Saturday, December 11, 2010

"It Takes a Long Time to Become a GOOD Composer" (Yes it does, and you need the opportunity first!)

Let me start this post with a recitation of my own experience with Robert Schumann. Back around 1956 or so, when I played in a “Festival”, I had selected Schumann’s Song Without Word “May, Sweet May” as the “required” piece. I remember stumbling on the memorization and getting caught in a loop. It was the only time I scored below “Superior” (I got “Very Good” which is like a graduate school “C”, a middle grade.) In fact, I think medical physiology would benefit from studying how pianists memorize their solo music; it might help us understand memoryl loss with aging.


Schumann wrote a lot of miniatures, but some of his piano works tended to put layers of episodes together, in pieces that are formally collections of little pieces but actually are rather like rhapsodies. The “Papillons” (“Butterflies”) (Op 2) and “Carnaval” (Op. 9, with its ¾ march at the end) fit this. (Sherwood Music School included the "easier" Butterflies in its course, so I did play it at around age 13.)

Today, in fact, at a Metropolis Ensemble concert in New York City (link on the last post), today Timo Andres played the 8-movement "Kreisleriana", Op. 16. Now to me, this composition did not sound as integrated as the other pieces I just discussed. ((The Fantasy, Op. 17, probably fits better.)  It was noted that Schumann's 200th birthday had occurred in June this year.

The Schumann concluded a concert that started with two new compositions by Timo: “Chamber Music”, about 15 minutes, for piano and two violins (Owen Dalby and Tema Watstein). The music starts out lively with some of his typical passage work, but winds down toward the end, with the violins in a couple places sounding hoarse with microtones, so they sounded to me. (In ninth grade, our mixed chorus teacher had written a piano piece in B-flat called simply “Ballet Music”, which she brought the score in for me to see one time.) But the main event for the concert was the work that defined the name of the whole concert, “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer”, which is a “suite” of sorts in five “movements”, layered in Schumann fashion. The first movement is nameless, but the other movements have enigmatic titles (e.g. “Everything is an Onion” and “Please Let me Sleep in Your Entrance Hall”). The music livens up in the middle. Again, Andres likes repeated notes and technique, often making some of his music etude like. There is never really a “Philip Glass” effect.

Andres’s technique emphasizes virtuosity, with an interesting an paradoxical combination of svelte and athletic strength. (Is he ready to trade places with Tim Lincecum?) The top notes on the German-made grand piano (a Bosendorfer) rang the way I had been taught melody notes should by my second piano teacher (previous post). Even if his tempos sometimes sounded a bit quick (we used to say, "Toscanini-like") compared to markings (where known), his memory and technical rendition of the music (how own and Schumann's both) seemed absolutely "mistake free".

Timo is a sort of “Justin Timberlake” for classical music, if a bit more clean cut in the PG direction (and sometimes projects an intentionally “geeky” appearance ready for “The Social Network”). He strives to entertain. I suspect he can act or do comedy, or something like host SNL. That’s not true of most classical musicians.

The score of Timo’s “adaptation” of Mozart’s Coronation Concerto (with polytonality – Nov. 18 here) was on display.


The concert, which sold out quickly all three performances ( the "three game series" was "played" Dec 9 and 10 night, 11 afternoon  -- preceded Saturday by a very crowded Starbucks across 67th St., being overrun by Santamen) was held in an expansive condo or apartment in the Millennium Building on W 67th Street, with a view looking Northeast to Central Park (two blocks away). (You could see from the GW Bridge all the way to the Chrysler Building.) Lincoln Center is a few blocks “behind” the building from this viewpoint. I’ve never seen a concert have a Doberman before, but he was named “Tiger”, as if he were feline as well as canine. Actually, he held doors for people, and came to you when you called his name. The whole event seemed like something Donald Trump could have set up as a task for his “Apprentice” show. (Don’t snicker: The Donald says he will probably run for President for the GOP because the country “needs” him more than it needs Sarah Palin (or even "IND" Bloomberg), but I think he supports the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”.)

There was a brief Q&A after the performance, with Robert Schumann’s bipolar (or perhaps manic-depressive) personality as a focus of questions.

I would be a delinquent blogger if I didn’t get a review of this concert posted the same day (PST).




Update: Check this story from the "Get Classical" blog, Jan. 2011, link.  Check June 10, 2011 for "Bargemusic".

Update: (Aug. 22, 2011):  Check Timo's blog (yes, just the last name for the domain name) for a posting today "Parlour Timocracy", for the photo of some piano music being composed for him. Oh, yes, the music and photo are copyrighted. I just wanted to point out that I've never seen a time signature of "5/16" before, even alternated with other meters, like 2/8 and 3/8.  I think Leonard Bernstein experimented with some bizarre meters in his Concerto for Orchestra, however.  If you're a performer, it's nice if others compose for you.  Not a bad idea within families, where siblings or offspring play different instruments.  The score here looks weird.  It does not look like an Op. 111 "Arioso". I'll have to try the fragment I see on my Casio tomorrow.

Update: (Nov. 27, 2012). Timo has posted an audio file of his piece at his site, link here, from a performance at Le Poisson Rouge in 2012 in NYC.

There is a public photo album from one of the evening concerts (Dec 9 or 10) on Facebook, here. Note the views from the condo on the Upper West Side at night.  Good enough for Anderson!

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