Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fiasco (lite)

This past weekend, my husband and I went to New York. We love going there, doing the cultural stuff, eating good meals, and just walking around watching people and enjoying the city. One reason we went at this time was because there was a Golandsky Institute workshop that I decided would be interesting to attend.

So on Friday, everything went smoothly -- we got there, had lunch, checked into our hotel, and walked down to the Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village to listen to a short concert by a young pianist named Lara Downes who has just released a CD called "13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg." It's a collection of 13 one-movement pieces by contemporary composers based on the Aria movement (i.e., the theme) of Bach's Goldberg Variations. The performance space there is a dimly lit, long, narrow room in the basement with the stage at one end, bar at the other; they've decorated it by hanging mirrors along each long wall, providing interesting exercises in perspective:

Photo credit: Mr. Harriet
The audience was small, a big proportion friends of the performer, including a couple of the composers (one of them William Bolcom!). As for the piece, it has a lot of depth to it but the piano there was kind of lacking so it was hard to get the full effect. We bought the CD and I'm looking forward to listening to it at leisure. One interesting tidbit: The pianist was using her iPad with a foot pedal instead of sheet music. This worked reasonably well, but she did run into technical difficulties when she tried to play things out of order and couldn't find the correct pages.

After the show, we walked over to Little Italy and had a huge dinner at a vegan restaurant and then a brisk walk back to the hotel.

The next day: A different story altogether! It was raining in the morning, a bit soggy but not too bad. I made it up to the workshop location near Piano Row/Carnegie Hall a little damp around the edges but intact. First problem: I pulled out my checkbook, and it turned out my husband had used the last check without telling me, so I had no blank checks. They said I could get some money from an ATM and pay them later.

So I settled down for the presentations. My teacher had said this would be a good event for me to attend, but (you knew there would be a "but," right?) it turned out to be aimed solely at Taubman teachers or potential Taubman teachers and assumed a great deal of advance knowledge, which I obviously don't have. I won't go into a blow by blow, but the gist was that there seems to be a certain amount of disdain for students who won't go for the full remodel (the "retraining"). So I felt uncomfortable both because of my sort of outside status and because I guess I fall into this latter category.

The ideas are pretty interesting, but so abstract. I would like to hear how this all translates into actual playing; it sounds good in theory, but how is the music when all is said and done?

Noon came, and there was an hour break for lunch. This is where things got extremely soggy. I ventured out into the street and into a blinding wet blizzard, with big globs of slushy snow coming from all angles. My umbrella was no match for this stuff, and my thin shoes and jacket got soaked in short order, not to mention my jeans. I wandered around looking for an ATM without success. I finally ducked into a cafe and had some soup, and had a mental reconnoiter, resulting in the decision that I did not want to go back and sit for three hours with wet clothes unless it was to hear Glenn Gould arisen from the dead. (He'd make a good zombie, wouldn't he?)

So I gave up and went to the hotel and spent the afternoon trying to get dry. My shoes were such a lost cause that I stopped on the way and bought a pair of boots.

The snow and rain continued well into the night, but we forged on and went out to dinner (pretty good Greek food) and then to hear Steve Kuhn's trio at the Jazz Standard. What a great pianist! From where we were sitting, we could see his hands on the keys AND reflected in the fallboard of the piano, and I noticed he did all the things that are the aim of Taubman technique (at least as I understand it): He keeps his hand and arm aligned behind his fingers, he does not stretch or lift his fingers, and he does not twist his body around; he just sits there and plays with great tone.

By the following morning, the storm was over, the sky was clear, the sun was out. We had a glitch-free trip home.

So to sum up: Am I justified in calling this a fiasco, or was it actually valuable in some way? I suppose any information is useful. I can't help feeling that there are many valid paths to achieving beautiful playing, and something in me rebels at orthodoxy. I have been the victim of so many other people's misguided notions of how things "should" be when they have tried to impose them on me, or judged me lacking because of them, that I am skeptical.

1 comment:

shirley said...

I still don't fathom why Taubman technique does not allow for the wrist dip and "break." It's plain that Orlov, Gorin and others do embrace this and with good reason because it allow phrase sculpting, nuance, and all kinds of tonal variations.