Sunday, January 12, 2014

Video: Gershwin--Prelude I

Moving from Texas to New York was a pretty complicated process. One of the requirements for importing my piano was to prove that it could play Gershwin. Which is ok... I've always loved Gershwin and have always wanted to learn something of his. Unfortunately, most of his popular stuff is big and orchestral. The three Preludes are a great exception: they're short solo piano pieces, but they're pure Gershwin.

So here is my video of Gershwin's Prelude I. It's a fairly challenging piece technically, which made it hard for me to capture a performance that's both clean and musical. So there are places here where I'm not crazy about the feel.

This is also the last of the three videos I recorded during the Christmas holidays. So sad. But I promise not to wait two years before my next ones.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Video: Hamelin--The Ringtone Waltz

When you hang out in piano circles, somebody eventually asks the question: "What is the most difficult piano music ever composed?". The first answers are the obvious ones: something by Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Chopin, Brahms, etc. Then come the more obscure composers: Alkan, Balakirev, Godowsky, Sorabji, Kapustin. And Marc-André Hamelin. Now, I have no interest in torturing myself by trying to learn difficult music for the sake of learning difficult music. But I figure: if you're a piano nut, you owe it to yourself to hear what's being done with the piano "out at the fringes".

Marc-André Hamelin is particularly interesting to me, and not just because he's Canadian. He's taken some of the most notoriously difficult piano pieces and "recomposed" them to be even more difficult. But they're hugely entertaining at the same time. His arrangement of Liszt's arrangement ("La Campanella") of Paganini's second violin concerto is insane. But it's so clever and funny that it makes me smile from beginning to end.

I have no illusion that I'll ever be able to nail any of Hamelin's serious compositions. But as it turns out, he seems to have composed one (relatively) simple piece: The Ringtone Waltz (also known as "Valse Irritation d'après Nokia"). Rumor has it that he would break into this piece in concert if a cell phone went off in the audience. Not sure I believe that. Anyway, it's a nice, short, learnable piece and it lets me claim that I can play Hamelin!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Video: Bach--Prelude in C Major

It's been almost two years exactly since I posted my last videos. I have excuses aplenty for the drought, but they don't matter because I finally made the effort to 'shed some new pieces and made the time to record some new stuff.

I have the raw recordings/footage for three new videos. The first one is Prelude #1 from book I of Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. It's a simple piece but it's challenging to play it well. Most importantly, it's just really nice music that everybody likes. That's why I chose to learn it. I wasn't actually planning to make a video of this piece, but at the last minute I thought it would be a good way to ease back into recording. Doing the setup, recording and editing for these videos is a lot of work, and it's taking me extra time trying to remember the process. So having a piece that doesn't require a lot of post-production makes things go much more smoothly. As it turns out, I was able to use a single take for the whole video. It's far from perfect, and I could have fixed some of the more obvious flaws by editing different takes. But I kind of like the simplicity of the single-take video for this simple, beautiful piece.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

If I Had a Nickel...

...for every time somebody watched one of my videos, I'd have about $13,000. Funny how just a couple of years ago we were celebrating 20,000 YouTube views over the first two-and-a-half years. And now we're at 260,000. (It sounds more impressive if you pronounce it "a quarter million").

So thanks to the viewers from 188 countries, the 457 subscribers, and the hundreds who "liked", "shared", "commented" and "favorited". Without you I'd be just some guy who makes amateur piano videos in his spare ti...

Oh... right.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Video: Schumann/Liszt--Widmung (Dedication)

Here is the second video from my first session at the new house. It's Franz Liszt's solo piano arrangement of Robert Schumann's Widmung (Dedication), which was originally written for piano and voice. I think it's pretty safe to say that this is the most beautiful piece of music ever. I'd been putting off recording this one for fear of not doing it justice. But at some point you just have to hold your nose, pull the trigger and jump. (?).

A couple of technical comments... these two videos (Widmung and Alt Wien) are the first I've filmed with two cameras simultaneously. I bought Johanne a new camera for Christmas (a Panasonic Lumix FZ150). It does HD video too, so I nabbed it for a morning to do these two pieces. It makes the post-editing go a lot faster to have two angles to choose from for any given take. The problem is that even though both cameras were shooting full 1080p video, the quality of the Panasonic's video is much better than my Canon. The shots from the treble are all Panasonic, the shots from the bass are the Canon. The Panasonic shots are much crisper, and there's very little digital noise. The Canon shots are a little blurry by comparison and you can see plenty of digital noise in the near outer casing and inner (wooden) rim of the piano.

For the audio, I decided to close-mic the piano a little more than I did in Austin. There's more house noise and street noise here, and putting the microphones closer helps get cleaner sound. But it also means there's less of the desirable kind of room noise (natural reverberation). So there's a little more work to do in the audio mixing/mastering to get a sound that fits naturally with what you're seeing in the video. I could probably have added even more recreated room sound, but it's at the expense of clarity.

Anyway, here's the video. I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Video: Godowsky--Alt Wien

Back in July, 2010 I wrote of my last visit to Paulette's house to play her B. My mother's friend Louise suggested that I add some tranquility to my program. It was a good suggestion so I set about trying to find something I liked. The first piece I considered was Alt Wien (Old Vienna) by Leopold Godowsky (Triakontameron, No. 11). But I thought it might be a little too schmaltzy, a bias not lessened by its ridiculous subtitle: "Whose Yesterdays look backwards with a Smile through Tears." Then I discovered Godowsky's Pastorale and abandoned Alt Wien. But I wasn't able to get it out of my head, and decided to learn it. And now I love it: not so much schmaltzy as charming.

This is also the first video from our new house in New York. I wasn't sure how it would come out. I was pretty used to my setup in Austin. And the lower ceilings, hardwood floors and parallel walls make for a much livelier room. I still have lots of experimenting to do, but I'm pretty happy with both the audio and the video so far.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ready, Set, Go!

Hello from New York.

We made the big move back in August, and haven't had much time over the last four months for anything but work and setting up home. But I was able to take advantage of a few days off over the holidays to get my studio set up, get my piano tuned and shoot a couple of videos.

It will probably take some experimenting to get the video and audio how I'd like them in the new setting. But I think things are looking pretty ok. I hope to finish the production over the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

ConcART IV (Farewell)

The past few months have been one wild ride.

If you're reading this blog, it probably means you're my mother or my father (hi mom, hi dad). And that means you already know that Johanne and I are leaving Texas for the unfriendly cold of New York. We leave mid-August, less than three weeks from now.

But we decided to try to squeeze in one last ConcART before going. This would give us a chance to see all of our great Texas friends one last time, play some music for them, maybe sell them some art. I haven't had time to pull together a full, brand-new recital program, so I thought I'd play the three new pieces I have, along with one favorite from each of the first three ConcART recitals. In fact, I couldn't decide on just one from ConcART III, so I chose two.

So ConcART IV (the "Farewell ConcART") will be Sunday, August 7, 2011. And here's the recital program:
  1. Prelude I -- Gershwin
  2. Sonata No.8 (Pathétique), 2nd movement -- Beethoven
  3. Pastorale/Renaissance No.8 -- Corelli/Godowsky
  4. Danza de la Pastora -- Halffter
  5. Alt Wien -- Godowsky
  6. Widmung -- Schumann/Liszt
  7. Toccatina Op.36 -- Kapustin
The Beethoven is from ConcART I, the Halffter from ConcART II and the Corelli/Godowsky and Schumann/Liszt are from ConcART III. The Gershwin and Godowsky are both fun, short pieces that I was able to pull together fairly quickly. Putting the Kapustin on the program is sheer insanity. I'll be lucky to come out of it with no broken bones.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Video: Falla--Danza ritual del fuego

Manuel de Falla's Ritual Fire Dance from the ballet El amor brujo, arranged for solo piano by the composer. (I also added a few parts to the arrangement based on the original orchestral score).

Over the years I've learned quite a bit of Spanish (and Spanish-flavored) music by big composers (Albéniz, Granados, Ginastera) and lesser-known composers (Halffter, Soler, Nin-Culmell). This bias is no doubt inherited in part from my old teacher, Douglas Voice. But I never learned anything by Manuel de Falla, who was one of Douglas' favorites (I think). That's what inspired me to find and learn something by Falla for last year's ConcArt recital.

A couple of things to note in the video. First, I tried a new camera angle: "wide bass", and it doesn't quite work. It's shooting into the light, so the subject (me!) is too dark. I did what I could in editing, but it's still visually kind of ugly. I think I'll try again, though, with an accent light coming from the bass side of the piano. The problem is, I like to keep the exact same lighting for all camera angles so it looks like they were shot simultaneously. Some experimentation will certainly be needed. The composition of the angle is poor, too. The manual focus on my camera is flexible for still shots, but not very convenient for video. It's much easier (and I get better results) using autofocus. But it means I need to keep the subject in the autofocus sweetspot.

The second thing to note is the return of video cats. Kashmir made his acting debut in my Mozart video and was quite a hit among YouTube commenters. Here he makes two appearances. Shiner also makes a very brief appearance. I tried to delay the scene change to give him more camera time, but I just couldn't get it to work.

Ritual Fire Dance is an exciting, dynamic piece. But as usual, I find it hard to capture that in the video/recording.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Video: Handel--Air and Variations (The Harmonious Blacksmith)

Two years ago I wrote:
Claude Debussy's Arabesque I might be the "oldest" piece I play, in the sense that I've played it longer than the others.
But I think George Frideric Handel's Air and Variations (The Harmonious Blacksmith) is even "older". I probably learned it a year earlier than the Debussy, which makes it thirty years since I first learned it.

The piece, written around 1720, is in what's called the English Division style: the theme is stated in (mainly) quarter notes, or one note per beat. Then there's a variation where the right hand plays two notes per beat, a variation with the left hand playing two notes per beat, then a variation with three notes per beat in the right hand, then three notes per beat in the left hand. Finally, the fifth variation has four notes per beat in both hands. This gives the impression that the piece keeps speeding up: twice as fast, three times as fast and finally four times as fast.