Are we at risk of betraying an infatuation with the playing of Christina and Michelle Naughton? After all, they provided our first interview and were the subjects of one of our first reviews. But how could we resist writing a note about so memorable a performance as last Wednesday’s at the Caspary Auditorium at the Rockefeller University, that edifice of scientific advancement. Continue reading
If we think of a musical performance as a work of art, how then can artistic satisfaction be achieved for the solo musician who longs to be as fully involved in the artwork as, say, a painter is in her canvas? Such a musician may feel in conflict with schools of thought, whole intellectual movements, epochs, which dictate that the proper role of the musician is in clear and faithful interpretation of the composer’s intent. If the artist is the composer, problem solved: each performance is in and of itself fulfilling both objectives. But that approach is limited to one artist, one career. For the artist who wishes to communicate a performance channeling the genius of multiple composers living and dead, spanning centuries, it is necessary to appropriate. And the composer must trust his reputation in the hands of the performer. That is the bargain made by composers with musicians in order to achieve fame and, with rare good fortune, immortality.
In the early 1800s, with early Romanticism in full swing, the German-speaking keyboard player would have been tutored according to the leading instructional texts of the time. These texts all advocated a bearing with a straight, vertical back, with upper arms sticking close to the sides, perched on an elevated bench. This elegant, if restricted, posture may have been of necessity if the performer (female or male!) was wearing a corset, in fashion during the period. The arms descended gracefully to the keys. One advantage was improved accuracy in lateral jumps—with the elbows by the side, there was less latitude for error to land on wrong notes. And the elevated posture afforded a fluid hand motion and precise control of key velocity, which was controlled solely by the middle finger joint, on the light actions of the fortepiano keyboards of the time. But for the pianist of today, how much of the 19th-century technique can be used advantageously when playing on a modern concert grand?
Last Monday, January 23, in a master class at the Manhattan School of Music for five piano students willing to pit their confidence in their pianistic skill against what must be the withering terror of a public examination by one of the most acclaimed piano artists of her generation, Yuja Wang was unsparing in her critiques, as well as in her praise, her encouragement, and her example.