Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Uncovering a Hidden Gem: Joseph Szulc's Clair de Lune

One of the most beautiful things about exploring the art song tradition is that every so often you uncover a song by an unknown composer that speaks with such elegance and beauty that you're astonished not to have heard it before.

While preparing for a Vocal Lit class at the Glenn Gould School last week I found just one of those buried treasures: a 1907 setting of Verlaine's Clair de lune by Polish/French composer and conductor Joseph Szulc. Although the Fauré and Debussy settings are far more well known, Szulc's setting has an undoubtedly French intimacy and sensuality that stands up to the other versions extremely well.

There are only a handful of recordings I could find, most of them on YouTube. Here is one by an unknown (French?) baritone with a likewise unknown pianist:

This vinyl recording is sung by Maggie Teyte, with Gerald Moore at the piano:

The sound on the Teyte/More recording above isn't very good, but you can get a better account of it on this Naxos release. If you're looking for a score of this singular Clair de lune setting, there's a free one on IMSLP (thank you again, Sibley Library!).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Class Piano/Collaborative Pianist Position at the University of Arkansas

In addition to the previous position mentioned at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, here is another listing for their Fayetteville campus:
Description: The University of Arkansas Department of Music is seeking a nine-month, non-tenure track Instructor of Class Piano to teach class piano courses for music and non-music majors with secondary duties as a collaborative pianist. Candidates currently in temporary or non-tenured positions will be considered. Starting date is August 18, 2014.
A Master’s degree in CP is the minimum requirement, DMA preferred. Full information on the position can be found here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Collaborative Pianists and Professionalism: A Passionate Rant

And in this crazy life, you are my everything.
alonefortherideily / cc
Earlier today, Vancouver-based pianist Karen Lee-Morlang posted this wonderful, perceptive rant on Facebook:
Dear fellow collaborative pianist:

You are a very good piano player. I hear it, and often enjoy listening to you play so well. You also seem to like it that everyone around you acknowledges that you are good. That's fine. You deserve recognition for your hard-earned skill! Unfortunately, you have also decided that everyone around you must also await for your presence with bated breath...including showing up regularly to festivals and performances 15 minutes late (or more), making your singers or instrumentalists fret, worry and be even more nervous. You finally arrive, and state imperiously, "didn't you all receive my text messages", as if, planning on being late while you're playing for other clients, makes it OK that you over-booked and are late for the performance itself, and have kept the adjudicators, performers and other collaborative pianists waiting. Other people, who have respectfully, arrived on time (or even, gasp, 10-15 or 30 minutes early). Sometimes, because your schedule is so much more important, you make sure that your performer gets to be shuffled to the beginning of the section in spite of the printed order, just so that you can leave immediately after playing. You have regularly cancelled last minute in order to take a better, more prestigious or higher paying gig....and your colleagues are getting calls and emails from stressed out performers to help pick up the pieces. What can I say? I think it's awesome that us pianists are apparently so valuable that for some reason people still put up with your behavior. However, you do set up the expectation (with some less experienced parents, young musicians and even teachers) that it is the norm for collaborative pianists to behave like this. I have worked 10+ years to assure them that it's NOT, and then usually pass on a nice long list of pianists that I personally can recommend as RELIABLE, RESPECTFUL and great at their jobs. Sadly you're not on this list. I hope that you one day you will finally grow up and remember why we're called COLLABORATIVE PIANISTS.

Sincerely yours,

Karen LM (a pianist who truly loves collaborating)
Well said, Karen! One of the tricky things about maintaining professionalism in the musical world is that regardless of what your abilities or status might be in the field, everybody judges you based on the same criteria. That's a critical and sometimes tough thing to learn at any age, whether you're just beginning in the field or a seasoned veteran.

Karen also wanted me to mention this:
Every client that you decide to take on matters, from the youngest to oldest, and deserves have a good experience too.

Let us keep that in mind as we head into the conclusion of the concert season and academic year.

Some Best Practices for Hiring Accompanists

madandon / cc

Meri's Musical Musings has a very informative post on how to choose an accompanist for your performance, audition, exam, or competition, with best practices for both parents and teachers:
Respect the accompanist’s fee and DON’T BARGAIN WITH THEM; remember, they need to factor in the time you gave them to learn the music (which in one case my husband got was literally the night before, only had an hour to rehearse the music just before the audition, as the candidate’s previous accompanist proved to be inadequate), the time it takes to travel to the rehearsal and performance locations (especially if they are different), the accompanist’s experience, and if the performance and rehearsal locations are easily accessible by public transit or not.
This is useful advice for teachers hiring a pianist for their entire studio:
Another thing if you are a teacher when you have a number of students working with the same accompanist: collect the money from each student or parent first, instead of asking each student or parent to pay the accompanist directly, which you then give the money collected from each student to the accompanist on the day of the first rehearsal. Otherwise, you run the risk of the students not showing up, or forgetting to pay the accompanist, or the students running into the next session if they show up late, or losing a bunch of cash or cheques.
What else would you recommend as better ways for performers, parents or teachers to hire a pianist?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Cortazâr Trio Plays the 1st Movt. of Smetana's Piano Trio

Here's some energetic playing from a young and promising piano trio based in Bogota. The Cortazâr Trio are:

Liz Valentina Muñoz, Violìn
Jorge Vèlez Ortiz, Cello
Daniel Aguire Ortega, Piano

Friday, April 25, 2014

Staff Accompanist Position: Boston University

The School of Music at Boston University has a staff accompanist opening for the upcoming academic year. About the duties and super-powers required:
Support the academic functions of the School of Music by coaching and providing musical accompaniment for School of Music performance students (mainly focusing on string students) for recitals, auditions, lessons, competitions and instrumental examinations.

Required Skills

B.A./B.S., Masters Degree preferred, versatile ability at piano, ability to sight read and improvise music when necessary, knowledge of and experience with standard repertoire for violin, viola, cello and string bass, ability to interpolate, improvise and enhance the accompaniment when necessary, ability to learn technically challenging works quickly, including avante garde music, dependability in following the musician as he/she may vary music., technical and musical dependability in lesson, performance, and audition situations, demonstrate ease and dependability in communication with students and teachers (in person and via phone, voice mail, email, and text message), ability to work effectively with a wide range of student levels and a variety of faculty teaching styles, professional, positive presence in all lesson, performance, audition, and competition settings and five to eight years of experience. This is a nine month position for the academic year (September through May) with a reasonable assurance of rehire each year based on job performance.
Full job listing here.

Vienna Nocturne: Mozart's World as Viewed by Anna Storace, the First Susanna

If you're looking for some interesting creative nonfiction to read in the next while, I highly recommend Vivien Shotwell's Vienna Nocturne, a novel written from the point of view of Anna Storace, the English singer who created the role of Susanna in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.

I've always wondered how a young English soprano ended up in Vienna singing in an otherwise (mostly) all-Italian cast. Much of the second half of the novel covers Storace's and Mozart's lives in Vienna, and although the extent of their relationship is somewhat speculative, Shotwell brings to life many figures of the time, including Venanzio Rauzzini (Storace's teacher in London), Francesco Benucci (the first Figaro), Antonio Salieri, Lorenzo da Ponte, Stephen Storace (whose piano works might be familiar to some pianists), Aloysia Weber, Costanze Weber, and of course Mozart.

The way that Shotwell brings to life the musical world of late 18th-century Vienna provides some of my favorite writing of the novel. On Anna's first experience of Mozart playing the pianoforte:
Anna had seen many virtuosi play. Wolfgang Mozart surpassed them all. He exhaled, and so many breathing notes unfurled from his unhesitating hands. He played as she had always wished to sing--how she imagined she might sing if she were not so excitable and striving, but selfless and assured, bound to music alone. His expression hardly altered. He looked as if he were listening to a soothing prophecy about the flicity of his children. His eyes, relaxed and open, took in the room and yet looked atnothing. The smile on his lips was scarcely there--a smile for himself, alone, because he felt no need to parade his emotions for their benefit. He would not distract them from his music, nor undermine the balance of its perfection with aping or sighs. He looked as noble and quiet as a physician tending to miraculously reviving child, and no one seemed to take more pleasure in his art, for all his equanimity of expression, than he himself.
On the rehearsal process of The Marriage of Figaro:
The company had divided into factions over the new Mozart opera. On one side, resenting it, were Stefano Mandini, his wife, Maria, and Luisa Laschi. The Bussanis swayed with the winds but were usually found over by the Mandini-Laschi borer, leaving only Anna and Michael Kelly solidly championing the opera. Benucci refused to ally himself one way or the other.

The root of the problem came down to matters of laziness and pride, and a reluctance to do anything unfamiliar. Mozart, try as he might to compose in an Italian style, was Austrian, and this bothered some of them. His opera was exceptional in its length and difficulty. They were used to singing dry recitative, as easy and natural to them as speech, easy duets and trios, and simple arias. But Mozart put everythin together so that one musical number ran into the next without rest. He did not only require them to sing duets or quartets: he required sextets. Performing one of these elaborate ensembles was like baking a new dish for a king, on pain of death, when none of the proper ingredients were at hand and everyone had only fragments of the recipe. Everything must be memorized and perfectly timed.
I particularly enjoyed how Vivien Shotwell's experience as a singer (she's the real thing and from Nova Scotia, no less) informed the narrative of the novel. Vienna Nocturne deeply immerses us in the experience of what it might have been like for an English singer to become successful in Italy in the 1780's, move to Vienna as a member of Joseph II's resident operatic ensemble, and create one of the leading roles in what would become the most famous opera of the 18th century.