeable on Friday when the quartet performed Beethoven’s late String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, and then – with pianist Emile Naoumoff – Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Opus 44.

The Beethoven, one of those unfathomable creations emanating from the interior depths of the composer’s by-then soundless existence, has biographical roots. Beethoven had been gravely ill, even while engaged in writing it. The early movements reflect severe melancholy mirroring his response to the parlous physical condition. And then, Beethoven’s health improved. He changed the content of the quartet, casting away two gloomy movements and replacing them with three totally different in character, one of which he inscribed with the words (translated into English): “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode,” the others with music containing a greater joy to express Beethoven’s rebounding spirit.

Musicians take quite a journey moving through the music brought on by these musings. The Pacifica’s journey shifted powerfully from the sad and wistful and subdued to a hymn of reverence and, finally, to a celebration. Traveling along, one heard an emotional sojourn riveting for ears and heart, the composer’s thoughts distilled. The four musicians interconnected for a tour de force close-up of Beethoven’s super-sensitive mind in action.

The very different Schumann Piano Quintet brought Naoumoff, the Pacifica’s faculty colleague from the piano department, to the Steinway. Professor Naoumoff is an incredibly gifted keyboard technician who easily makes the piano his submissive own. And that he surely did on Friday for a score that balances the pianist against the four string players, making each responsible for an equal share of what the music offers; the pianist provides half of the sound output, the string ensemble the other half. Performance becomes a balancing act.

Friday’s four-versus-one quintet balanced, without doubt. Naoumoff, never afraid to set a listener’s ears ringing, kept his sometimes writ-large interpretive inclinations in sync with his string colleagues for a truly engaging, vibrant reading of Schumann at his most engaging and vibrant. The teamwork proved graceful and jubilant, worthy of the jubilant audience response that followed.

All’s well with the remastered Pacifica and with their concert colleague, pianist Naoumoff. That was comforting to hear and good to let you know, if you weren’t there.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2018


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HT Review: Sunday concerts feature Bach, Schubert, splendidly

Sunday afternoon was graced with splendid music, splendidly performed. At St. Thomas Lutheran Church, the eighth season of the Bloomington Bach Cantata Project got underway. Within the hour after its conclusion, a chamber music series titled “Mostly Schubert” got underway due west on Third Street in Indiana University’s Auer Hall.

Bach in profusion:

The Bach series resumed with installment No. 43, leading one to ask how long these events will last, what with about six or seven programs per year. I was told to never fear, because the productive Johann Sebastian composed about 190 cantatas, and each concert focuses on just one, meaning we have about 150 yet to go.

For those unfamiliar, project performances are compact packages offering that single chosen cantata, on this occasion “Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden” (“Behold, I will send forth many fishermen”). It is prepared and given through a partnership involving the Bach Cantata Project, directed by Wendy Gillespie; Early Music Associates, producers of the Bloomington Early Music Festival; and the IU Jacobs School of Music’s musicology department and Historical Performance Institute. The cantata is performed with historical accuracy. Musicology professor and Bach scholar Daniel Melamed follows with a brief and engaging lecture, and then the cantata is performed again.

The whole package lasts an hour, and it means an hour spent in an intimate church listening to and learning about a piece of great music.

So it was on Sunday when this cantata about a gracious God was musically led by Stanley Ritchie, one of the town’s, and one might say the world’s, most eminent early music specialists. The music fell beautifully and spiritedly on one’s ears, as performed with authenticity and assurance by an instrumental ensemble of 13 and four excellent vocalists: soprano Elijah McCormack, alto Stephanie Reyes, tenor Joseph Ittoop, and bass David Rugger. The message expressed was always present and faithful. So was a strict obedience to style.

For any devotee of Bach and early music, these concerts are not to be missed. The next one comes along Sunday, Oct. 8.

Then, Schubert:

Last season, the Jacobs School faculty shared a series of six programs devoted to the chamber works of Johannes Brahms. This season, we are promised a four-program chamber music series given to “Mostly Schubert.”

The first, on Sunday, featured three works of Franz Schubert, along with an aria by Mozart, “L’amero saro costante” (“I shall love her; I shall be constant”) taken from the opera “Il Re Pastore” (“The Sheperd King”), written when the composer was 19. Why this particular item was chosen for the program, I do not know, except it helped introduce a new faculty member in the voice department, soprano Katherine Jolly, and that alone proved sufficient for the aria’s inclusion.

Jolly’s stage presence is inviting. Her soprano is light and bright, flexible and caressing, very much still in tip-top career shape. Her way with the Mozart aria was lovely, and nicely supported by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Jean-Louis Haguenauer.

The Mozart was followed by one of Schubert’s last compositions, a concert aria for soprano, clarinet, and piano, “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (“The Shepherd on the Rock”), music about nature and love broken and joy in wandering about as springtime arrives. The music is stunningly beautiful, with a couple of melodies that will simply sweep you away. As offered by Jolly, clarinetist Howard Klug and Haguenauer, it definitely swept this listener away; the performance was ravishing and, for introducing Katherine Jolly, revelatory. She’s a catch.

Heard earlier on the program were Schubert’s youthful and lyrical Sonatina in D Major, D.384, handled with aplomb by Kalinovsky and pianist Futaba Niekawa, and the Fantasy in F Minor, D.940, for Piano Four Hands, attacked with gusto galore, feverishly, by Arnaldo Cohen and Emile Naoumoff.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017

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Review: Piano concertos end special series featuring Beethoven’s work

The Summer Music 2017 weeks continued to reach toward a close with part two, the windup, of that significant cycle of programs containing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, presented courtesy of the Edward Auer Summer Piano Workshop.

Sunday afternoon brought a most enthusiastic audience to Auer Hall to hear the remarkable mid-octogenarian Jerome Lowenthal perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major and the distinguished Indiana University Jacobs School of Music piano faculty member Edward Auer, the workshop’s founder and director, finish the cycle with the Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, usually referred to as the “Emperor.” The set made for a terrific Sunday afternoon.

I first came across Lowenthal way back in the LP era at a record shop in Chicago where one could sit for hours in a booth to listen to what was on the laden shelves. It was a recording of piano transcriptions by Franz Liszt of music from various operas. Prominent was “Reminiscences de Norma, transcription for piano (after Bellini),” performed by one Jerome Lowenthal. It was a delight. I purchased it and then continued to purchase his recordings. He’s never disappointed me.

And he’s not done so when visiting here.

This time he happens to have performed my favorite of the Beethoven five, No. 4, which, according to the program notes, he’s just recently recorded with cadenzas by 11 other composers, something I look forward to hearing. The first three concertos, which we heard on the previous program, show the influence of Beethoven’s teacher Haydn. The fourth throbs with expressiveness and fully favors the artistic conscience of Beethoven himself. Its technical requirements are treacherous, not because of any bombast or flamboyance. Quite the opposite. This music is emotionally quiet, radiant, poetic, glowing. And a must for those who play it is absolute finger and pedal control to build an aural dreamscape. That’s what Lowenthal does about as well as anyone around. He’s a master at the dreamy. One word best describes his Sunday performance: exquisite.

The most popular of the concertos is the “Emperor,” a work that draws unto itself every pianist who yearns to exhibit his or her technique. So it tends to become quite noisy in performance, majestically orchestrated as it was for its time and more often than not performed today. However, there can be little doubt that Beethoven didn’t think about chamber-sized performances, pairing the keyboard instruments of his day with an orchestral ensemble in balance with the soloist’s piano of pre-Steinway times.

Well, Edward Auer decided, for his workshop, to use a smaller-sized orchestra, a very good chamber ensemble, one that guest conductor Eugene Albulescu had trained extremely well. As for soloist Auer, we know him as one of our local keyboard heroes, as an important professor in the Jacobs School’s piano department and as a musician of international stature with special affinity for the music of Chopin. But his repertoire is wider and very strong in music of the entire Romantic Age, from Beethoven forward.

The “Emperor,” at its center, features a radiant Adagio of great and quiet beauty, which he played gorgeously, but surrounding that movement is music of greater abandon and excitement and pomp, less like the music Beethoven placed into the other concertos. One can understand its popularity among both performers and listeners. The masterful Auer handled all of the score with nobility and eloquence and befitting force, when called for. The high quality of his playing was what one expects from virtuoso Auer and made for a lovely way to end the cycle series.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017 |

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Review: Naoumoff enchants students at piano academy

Emile Naoumoff, a longstanding professor in Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, understands and controls the keyboard probably as well as the best of pianists anywhere. His technique was on display Thursday evening in Auer Hall as a featured event given for youngsters attending the Summer Piano Academy and, of course, local citizenry with a love for the piano.

Emile Naoumoff

As usual, his technique was formidable and began to capture the crowd with a thoughtful interpretation of Beethoven’s Sonata in F Minor, Opus 2, No. 1, an early composition written while he was still under the influence of his teacher, Haydn. Already, however, the sonata contains themes and developments that foreshadow what was to come as Beethoven’s distinctly Romantic and personal style developed.

Anyone familiar with Naoumoff’s command of his instrument comes with the expectation that he will bring something personal, something different in his interpretation of any piece of music he offers, interpretive touches that are unexpected, touches sometimes that come with extremes in low and loud, slow and fast, rhythmically unique. That can bother or enthuse. On this occasion, he had a most enthusiastic student audience that started to cheer and even rise early. The enthusiasm appeared to be contagious, and virtually all aboard in Auer appeared to be caught up.

From the first time I heard Naoumoff, I’ve appreciated the excitement he brings to everything he plays. Sometimes, I’ve been bothered by his choice of repertoire or how he’s expressed the music being performed. But he has never been anything less than a devoted musician, guided honestly by what forces are within him at the time. On Thursday, all the stars aligned. He applied his technical agility. He had chosen a fully satisfying package of compositions. And he put his distinctive imprint on every item, yet pretty much avoided idiosyncrasies.

He performed four Chopin pieces, two rhapsodic mazurkas (the A Minor, Opus 67, No. 4 and the F Minor, Opus 68, No. 4) and two dreamy Nocturnes (in E Minor, Opus 72, No. 1, and D-Flat Major, Opus 27, No. 2). Naoumoff remained loyal to these warm and embracing items, so easy to listen to with eyes closed.

Then the recitalist turned to Impressionistic French music of Ravel, Debussy, and Faure: the Sonatine of Ravel, brief and gently bright; two Debussy preludes, “Bruyeres” from Book 2 and “La fille aux cheveux de lin” from Book 1, and Gabrielle Faure’s Barcarolle No. 1 in A Minor, Opus 26. They were performed without interruption and became a weave of calm, all read with complete involvement. One could easily forget the place of the concert and float emotionally off to somewhere peaceful and restorative.

One noticed how much throughout the recital the page turner smiled at what she was hearing. That, too, was catching: an appropriate response to pianist Naoumoff’s pleasure-giving performance.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017 |

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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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