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Speaking of Pianists » Blog Archive » Winging it - Again

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    Winging it - Again

    Mary Kunz Goldman writes in the Buffalo News about a recent performance of a Mozart Concerto by pianist Robert Levin.

    “What made the Mozart concerto an adventure was the featured pianist, Harvard professor Robert Levin. Levin, an authority on Mozart, has a unique approach: He improvises as he plays. No, really. He wings it. On the phone last week, he confessed that he never is completely sure how a performance is going to turn out.

    I have never heard the 23rd concerto like this. Levin doesn’t just play the music. He lives it. It shows in his face, in his whole body. He delights in every note, every chord change. Did I say chord change? He is making me think of jazz.

    Because Levin really does use Mozart as a vehicle for improvisation. He goes far beyond anything any other pianists have done in this department. He takes chances. It is like watching a high-wire artist.”

    Later in the same article Goldman says “It’s a shame that, over the centuries, classical musicians have dropped the ball on improvisation. Fie on them. It’s time this art was brought back.”

    You can read her entire review here.

    Although the recent article by New Yorker critic Alex Ross is not specifically about improvisation, he takes a look at some of the performance practices of the past, fairly way-out by our current standards. Ross sums it up well: “Piano recitals were, by modern standards, completely nuts.”

    He describes a Franz Liszt evening: “In one favorite routine, Liszt brought onstage a large urn into which his listeners had dropped slips of paper, each one inscribed with a suggestion for a tune on which he might improvise. He then drew out the messages one by one, taking delight in those which wandered off topic. Hamilton* writes, “On turning out the urn in a concert on March 15, 1838 in Milan, Liszt found a piece of paper with the question ‘Is it better to marry or remain single?’—to which he slickly replied, ‘Whatever course one chooses, one is sure to regret it.’”

    The Alex Ross article, Why so Serious, from the September 8th edition of the New Yorker may be found online here.

    Pianist Gabriela Montero brings back the art of improvisation in her Portland recitals on October 26 and 27.  View her complete program here.

    *From Kenneth Hamilton’s book, mentioned in a previous post, After the Golden Age: Romantic Pianism and Modern Performance (Oxford).

    One Response to “Winging it - Again”

    1. matt Says:

      It must have been incredibly entertaining to watch such concerts! Just wanted to leave a note of thanks, I have been enjoying these blogs, keep them up!
      Matt Grossman

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