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.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Video: Nin-Culmell--Muiñeira (Galicia)

Here's another piece I discovered on YouTube. I'm pretty sure it was served up as a "Suggestion" video to one of my own. Given the spotty information accompanying the video, it took a little hunting to find the music. The piece is Muiñeira (Galicia) by twentieth century German/Cuban/Spanish/American composer Joaquín Nin-Culmell. It's number 24 from Tonadas, a suite of 48 pieces in four volumes.

Nin-Culmell was born in Germany, the son of Cuban-Spanish parents and brother of famous author Anaïs Nin (whose full name was Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell). He was also a student of the great Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

A muiñeira is a Spanish song typically played by a Galician gaita, which is a kind of Spanish bagpipe. The piece does sound bagpipey to me, especially the grace notes in the middle section. The lack of individual note attacks on bagpipes prevents you from playing the same note twice, so if you want to repeat a note you use a grace note to articulate it. This is exactly how Nin-Culmell uses grace notes in the middle section.

As far as I can tell, this piece was also what I call a "YouTube Bullseye"—a piece that has exactly one video on YouTube. Of course, now that I've recorded it, it's no longer a bullseye.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Video: Corelli/Godowsky--Pastorale (Angelus)

I've written previously about Repertoire Season, the time of year shortly after a ConcArt recital when I start hunting down pieces for the next recital. During Repertoire Season after the ConcArt-II recital in November, 2009, I was considering trying to learn something by Leopold Godowsky, a twentieth-century Polish composer. I wasn't really confident I'd find anything, because my main criteria for pieces are that they are beautiful/entertaining, shortish, and playable. Godowsky has a bit of a reputation for writing very difficult piano music (and difficult piano arrangements of other composers' compositions). But then I stumbled across a video by pianist Magdalena Baczewska of Godowsky's arrangement of Arcangelo Corelli's Pastorale. I think it's one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard. It's fairly short, and it didn't sound too difficult at all. (It turned out to be quite a bit trickier than Baczewska's wonderful performance suggests).

Pastorale is the sixth (and final) movement of Corelli's Christmas Concerto, one of his twelve concerti grossi. A concerto grosso is a Baroque form of orchestral music. There are two groups of performers (the concertino and the ripieno) that engage in a kind of musical dialog. I think Godowsky's wide but relatively sparse piano arrangement really captures the sound of the concerto grosso.

For the video, I had the idea to emphasize the dialog by switching to the bass camera angle exclusively for the recurring "response" theme in the piece. I think the idea was better in conception than execution, though. For the first statement of the response, I didn't have a good bass angle take. And since the response theme is short, the frequent camera switches kind of interrupt the video flow.

The second problem with the video is due to the position of one of my light stands. It was too close to the camera for the wide angle shots. This lights up dust floating by the lens. More seriously, it gave me a lens flare that I didn't notice until I'd finished recording. (You can see it as a light circle where the right side of the piano meets the treble leg). I managed to reduce the effect by setting levels in editing, but it's still pretty obvious.

I'm nitpicking, though. I love this piece so much that I can't not love the video!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is it Spring Already?

Time to take inspiration from my wife and my cousin and come out of blog hibernation. It's been a wild few months, but I hope to get a week in April to record some new videos. Until then, let me sneak in a little celebration of a recent YouTube milestone. On March 29, I reached 20,000 views of my videos on YouTube. 10,000 in the last six months. Thanks to all the people who watched them, the 27 people who have subscribed, the 90 comments and the 119 thumbs up. Too bad about the one thumb down. :-(

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Repertoire Redux

It's that time of year again. The ConcArt is behind us, holidays are over, cold weather has settled in. It's Repertoire Season!

I've wondered in the past in this blog whether I would be able to keep up old repertoire while adding new stuff. Well, I'm finally losing some of my old pieces. And it just doesn't really seem worth it to me to be spending more time on them when my new pieces are so demanding. I always thought it would be a good idea to keep the old ones to pull out in case people ask: "Do you play any Rachmaninoff?", or "Play that Beethoven I like". But let's face it. People aren't exactly stopping me on the street and demanding I play the third dance from Ginastera's Op.2. And now that I have (HD) videos of most of the pieces I've played in the last couple of years, I feel better about letting them go.

So what's this new stuff that's taking so much time? I have two new pieces in the can: Leopold Godowsky's Alt Wien ("Old Vienna") and George Gershwin's Prelude I. These two are memorized and up to speed. Maybe not quite ready for public performance, but close. A third piece is in the works, and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get it down. It's Toccatina Op.36 by Nikolai Kapustin. I have half of it memorized and close to speed. It's a pretty insane piece, so it's taking a lot of work.

Beyond those three, I've been reading a lot. I'm trying to decide between two baroque pieces (Bach vs. Scarlatti). I have a classical piece I might do (Field). There's an Albéniz I'm considering, but I'm still hunting for this year's "gotta play" Spanish piece. Still on the lookout for a big, over-the-top romantic piece, too.