News from Carnegie Hall!

Oct 18, 2007

It’s been a wonderful, very long day here in New York! The morning began with a breakfast for all four pianists, Mr. Fleisher, and the staff of the Weill Music Institute. After chatting over coffee (though most of us passed on the caffeine, given the fact that we had to perform!) we all headed to Zankel Hall, a 600 seat theatre which is part of the Carnegie Hall complex, to “get to know each other musically,” as one of the staff members put it. I volunteered to play first, starting off the morning with Beethoven’s late sonata Op. 109. Next up was Adam Golka, a twenty-year old pianist based in Fort Worth, TX, who just happens to be the younger brother of my dear friend, conductor Tomasz Golka. Adam (who, at the age of 19, performed ALL 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas last year in Texas! what an underachiever… ) followed my performance of 109 chronologically with the Op. 110 Sonata in A Flat Major. Next we heard Yury Shadrin, a Russian born pianist who did an artist diploma at Oberlin and is now pursuing a Master’s degree at Yale University, performed the very early Sonata in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3. And finally we heard from Renana Gutman, an Israeli pianist who studied at Mannes College of Music with the great Richard Goode and now lives and plays in New York. Renana took on the enormous Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106, a work which is practically twice the length of the other Beethoven Sonatas.

We broke for lunch and munched sandwiches over much camaraderie and laughter in the backstage area behind Zankel Hall. We all kidded Renana about her deserving more than one sandwich given her heroic performance of the Hammerklavier first thing in the morning, and without warming up! After lunch, we headed to Weill Recital Hall (up one level in one of the many freight elevators – don’t take the wrong one, they all go to different places!) for the first public masterclass. Weill is such a lovely place to play. The piano, of course, is a brand new Hamburg Steinway, which maybe does not have the most inspiring color palate, but behaves itself beyond reproach…. and the hall is so clear and warm. I had forgotten how small it is! Especially compared to Zankel, Weill felt a bit like being under the microscope. I played through Opus 109 again, (only the first movement this time) for the benefit of the audience members who had not been present for our morning session, and then we worked through the whole sonata. Fleisher worked with me for several hours – and as always, just hearing him talk about music and describe certain passages in his illuminating and inspiring manner was pure pleasure. Some highlights: “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” (arms are butterflies, strong thrusts of whole arm are the bee stings) “create a sound so penetrating that it pierces the ear and in so doing, goes straight to the heart,” “voice the melody so brightly that it makes you squint.”

My lesson was followed by Adam’s on Op. 110 – another couple of hours filled with insight and transformation. We capped off the day with a truly delectable meal at a famous New York restaurant, Shun Lee, again with all the participants, Mr. Fleisher, and the staff at Carnegie who are all young, vibrant, energetic people with lots of background and training in classical music. One of them, Priya, is actually leaving her job at Carnegie Hall right after the workshop ends in order to return to India to pursue her Indian classical singing career. Ann is a violist who studied at Indiana University with Atar Arad, Sarah Johnson got a master’s degree from Juilliard in oboe – and in fact overlapped there with my friends and colleagues Christina Jennings and Ilya Finkelshteyn. And Randy, a baritone, does quite a few singing gigs in the city, and knows my friends Abby and Becca Fischer! Small world.

Lest you think that Leon Fleisher must be an enormous male diva with a huge ego…. think again! The waiter, at the end of dinner, whispered in the ear of one of the Carnegie staff members, is that Leon Fleisher????? When the staff member shared with Fleisher that he had been recognized, Fleisher shot back with, “Oh that’s because I washed dishes here last night.”

In short I am in a highly stimulating musical environment marked by respect in and from all directions. And to think this was only day one! Tomorrow I have a luxurious 3 hours to practice in the morning, and I am “off duty” in the afternoon, meaning I get to just sit, relax, and observe other people’s lessons. I may very well go off to Merkin Hall in the eve to hear Jonathan Biss play Beethoven 2nd Piano Concerto with the NY Phil.

Now if it would only cool off so I could truly enjoy… autumn in New York!

Lura Johnson