Who Doesn’t Like a Slow Kiss?

televangelistOne person alone in a room is complete and inviolate. Add another and comparisons arise. The same goes for two dogs, two leaves, two shrimp, two Gordon Ramsays. If there’s a pair of human eyes in the room, they will focus on one thing, and then the other, and then back again. Assessing and valuing. We just can’t stop! (Nor can Gordon Ramsay. . .by the way the formula for every episode of his show “Kitchen Nightmares” is: you go in, meet everyone, taste the food, hate it, discover stale food in freezer, toss microwave, insults, coach owners in Dr. Phil mode, retool, relaunch, second wave of errors, success, kisses/hugs. . . kinda like a romance novel, only instead of sex it’s food.) Anyway, comparison is instinctive, fundamental. Call it a genetic abnormality, if you want to. A flaw of epic consequences, because it may inevitably doom us. Yup, we’re all going down because the one thing we can’t do is accept something for what it is. No, we have to compare, to judge, and then. . . and then to kill?
    Ever since homo sapiens acquired a slight intellectual edge over Neanderthals, and used this edge to crush their bony skulls, mankind has been stuck with this US vs THEM thing. (And with perfection, as defined by our clan, race, club, team…the cosmetic industry got its start on the banks of a roaring African river when some cad we shall call Kudzelgeek placed a fistful of clay into his girlfriend’s hand, and she used it to smooth out those tiny lines and wrinkles in her forehead.  “Hey, lookie here,” Zeebeeaum told her best friend Wilma. “I pretty. . .you not so much.”)
    I say all this because I’m about to compare one musical performance to another. Any true artist (music/art/literature) gives an instinctive interpretation, and as long as he or she has mastered the medium (ie. can do it many other ways) it becomes a matter of subjective taste (unless the listener/reader/viewer doesn’t think for themselves, and watches televangelists and the Food Porn Network instead.) The following Chopin nocturne is played at probably the slowest pace you’ve ever heard it, but is it wrong? Not at all. The slower tempo renders the piece in an entirely new light, as though from another angle you viewed a sculpture. Exquisite.  Famed pianist Martha Argerich plays it in 4:17; here it’s 6:25. Chopin himself would have approved, however, since this is romantic music, more about feeling than rigid rote. To play this as you’ve heard other people perform it is like kissing someone based on how you saw someone in the movies do it. Either it’s real or it’s not…and who doesn’t like a slow kiss?  (Ironically, note that Ivo Pogorelich was called a genius by Argerich, who then quit the jury when he was eliminated by the other judges in the 1980 Chopin competition!)

What is an Artist?

RichterWhat is an artist?  The question has become blurred in our age of talent competitions and reality TV.  But the true artist is aware of his or her limitations, and the goal is not fame or fortune.  It is, rather, to point beyond the words or pictures or music toward universal human truths that elevate the conversation and invoke the imagination.  As stated previously, the goal, then, should be to enrich the world through interpretation rather than simply to conquer or subdue it following cliché intentions deemed culturally important.  In classical music, for example, one of the most respected pianists and musicians of all time was the late Sviatoslav Richter, a man capable of astonishing technical prowess.  If we are talking sheer ability to perform at the keyboard (or any other instrument), an analogy might be to combine the guitar talents of Andre Segovia, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix in one man.  Yet Richter cared not at all about how his performance was received by the media.  His goal was to serve as conduit for the composer, interpreting the music through his own personal insights into the score.  Witness Glenn Gould’s comments on him in the video below.  In our own time, pianist Yuja Wang is also a consummate artist, but with a humility about her.  She sees the bigger picture.  Also called “astonishing” for her technical prowess, she is a product of our pop era, yet remains grounded (ie. touched) by the heights she has seen in the music she performs.  How can you not be humble, having viewed those vistas?  When I asked her how difficult it was for her to master the piano, she responded, “I don’t think anyone has mastered it.  This is not a sporting event, and there is always room for growth and improvement.  That’s art.”  Indeed.  Only someone with this attitude can become a true artist, as Richter was.  The career for such an artist is longer, too, than most pop artists or rappers.  That’s because it doesn’t depend on fleeting popularity, but rather who they have become.  Talent, hard work, dedication, spirit. . . that all feeds into it.  But so does humility, experience, and perspective, traits which our culture and shows like America’s Got Talent undervalue.  Note that the Richter piece played in the video, Schubert’s third sonata, has very simple chords which build up to resonate with more real feeling than many dazzling displays demanded in piano competitions.  Will Yuja reach this mature stage?  With the attitude she has already, she assuredly will.  And the world will be enriched because of it.  It already is.

Van CliburnNew audiobooks: When a lanky, unpretentious, incredibly gifted, twenty-three-year-old Texan took Moscow by musical storm in 1958, it launched a sensational career that began at the age of thirteen and was to span over four decades. At the height of the Cold War, this friendly, open-hearted pianist enchanted the hearts of Americans and Russians alike with playing that was more about “personal communications than exhibitionistic virtuosity.” Winning the Soviet-sponsored Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition immediately thrust Van Cliburn into political as well as artistic pressures, attention, adulation, and scrutiny that might have sabotaged any young artist who lacked the confidence and conviction of Van Cliburn. After an eleven-year retreat into privacy, the myth that surrounded the name Van Cliburn in the 1950s and ’60s became legend with his triumphant reentry in 1987―an event that was to epitomize the poetic nature of Van’s entire life. Responding to an invitation to perform for Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev at a state dinner, Van once again proved that music is indeed the universal language of understanding and is capable of uniting our diverse cultures. Bounding off the platform after his performance to kiss Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev, Van responded to Raisa’s request for more music by playing the beloved Soviet song “Moscow Nights”―the same nostalgic song he had learned and performed during his first incredible journey to Moscow in 1958. As millions of Americans watched on their television screens, the usual staid state dinner dissolved into a moving memory of Van singing along with the Gorbachevs as the whole room was overcome by tears. Russia and America joined hands and hearts in this one historical moment.

Yuja Wang on the “Dress Scandal”

Yuja Wang

Lady in Red/Orange plays Hollywood Bowl

Phenomenal pianist Yuja Wang has been called a sexy female version of Lang Lang, also from China (now living in New York) and possessed of a humble yet fun personality.  Along with her similar and extraordinary talent, she has been making waves in the classical music world, introducing many young people to serious music for the first time.  She appeared at the Hollywood Bowl to play Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Concerto wearing the dress above, causing criticism from some and praise from others.  What a gutsy move, to sweep away the perceived cobwebs of the general public with a bravura performance that drew raves for its exquisite musicianship.  The 3rd is one of the most difficult of concerti, yet she played it with ease and great feeling.  She appeared in the NY Times, and the quote that struck me was from a conductor who said, “You don’t need the world, Yuja, the world needs you.”  What a great compliment to a true artist with a rare dedication and sensitivity (minus the ego that is common in most pop performers.)  Yuja also said recently that she doesn’t want to approach the works of Bach and Brahms until she has more maturity, and something new to offer the interpretation.  Likewise, with the dresses she wears: “I won’t be wearing these in my 50s, so why not while I can?”  What you have here is an individual who is expressing who she is, and is having fun while interpreting music with an soulful and unique passion complimented by an astonishing command of the instrument.  What more could you want to attract a new audience?  See my brief interview with Yuja HERE.  (With links to her albums.) Gaming music here.

AstanovaHERE is my interview with pianist Lola Astanova, which includes the subject of dress too. BTW, both Yuja and Lola have a great sense of humor, don’t you think? I’ve discovered that classical musicians and true artists are sensitive and kind by nature, (not divas at all) and the same can be said for the men too. Of course we are more limited in what we can wear!

classical music

My interview with the incredible and elegant violinist Sarah Chang is HERE.

For interview with this author, click HERE. And be sure to share!

Yuja Wang

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Pianist Yuja Wanghttp://TowerReview.com/tower-records.html