classical music

Preparing for Performance {Subtracting Improvisational Energy from Emotional Energy}

Preparing for Performance

{Subtracting Improvisational Energy from Emotional Energy}


It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.

Then the victory is yours.

It cannot be taken from you.



As you approach a performance, remember:  performing is not about inspiration or improvisation.

So many soloists take pride in the improvisational nature of their interpretations, in their lack of pre-definition – this defines immaturity.  A polished performance results from working through as many of your improvisational tendencies in the practice room as possible and defining beforehand the mold that you will fill with emotional energy at the moment of performance.  Performing is complex enough without adding in improvisation.  Remember that freedom is not the equivalent of improvisation.

An improvised performance, even by Beethoven himself, lacks the underlying levels of definition and polish that a prepared interpretation possesses.  The subliminal levels of subtlety are missing.  Remember that muscle memory is an important aspect of performing.  So much of what you prepare is absorbed by your body and flows out of you without conscious thought or control.  Take advantage of this – don’t sabotage it!  It’s self-defeating and destroys the countless moments of previous inspiration and improvisation that have influenced your interpretation and become a part of you.  You only struggle against yourself.  The improviser comes away feeling like he gave the most wonderful performance until he listens to the playback { if he has the courage… } and hears the work of a hack.  Improvisation and exploration is extremely important, but it belongs as much as possible in the practice room. 

This is not an argument for not following you intuition in the moment of performance.  When intuition speaks, you must listen, especially in the moment of performance.  You must be true to yourself, and this may naturally force improvisational elements into your performance.  But know yourself!  Know how to inspire these inspirations out into the open before the big performance. 

You have to practice performing, not simply practice practicing.  As a performance approaches, schedule as many pre-performance run-throughs as you need to work out anxieties, uncertainties and improvisational tendencies.  A friend or a colleague should suffice, or a group of friends.  I find that performing is the greatest definer of your interpretation.  The pressure and excitement of the moment heightens your senses and forces you to constantly choose definitively.  Listening to the playback of a concert or pre-performance is like taking a lesson from yourself about yourself and your interpretation.


The stage should not be a foreign space in your imagination – it’s your home.  The more time you spend on stage, and the earlier in your life you begin performing onstage, the more it will be your element.  A soprano friend of mine likes to say to young aspiring singers, Perform at the opening of an envelope!  


When you accept yourself, the Universe accepts you.

~ Lao Tzu






The practice of Zen

is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.

~ Koun Yamada


Solo pianists, instrumentalists, and often accompanists themselves often perceive Accompanying as an inferior Art-form.  Accompanying, on the contrary, is the most difficult and complex of all the Performing Arts.  It requires the skills of a soloist, the mind-reading of a clairvoyant, the improvisational skill of a great jazz artist, the modesty of a Monk, and the creative formal invention of a great architect.  

How much easier it is to step onstage alone and create your own destiny!  Even Chamber Music is easier.

I’ve been blessed to work with many great performers – singers, instrumentalists, dancers and visual artists.  The greater the performer, the easier it is to accompany him.  The movement of the energy is so pure, clear, and logical that it requires no compensation at all, only support and comprehension.  You simply breathe together.

Once as a teenager, I was about to go onstage with a violinist.  She said, I’m not concerned about the ensemble, I just want us to breathe together… 

Obviously easier said than done.


Still water has no mind to receive the image of the migrating geese.

~ Zen Proverb


Accompanying is a selfless occupation.  Its ultimate goal and challenge is to make the soloist sound better than he actually is.  This may sound arrogant, and you needn’t point it to the soloist … but he usually thanks you for it!  Some feel at first as if they’ve had a moment of inspiration, as if their more-successful-than-usual performance was their own doing.  But most realize eventually that they’ve reached beyond their own abilities by the help of a master accompanist.

There are countless ways to become a better accompanist.  The first is to learn the solo part as well as your own.  Sing it through as you play and discover your own interpretation of it.  Define where its inner Energy Pillars lay hidden.  Put into words the emotions and colors that define each phrase { write them into your score }.  Notice where the soloist may need extra time, either to breathe or get through some technically difficult passage.

In rehearsal, subtly shape the soloist’s phrasing to your own vision, without forcing.  And listen for where his vision is more convincing than your own and adapt.  Talk about the direction of energy and make the soloist conscious of his interpretation.  Remember that performing mustn’t be an improvisation.  As an accompanist, you’ll constantly deal with this mentality and you need to make the soloist make choices.  Even if they are inferior, a strong performance often results more from the unity of the vision between soloist and accompanist and its polish than from the details of interpretation.  Also – and this is extremely important – the soloist must believe in his own interpretation!  Don’t force yours on his when there’s not enough time to make changes or your words fall on deaf ears, or worse, she'll try to make changes and everything will fall apart.  The soloist needs to feel confident in the value of his work and supported by you in all their final decisions.  Thus, the accompanist’s position is always a delicate, compromised one.

Many soloists are afraid of being the soloist.  They want to bathe in your light and energy and shy away from the audience.  In the rehearsal process, this is fine at the beginning, but as the performance nears, they need to make the transition to being in the spotlight and leading.  There’s nothing more difficult or awkward for an accompanist to follow someone who’s following you.  It’s like pulling up to a four-way stop at the exact moment as someone else and sitting there gesturing to each other to go ahead for half-a-minute then finally pulling forward at the same time and run into each other.  It ends up being embarrassing for the soloist.  He needs to be aware that the audience rarely gives extra points to the soloist for being accommodating or for being a good chamber musician.  Chamber Music is a separate Art-form.  


Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.

~ Art Linkletter


In performance, your eyes must be soft and your demeanor full of praise.  You have to on the one hand feel as if everything coming out of the soloist is the best thing since sliced bread, and on the other, know that’s it’s not and constantly compensate, reshape, redesign and gently inspire the soloist to the greatest possible vision.  And all this while you remain in the shadow, seemingly innocuous.  Never be tempted to compete with the soloist!  Be ever prepared to sacrifice your own ego and make yourself look bad for his sake.

As an accompanist, contrary to the soloist, you MUST rely on improvisation in the moment of performance – it’s your constant companion.  You must be more sensitive than expressive.  The circular balance between the two is more balanced toward sensitivity than in solo performing.

Accompanying gives you intimate contact with various instruments and voices, and many different types of interpreters.  This helps develop your inner ear and your feeling for interpretational style.  If you have a clear understanding of various sounds, you’ll be more likely to be able to translate those sounds into pianistic sounds.  And if you learn to absorb and blend with interpretational styles foreign to your sensibilities, you will grow as an interpreter.

Becoming a skilled accompanist inevitably makes you a better soloist.  Never treat it less seriously than your solo playing.  It will give to you as much as you give to it.

When you make yourself into zero, your power becomes invincible.   - Gandhi


Willpower and Vision

Willpower and Vision


As you prepare to practice or perform, remember that reality is largely a matter of perception.

Once I went to play for a friend of mine outside of Rome.  I wanted to run through a recital program for him and get his feed-back.  He’s a super-virtuoso pianist and I assumed that he’d have a beautiful grand, but when I arrived at his place in the countryside, I found a beat-up, old, awful upright with a couple notes missing, horrifically out of tune, and with keys cracked to the point of inducing blood if struck at the wrong angle.  Complementing this, he had an old electronic keyboard with a couple notes sticking, a squeaking pedal, and occasional electronic sound malfunctions such that the octave around middle “C” had to be avoided as much as possible.  He invited me to take my choice.


My heart sank.  What’s the point of playing through a program if the instrument can’t come near to giving what you put into it!  Bad pianos are the pianist’s curse.  But I had come to play and ran through the first piece.  What a disaster!  I felt like cursing at the instrument and rolling it out the front door.

How can you play on this?  

- I just play…

And he sat down and demonstrated a few suggestions.  A beautiful grand sang to me.

How do you get that sound out of that thing!!

- I simply refuse to accept what it gives me…

It was like talking to Yoda.  My eyes were opened.  It would have been laughable had he not just proved it.

Use the force echoed through my ears…

I massed my willpower and vision together and went through the rest of my program.  Gradually I found my way, and my musical vision started translating into actual sounds.

After that, I went back often, whenever preparing to play somewhere, both for my friend’s warm, intelligent advice, and to prove to myself that I could overcome his piano and make it sing.  If I could convince that box of my intentions, I would be strong enough to play any instrument anywhere at any time of day or night.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. 

It comes from an indomitable will. 

- Gandhi


Musicians are spoiled.  And singers are the worst!  How many times have I had to coax professional and not-so-professional singers out of a lethargic, I-can’t-possibly-sing-today self-pity…?

When you have a performance, running away is not an option.  Apologizing to your audience because you’re a little under the weather is not an option.  Not having slept well in an uncomfortable hotel room is no reason to feel sorry for yourself.

Ideally you’ll be in the best possible form for every performance, but rarely is that the case.  Muster your willpower and vision, and simply refuse to let your intentions be ruined by anything or anyone.  Rise above your situation.  And more importantly, rise above yourself and prove yourself worthy of the stage.   Realize that although it may be your concert, it’s not about you.




One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow,

and called out,

''Help me up! Help me up!''

A monk came and lay down beside him.

Chao-chou got up and went away.

- Zen koan

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is a reaction, both are transformed.

- Carl Jung


Teaching revolves around two dependent poles: generosity and selfishness. 


One of my conducting teachers loved to say, Show yourselves to be generous souls!  Generosity is the key to great artistry!  And how right he was. 

The first and obvious reason to teach is to give back what you’ve been given. You've been blessed with teachers and mentors who gave beyond the call of duty to your development, both personal and pianistic.  In these increasingly bleak days of classical music culture, those who have received training are needed to maintain a living tradition.  It’s not inevitable that the living music tradition could become extinct and need a Renaissance several centuries from now.


Every student is unique and needs a personal approach.  Teaching piano is rarely about teaching concert pianists or even professional musicians.  The path of the musician from a practical standpoint is often so difficult and demanding that many choose to follow other professions.  But many who leave serious musical ambitions for a time come back to music later in their lives for pleasure.  And many who have connected with music as children encourage their own children to study music.

My goal in teaching is twofold:  1) instill a life-long love and enjoyment of music – all music.  And 2) teach the student how to become a more mature human being through the study of music.

I’m always fascinated by the relationship between real life and the study of piano.  If you learn to overcome a problem at the piano, you will likely have overcome the same problem in your life, and vice-versa.  They’re ultimately inseparable. 


If I’m privileged enough to come across a student who might ultimately make music his career, the obligation is generally greater.   You need to create frequent opportunities for him to perform and test his abilities.  Goals need to be nearby, tangible and attainable.   But most of all, the joy and passion for the study of music must remain.  Otherwise all is lost.  Many teachers in their ambitions forget what really counts.

I sometimes wonder which of my students will be left with the most lasting impact and which will have impacted me the most.  I was the most talented and ultimately successful piano student of my first and most influential teacher, Patricia Reeve, at least from a professional musical standpoint.  She nurtured me from the time I first began lessons at the age of seven until I gave my first solo recital and debuted as soloist with orchestra at the age of twelve.  Then she had the grace to pass me on to a concert pianist who would be able to continue guiding me through me teenage years.  I doubt though that she feels she affected my life as profoundly as many of her other students, many of whom never became professional musicians or even possessed enormous musical talent.  She used music to teach people how to grow and express themselves, to better themselves.  Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal?

Seeing my talent immediately, she made me see the beauty of pursuing a career as a concert pianist.  She opened up a path to me and encouraged me tirelessly along the way.  With each student the path was different, and she encouraged each along his.

How do you know which student is talented?  Although you can usually see some kind of spark, you can never really know until you start seeing fruit, and even then, you don’t know how long the joy and drive will continue.  Life is too complicated to predict a young person’s future. 

But you have to always hope.  Hope not that the student will develop into a great artist, but hope that they have more potential than you imagine they might.  Hope that they will grow and become greater than you expect them to.  Give students the benefit of the doubt.  Sometimes being generous with your encouragement may produce results that surprise you!

On the other hand, how easy it is to kill talent!  Treat a kid with real talent as if he’s untalented, and soon enough he’ll prove you right.

Teaching is an enormous responsibility and a great joy.


They say, give and you shall receive.  In order to possess knowledge, you have to confess it.  You have to translate it into actions and words, and share it with people.  Few lessons go by where I don’t consciously realize that I’ve just learned something myself.  Teaching is a necessary part of growing as an artist.  The two greatest and complementary ways of claiming knowledge are performing and teaching.  One without the other suffers.





Wherever you are is the entry point.

~ Kabir


A pianist of any seriousness often has a love-hate relationship with the keyboard.  He’s a slave to it.  Miss a day practicing and you’ll feel it the next.  You actually feel guilty.  Miss a few days and you may sometimes feel like you’re starting over from scratch.  The more command you gain, the less this will trouble you, but it never goes away. Ahime!

Once I went to a lesson and confessed that I’d lost a couple days in a row that week with mid-terms, that I’d lost my momentum.  You know what I mean?  She looked at me stone-faced and paused, No

{To this day I don’t know whether she really didn’t understand or simply refused to acknowledge the power of momentum, but I tend to think it was the latter.  What strength!}

I find it best to try to arrange my life to have a specific, scheduled practice time.  Whether you’re in the mood or not, go to the piano and work.  If you’re getting nowhere, stay there and read a book!  Let practice-time be disciplined and regular, and it will be more productive and satisfying.


Practice is this life, 

and realization is this life, 

and this life is revealed right here and now.

~ Maezumi Roshi


Humans are creatures of habit – form good ones and they’ll serve you well.

On the other hand, sometimes distractions get in the way.  Practicing is most productive when your mind is free of clutter and worry.  If you have something to take care of, a problem to solve, a phone call to make – anything – take care of it first, then practice. 

Practice is a bit like prayer – it requires focus and a listening soul.  If you’re mind is occupied with inner chatter unrelated to the movement of your fingers, you may be doing what I call negative practice – at best unproductive, often destructive. 

As a teacher, I’m often asked by parents, How much should she be practicing every week?  And I answer that it depends on the student and the parents’ level of commitment, but that it should be two things – enjoyable and daily.  {Daily in a 5- or 6-day a week sense, but regular.}  If that means 15 minutes a day for a 6-year-old, that’s fine, but practice should be a habit, a way of life. 


When you get to the top of the tree, climb higher.

~ unknown

Sometimes life intervenes.  Periods of six months at a time have passed when I’ve literally not touched a piano.  Writing this book, I’ve not practiced for over a month, although I have played out of necessity.

As a teenager, I used to take at least a couple weeks off completely during the summer months and go to the countryside in Mexico where you couldn’t find a piano for miles and miles.  Guitar is the only instrument, Mariachi the preferred music.  Amigo, you call yourself a musician and you can’t even play la guitarra?  is a commonly asked question.  That’s beautiful!  It was great to escape from being a pianist every once in a while, regain my sanity and learn to love the piano again.

When you practice, practice regularly; when you need to take a break from piano, whether for a few moments or a few weeks, break completely and return with fresh desire and a clear mind.


To know and not to do is not yet to know.

~ unknown


Slow Practice ~ Fast Practice

Slow Practice ~ Fast Practice


Drink your tea slowly and reverently, 

as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – 

slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh



I was a young teenager learning Bach’s D major Toccata.  Its Fugue, in the wonderful key of F-sharp minor, is dense, dark, cavernous and complex.  It’s traditionally played somewhat slowly but lacks a tempo marking, so I brought it into my lesson as an Allegretto, playful and ironic.  My teacher, less-than-convinced, asked me to slow it down a bit.  I took it back a notch or two for her benefit, but kept its detache, nervous character.  By the following week, it had returned to its original tempo, and my teacher, now visibly perturbed, asked me to PLEASE slow it down, as slow as I could bear.  It was as if she were triple-dog-daring me.

I had long heard of the merits of slow practice, and not to be one to ever go half-way, I had played through each of the Chopin Ballades, for example, at about 20 times under tempo, waiting for each note to stop sounding before attacking the next.  I was no stranger to slow playing…

I embarked on the most excruciatingly slow tempo that I could muster.  The fugue lasts all of two pages and there were twenty minutes left in my lesson.  I could feel her glaring at me, but soon I was enjoying my new creation. It was as if I were hearing it for the first time!  I waited for her to stop me and beg me to speed it up; she waited for me to end my insanity.  Through the closing bars of the Fugue, I was rescued by the next student knocking on the door, on time as always.

Oddly, I discovered in those long twenty minutes a certain beauty in Bach’s dense landscape passing me by in slow motion, almost frame-by-frame, and although I sped it up to human tempo by the time I offered it at the following week’s Performance Class, it was still remarkably slow and intense.  The other students were always encouraged to say something positive before offering criticism, and they remained silent.  Finally one of the Doctoral candidates chimed in, intrigued but confused.  Well I must say, I’ve never heard the Fugue played quite that slowly before…

Slow, expressive, sensitive practice opens up your ears and mind to new truths and alternate realities.  The depth of emotional life embedded in a line of music often only reveals itself to the interpreter at a slower-than-normal tempo.  Playing slowly also challenges the interpreter’s ability to express long, arching lines of energy without forcing or breaking them.  How slow can you play and still remain mentally and emotionally connected and in-control?


There is more to life than increasing its speed.

~ Gandhi


Simon Barere is famous for playing everything too fast.  He and Horowitz had both studied with Felix Blumenthal and were buddies.  At a recital at Carnegie Hall, Barere offered Schumann’s Toccata, one of the most fiendishly difficult works in the repertoire, at break-neck speed, not a note dropped.  Horowitz went backstage afterwards to congratulate him.  Wonderful!  But don’t you think the Toccata was perhaps a little too fast…? 

His eyes twinkling with a childlike speed-lust, he replied, Oh, but I can play it much faster!


When you listen to Barere, despite the speed, there’s a cool control and a beautiful command of phrasing and overall structure.  It’s as if the speed brings clarity to his mind and vision.

One day I set out to play as fast as Barere.  As I increased the speed, I decreased the weight and volume, using only my fingertips.  Gradually, my fingers began moving faster than my mind could dictate, and I had to sit back and listen, marveling at them.  The structure of phrases started to become crystal clear, and unnecessary inflections and physical movements disappeared.

I slowed it back down to normal tempo and discovered that I was seeing and feeling in slow motion, with the clarity of mind and intense, relaxed expression of slow-practice.

It was then that I realized that fast practice and slow practice are two sides of the same coin; both are necessary to master your subject.





Elegance is achieved when all that is superfluous has been discarded

and the human being discovers simplicity and concentration: 

the simpler and more sober the posture,

the more beautiful it will be.

~ Paulo Coelho


My freedom-loving Zen inclinations abhorred the idea of a set posture at the piano.  I wanted to let my energies flow at will and have an intimate relationship with the keyboard.

Once as teenager, I played in a masterclass for a visiting Professor.  I hadn’t slept well, was a bit cranky and not at all in the mood to be dissected in front of an audience.  After performing he came up to me and asked me to start again from the beginning.  With this I felt a boney finger poking into my spine forcing me to sit up straighter.  And it didn’t go away.  I played the first two pages, still there, and finally stopped because I couldn’t bear it anymore.  I squirmed out of its grip.  After a couple comments, he asked me to try another passage, and as I began I felt the finger again.  It took all the self-control I could muster not to shove him away and punch him in the jaw.  The absolute nerve!

Soon enough it was time for the next victim to come to the stage so I left and slipped out the back of the auditorium, fuming.  How dare he criticize something as personal as posture!  Every pianist has his own relationship to the instrument; a music teacher should teach music, not posture.

A couple years later, seeing Argerich play {see post on Argerich in Part III) I would begin to view posture in a different light.  This petite woman, mustering the power of lions, sat gently upright at the keyboard with the naturalness of a toddler sitting on the floor.  Her graceful power was inspiring.

I tried balancing piano with all forms of exercise over the years, to varying benefits.  When I was twenty-five, my older brother Joshua, a jazz pianist, introduced me to Power Yoga.  He showed me the Sun Salutations and some postures that I would have never thought a Western man, certainly not my own brother, could get into.  And he had only been doing it for a short time.  This was an inspiration!

I borrowed the book he was studying and began trying it.  Within a few days, I felt for the first time in memory what effortless, upright, life-giving posture was all about.  At the piano, I couldn’t help but sit up straight and energized.  The base of the spine in particular felt elongated by a good inch – I felt taller!  And my shoulders, instead of crouching in poetically, pathetically and shyly, rolled out slightly, making me feel broader and more open to the world and to experience. 

I started to feel centered at the keyboard like never before and let my arms move to and from the body without the feeling of having to accompany them.  Over the next several months, Yoga became inseparable from the piano, not that I ever became a Yogi.  {Perhaps serious study lies in my future?}  I found that just fifteen minutes a day could give me immeasurable benefits.

Yoga of course isn’t the only way to gain balance between physical health and mental/emotional health, but it’s an excellent one.  Many musicians find swimming to be the ultimate form of exercise.  Most forms of exercise tend to harm the body as they help it.  I love running in the park, but I eventually hurt myself somehow, take a break for a few days, then lose the momentum.  Yoga is always energy-giving and as long as you’re aware, it’s difficult to actually hurt yourself.

No matter how much you long for music-making to be purely a spiritual/emotional/mental experience, it’s impossible to separate the spirit from the body.  As long as you’re of this earth, the two are forever linked.  Don’t run away from this truth – embrace it!  Learn to love the interconnection of physical health to mood, energy-level and strength. 

There’s a beauty in sitting down at the keyboard and feeling absolutely centered.  You needn’t approach the piano to feel one with it.  The energy between you becomes stronger when you have space between you.

Music doesn’t need you to go to her; let yourself be a vessel and she will come to you and flow through you.


Sometimes, simply by sitting, the soul collects wisdom.

~ Unknown



This was a difficult lesson for me as I began studying conducting.  My instrument was now human beings sitting at least a few feet away, but sometimes as far as 40 or 50 feet away.  How does a pianist used to having the keys right in front of him learn to connect to that!  I began as a walking conductor.  I couldn’t keep my feet still.  They always wanted to approach the musicians I was conducting and get closer contact.  How many times did I hear my Italian Maestro shout, Sta fermo! {Stay still!}.  It took me a good year to finally lose my walking tendencies and begin to feel energy on a larger scope.  I could look at the trumpets in the back, feel the connecting energy between us, give a slight flick of the wrist and get exactly the result I was asking for.  That’s power. 

The piano started feeling too close … I began sitting farther away from it imagining it as the 70-piece mental orchestra surrounding me whenever I studied orchestral scores.  Gradually I gained balance between conducting and playing the piano, but even now I sit farther away from the keyboard than most, and I still think of the piano as an orchestra.

Integrity and Persona

Integrity and Persona


In Art, contrary to a strict Moral Code, Integrity is a rather fluid concept.  Personal artistic truth is transcendental and ever-transformational.  Persona, if it ever exists as a fixed entity, is a temporary stop on a journey.  The artist that lets himself be defined by the image of his past achievements ceases to grow and gradually withers.  He becomes a caricature of himself. 

Integrity in Art is Zen itself – it means being true to what you believe now, even if tomorrow you believe something else.  Others define Integrity for an interpreter as faithfulness to the written score.  This is a valid approach to interpretation, and one that has born much fruit, but it would never have born the fruit of the Golden Age of Pianism. 

Music Criticism as an Art-form has always had Integrity.  It’s often difficult to distinguish one critic from another because they’re necessarily products of their generation.  I often disagree with a critic, but I rarely doubt his Integrity.

If you were to treat Criticism in a Hegelian light, as a spirit or entity, even as a human being, he might be found devoid of Integrity for having changed face so many times over the centuries.  But can you blame him for always being true to himself?

This is the very nature of Artistic integrity.  Have the courage to contradict yourself!  Have the courage to shock your admirers with a new opinion or style.  Honesty and openness harkens growth.

Your vision will become clear when you look into your heart.

Who looks outside, dreams.

Who looks inside awakens.

~ Carl Jung

Whereas artistic preferences in Music Criticism change notably over decades, personal artistic preferences generally change much more quickly.  Sometimes artists, even great composers, have their personas identified early on by themselves or the establishment and find it difficult to break away from the mold.  Success and power becomes addictive and they lose contact with personal truth.


The modern equivalent of persona is essentially image.  How are you packaging yourself?  How are you selling yourself?  Image only has artistic value if it’s true.  And it can only be true if you don’t create it – it comes of its own.  That’s the Zen nature of true image, true persona.  Let your persona represent truth of expression; then you need no longer concern yourself with it – just play!


The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.

~ Buddha


An interpreter should not only be open to change but should seek it out daily.  Challenge yourself to understand what you dislike and learn to love it.  Learn to see in every interpreter what other people see in them, even if he’s not your cup of tea.  Don’t shun composers or styles because you don’t feel at ease with them.  Pursue and persist until you have a change of heart.  Know yourself, yes, but constantly challenge yourself to become larger more all-encompassing than you are.

Once as a young teenager, I told my teacher that I didn’t feel like going to an Early Music concert that evening because I wasn’t particularly fond of it.  She half-smiled, replying,

Don’t presume to know at your age what you like and don’t like.  Go to the concert! 

May that reprimand be directed to all of us, at any age.


The greatest of all composers, Beethoven, was in constant transformation.  He always knew what he liked, but what he liked was always changing.  Every work grew out of the last and showed something decidedly new and original.  He concerned himself not with the Establishment, with the critics, with being understood by his generation.  He simply wrote as his Integrity demanded.

This is by no means true of all the great composers or interpreters.  It’s much more common for an artist to find himself and settle in comfortably. 

Beware of comfort!  Don’t let yourself become static, irrelevant and false!  Simply play with fearless Integrity; the audience always feels whether you’re being honest or not.


~ End of Part II ~


On Great Pianists

Part III {Scherzo}


I love individuals.

Every person you look at,

you can see the universe in their eyes if you're really looking.

~ George Carlin



From the pine tree learn of the pine tree.

And from the bamboo of the bamboo.

~ Basho


On Great Pianists

My whole life I’ve been influenced and taught by the great pianists of mine and preceding generations.  As the years pass, certain pianists come back to me over and over again with something new to offer.  For the most part, it’s about these pianists I choose to write.  Like any exercise of this nature, these short portraits and commentaries will likely reveal more about myself than about the actual subjects.  I’m in no way trying to make a complete list of the great pianists – there are many obvious omissions and some curious inclusions. 

This Scherzo is the lightest of the four movements and is at times comical, at times pensive, at others irreverent or provocative, but always full of love and respect for the subjects.  Each sheds a special indirect light on the concepts presented in the other three sections.


You yourself must strive.

The Buddhas only point the way.

~ unknown

Mind your thoughts, as they become your words.

Mind your words, as they become your actions.

Mind your actions, as they become you.

~ Buddha

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Sergei Rachmaninoff


One must be an inventor to read well. 

There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson



Sergei Rachmaninoff was perhaps the most complete musician of the 20th century.  He towered as composer, conductor and pianist, and in him, all three disciplines were intimately intertwined.  

One of the many paradoxes of Rachmaninoff’s genius is that he is most beloved for his lyric inspirations – timeless, never-ending melodies that linger in the ears and heart.   Paradoxical because he was one of the greatest contrapuntal masters of the 20th century.  He writes layers upon layers of melody and eachlayer is a world unto itself.

There have been many great melodists, from Mozart to Chopin, Verdi to Gershwin, but in all of these composers’ works, there is basically a melody with a simple accompaniment.  Rachmaninoff’s genius lay in his ability to combine layer upon layer of melody while giving the listener a sense of a single principle line with a complex inner life.

This applies to his orchestral works, piano works, vocal works, chamber works – everything.  But it also applies to his piano playing.  The inner melodies, from the bass-line all the way on up, teem with life.  The emotional and intellectual integrity of the inner part compares perhaps only with the genius of Glenn Gould or Vladimir Horowitz.  Yet what’s striking is that all of this comes off as subliminal, peripheral.  In the moment of performing – and this applies to all the great pianists – you feel his mind and soul centered in the melody.  The richness of inner complexities does not come at the cost of sacrificing the principle melody – the most important line and the place where most of the audience’s attention is centered.

The next thing you notice is the absolute command of architecture.  He has very strong points of view and it’s often easy to disagree with them, but the strength and inner logic of the design overwhelms. 

Another striking element of Rachmaninoff’s playing is the grand scope of the dynamic range.  His piano begins where most pianists’ forte stops.  Yet it SOUNDS piano and IS piano!  And this brings us back to an important point about dynamics and energy – dynamics are only indirectly related to decibels of sound; they’re related to relative decibels of sound, but more importantly, they’re defined to the listener’s ear by the relative level of the performer’s energy and the quality of that energy.   A piano can sound forte, for instance, if it’s forced.  Simply stated, dynamics represent mood, color and relative energy levels. 

One’s energy level changes from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, and the performer must be sensitive to this and counterbalance it when necessary, without forcing.  Rachmaninoff plays piano with a big sound but a calm mind and relatively relaxed joints, so the effect is piano.  Yet underneath the melody, there are seemingly infinite layers of dynamics, which lends his accompaniments a rich, orchestral effect.

Technically speaking, Rachmaninoff plays the melody from his forearm or upper arm.  This immediately gives him effortless access to an enormous amount of strength unattainable from the fingers alone.  In general, he plays ppp melodies as well as fff chordal masses all from the arm with its peculiar, sustained, penetrating quality.  The inner voices he assigns to the forearm, hand or fingers, according to the color desired.

This general approach to technique is typical of most of the great pianists of the golden age – it is one of many reasons they were able to achieve such differentiation of sound and emotion.  Modern techniques are based either solely on finger-strength or on a finger-hand combination that leaves the upper arm and forearm floating effortlessly in the air.   Great economy of motion but lack of strength and monotony of color result.  How can the fingers and hands alone create all the colors of the orchestra!  That’s a recipe either for tendonitis, resulting from over-working the smaller muscles (to little sonic effect), or a black-and-white contained approach to piano requiring only a small palette of colors produced with a petite dynamic range.

A word on Rachmaninoff’s forte chordal passages.  Rachmaninoff has a way of packaging chordal passages like few pianists in history; he phrases and shapes them so compactly and richly!  They resonate strength.  He seems to prefer a somewhat edged sound in forte and fortissimo passages, which he achieves by slightly holding the elbow.  It’s what I call a wooden underpinning.  It’s quite similar to the tonal ideal that Artur Rubinstein employs in forte chordal passages.

(Interestingly, while Rubinstein claimed not to be a fan of Rachmaninoff’s “sentimental” music, he adored Rachmaninoff the pianist and held his “golden tone” as his ideal.)

Rachmaninoff’s singing “wooden” sound in forte is the closest he comes to using percussion in his playing.  This is perhaps part of the nobility of his approach and general character.   The sound sometimes has an edge but is never forced, always rounded.  The irony here is that Rachmaninoff the orchestrator uses the percussion section to maximum effect.  In such an orchestrally-minded musician, why did he deny the piano of some of its most striking, innate NATURAL tone colors?  Who is the real Rachmaninoff?

When I listen to Rachmaninoff, I occasionally long for timpani here, a snair-drum undercurrent there, bells and chimes . . . This negation of percussive effect at the piano strikes me as odd and somehow unfulfilling. 

(Rachmaninoff, in his later years, toured the United States extensively, and remained there from 1918 until his death.) 

My way of understanding this paradox is through my own experience as a composer and conductor, but also through my experience with languages.  When I first learned to speak Spanish as a teenager, I discovered that a new personality was streaming out of me through my newly acquired language.  Language and culture are so powerfully intertwined that they often dictate thought and personality.  Gradually this is overcome, but never completely.  I went through the same experiences as I acquired fluency in French, Italian and Korean.  What baffles the mind is having a conversation with another bi- or multi-lingual speaker, switching between languages – you’ll notice how your feelings and thoughts about the subject subtly shift.


So it is with Rachmaninoff – Rachmaninoff the composer is different from Rachmaninoff the conductor is different from Rachmaninoff the pianist.  Together they give a more accurate account of the completeness of Rachmaninoff the musician.  As a conductor, he was less developed, more inhibited and conservative.  As a pianist, he reached the highest heights, but as a composer, he came closest to meeting his true self and achieving his artistic potential.

In the practice room, Rachmaninoff speaks to me in three languages.

Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz


Creativity is always from the beyond.

~ Osho



If I could go back in time, there are two red-letter dates in the history of 20th century pianism that I wouldn’t miss, both involving Rachmaninoff and his Third Piano Concerto.  The first is around the beginning of the century when Rachmaninoff debuted his new Concerto in NYC with none other than Gustav Mahler at the podium conducting – what a concert that must have been!  The greatest conductor perhaps in the history of conducting accompanying the greatest pianist of the first half of the 20th century!

The second was a much more private affair.  The young Horowitz had just landed off the boat in NYC and with all the sights the New World had to offer, his first stop was Rachmaninoff’s Manhattan apartment.  The next day they met at the now famed basement of Steinway Hall so that Rachmaninoff could hear what the young artist could do with his colossal Third Concerto.  They played through the entire work at two pianos.  Can you imagine what that must have sounded like - these twin giants of 20th century pianism - their languages blending and playing off each other! 


Horowitz is a complex beast.  He always forces you to love him or hate him, often simultaneously.

I remember the day my allegiance switched from Rubinstein to Horowitz – it happened in all of a couple minutes.  I was sixteen, living with my uncle not far from the University.  One afternoon I came home from school and raided his LP collection.  I found Horowitz’ recording of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto and Second Sonata.

I knew of Horowitz from before I ever began lessons but my first teacher was a big Rubinstein fan and it naturally rubbed off on me.  When I was eleven or twelve, I went to a lecture about competitions for aspiring pianists.  One comment struck me – If Horowitz were to ever enter a modern competition, he wouldn’t make it past the first round.

I’m sure that the lecturer was making some important point about the futility of competitions, how individuality rarely wins out and how you don’t compete to win, but rather not to be eliminated.  What remained with me instead was simply, What’s wrong with Horowitz if he can’t even pass the first round of a competition?

Horowitz died when I was thirteen and I didn’t even notice …

I didn’t buy his LP’s or go out of my way to listen to them.

And then I put on the Sonata.

No single event in my musical life has impacted me as much as that moment.  From the first crashing, cascading arpeggio followed by electric, deeply penetrating chords full of passion and sheer color, I knew that I was hearing absolute mastery and artistry.  Others have said it before – The first time I heard Horowitz, it’s as if I were hearing the piano for the first time, as if my ears never had never known what the piano was capable of…   Such was his impact on me that afternoon.


I devoured all of his recordings and took up Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto, imitating every nuance of Horowitz’ legendary interpretations of it.  After a few months, I reached my first Horowitz saturation point – I simply couldn’t take any more.  Everything I loved about it started getting on my nerves.  Then I would come back, over and over again, the cycle always repeating itself.

I simply couldn’t figure out Horowitz, and that bothered me and captivated me.  All artists can be defined and categorized, but Horowitz is an Enigma: as soon as you have him briefly pinned down, he morphs into another entity and contradicts you.  His strengths are as many as his weaknesses.  But he never ceases to fascinate.  No other pianist has been written about and analyzed so extensively, so I’ll leave you to their commentaries, but there are two extremely important aspects about Horowitz’ language that are usually glossed over or misunderstood: his willfulness and his acceptance of Brass and Percussion as an integral part of orchestration.


The most common argument about Horowitz’ approach is –  He would be great if only he didn’t do such-and-such, if only he didn’t do such-and-such.  I used to approach him like that, trying to imitate only Horowitz’ proper qualities, excising what shouldn’t be there.  But what I was left with was often meaningless babble.

And this is so often true – take away what you don’t like about something, and you may be removing the very reason why you like it so much. 

Horowitz will sometimes willfully mangle part of a phrase, making you sit on edge and gnaw your teeth, close your ears and cringe.  You want to scream out, Why do you have to do that!  And then the next moment, he’ll play the most beautiful, dissolving, nostalgic phrase, and you’ll swear that you’ve never heard such a beautiful passage.  You’ll love him again and know him for the poet and seducer he is.

Yet take away the first part, and what’s left?  Dribbling nonsense.  Horowitz never gives you anything important without somehow making you want it first.  This is part of his genius.  He knows how to balance love and hate, creating the most romantic, extreme contrasts.  And it becomes addictive.  You want him to bend the phrases against your own design so that he can then apologize and set everything right again.

Horowitz’ least successful, least personal playing, are his recordings with Toscanini.  Yes, they’re fantastic recordings nonetheless, but these two giants of interpretation were simply not meant to make music together.  It’s as if they’re speaking to each other in Chinese, one in Mandarin, the other in Cantonese.

Horowitz is the weaker Artist in the meeting.  He was intimidated by his Father-in-law and wanted to please him and be accepted by him.  He plays the Emperor and Tchaikovsky’s First in a quite normal, proper way.  You still hear Horowitz underneath but he’s in a straitjacket, smothered.  Listening, you long for him to break free, but he doesn’t.   It’s disingenuous playing, masterful but false. 

Later in his life, Horowitz could often become a caricature of himself, taking things a step too far.  But even this was at least Horowitz.  His sin was loving opium.  Take his late recording of the Liszt Sonata.  It’s like a series of character pieces, broken up and torn down at every opportunity.  But what colors!  What poetic hallucinations!  Contrary to common opinion, this is for me far superior to his earlier recording, which is full of momentum and verve and holds together architecturally much better, but lacks the tonal imagination and attention to detail.  When he plays Liszt, the devil and angel in him meet in the most perfect balance.  He is Liszt incarnate.

He has a similar chemistry with several composers, Rachmaninoff for example.  The composer admitted that Horowitz played many of his works – the Third Concerto, for instance – better than himself.

And Scriabin!  And Scarlatti!  The list goes on and on.  But let’s move on to the second important feature of Horowitz style, indirectly related to the first and usually overlooked or misunderstood – his percussiveness.

Horowitz imitators are the noisiest pianists around.  It’s not nearly as common as it was thirty or forty years ago when every Conservatory pianist was trying to play as fast and loud as Horowitz.  Students pick up on his power without understanding its source or being able to define its substance and think they can capture it by simply flailing away at the keyboard.

I myself admit to having occasionally fallen victim to this trap.  Inspired by a Horowitz recording, I go to the piano and try to recapture its magic; after a couple days I think I’ve managed somehow.  Then I listen again.  It’s not nearly as percussive or loud or heavy as it seemed in my memory.  It simply rings with a golden shimmer.  The weight doesn’t stay in the sound; it passes through it like electricity.  The effects often seem much greater than they actually are because of the way he places them in time and constrasts them against opposite colors, or against silence.  In his phrasing and in his voicings, he pinpoints the exact notes to point up for maximum effect.  He searches out the dissonant intervals, melodically and harmonically, and heightens them.  He doesn’t smear colors or effects over groups of notes – he crafts each note individually.

Unlike most pianists, Horowitz isn’t afraid of Percussion and Brass – he embraces them as friends.  He uses them sparingly but always at just the right moment for maximum effect.  Only in Horowitz do you think he’s reached a triple forte only to be suddenly hit with a chord twice as loud and powerful!  Yet he rarely actually offends the ear as many of his imitators do.  He punches you in the gut and sends you reeling.  And you stand up smiling and come back for more! 

Gilels is another pianist that embraces Percussion and Brass, but he does so in a much more muscular, bulky way.  Horowitz slaps much more often than he punches; he plays with you and provokes you, but he saves real punches for maximum effect.    Magic is not a heavy entity – it floats and can never quite be pinned down, and Horowitz is the ultimate Magician.

Horowitz’ Percussion is very rarely percussive; he embraces Percussion as a light, singing force.  He uses it as a great orchestrator does - to highlight phrases, to create contrast, to clarify structure.  And among the Greats, he is absolutely unique in his acceptance of Percussion.  None of the Golden Age pianists understood Percussion like Horowitz – they all shied away from it, searching for the ever-elusive golden tone.  Oddly, that ideal generally possessed little gold or polish; it has more of a matte finish.  Listen to the entire Leschetizky School, for example – all possess an almost identical sound, singing, round and translucent.  Horowitz’ sound, at least in the melody, is rarely as beautiful or pure – he leaves a certain edge in it that gently attracts the ear to it.  Horowitz does possess the Leschetizky sound, but he usually hides it from view.

Why conceal beauty?  This is a mystifying feature of his language – Horowitz often veils his most beautiful sounds underneath the surface, lending the overall effect a complexity and beauty that often surpasses the greatest of the Golden Age pianists. 

The conundrum for a pianist wishing to experiment with percussive effects is – where do you use them?  If you put them in the melody, the tone-color of the melody becomes less beautiful.  If you put them underneath the melody, they distract the listener’s ear from the melody and generally destroy the effect.

Horowitz deliberately uses brighter, less beautiful colors in the melody, against common logic.  And this is revolutionary!  The proof of its effectiveness lies in his recordings.  An added bonus of this approach is that the melody naturally has more carrying power in a large hall.  Brighter sounds ring more and often carry better. 

Remember also, brightness in a small space never sounds as bright in a larger space.  The larger the space, the duller the effect, and the greater the need to increase the scope of everything.

Finally, Horowitz’ embracing of Percussion and Brass is one of the features that sets him off as Modern against the previous generation of pianists. 

In Horowitz, fire sings through metal, glass, water and ice.


The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.

Albert Einstein


Artur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein


While Rachmaninoff was Horowitz’ opposite twin, Rubinstein was his nemesis.  Two artists could hardly be so different, yet so alike.  Reminds me of a story about two composers.  Copland, asked about his relationship to Gershwin while both were residing in Hollywood, replied, “Well, you know, we simply had nothing in common.”

There’s such a full-bodied lilt to Rubinstein’s playing, an inner joie-de-vivre and a constant risk-taking.  But he wasn’t extravagant – he played in the simplest, most natural way, like a man who strides, arms swinging, taking in the scenery and never looking at the ground at his feet.  There’s an unlikely resemblance to Toscanini’s conducting technique – both possess swing and lilt and naturalness and rightness and simplicity and absolute beauty of form, all coming from a constant contact with nature.  They both harness the natural weight and swing of gravity and the innate life of the human spirit, spinning them into upward, forward-moving energy.


Rubinstein was for me the ONLY pianist from age 10 to about 18.  Reading his memoirs at the age of fourteen and fifteen affected me greatly in other ways as well.  I wanted to possess languages and cultures like he did, so I started tackling one language after another, with the same stubborn passion that I applied to piano.  I longed to enter his turn-of-the century Parisian reality.  And I longed to speak a pianistic language that communicated to thousands at a time.

Chopin was my vessel to understand Rubinstein and Rubinstein my vessel to understand Chopin.  His is not a fragile or sentimental Chopin – it’s strong and full-bodied.  Inspired by his outdoors approach to music-making and piano-playing, I hesitated using my fingers to initiated sound; I used them as instruments of my forearms.  It wasn’t until my later teenage years that I began to really learn to use my fingers.  I was a full-armed pianist most comfortable in big, chordal textures. 

Rubinstein recognized beautiful tone in others (especially Rachmaninoff’s “golden” tone) and possessed a natural, beautiful sound (with a soft wooden underpinning).  But tonal beauty was not a goal in itself.  He set his sights on the breath, the long phrase, the timing, the rubato, the vitality of the inner rhythms, and most importantly, perhaps, the larger architecture.  Sound was something that came of its own and he was ever prepared to sacrifice tonal color or even risk missing the notes themselves for the sake of larger, greater goals.  This element of constant risk of the small details lends his pacing and vision the quality of a great conductor.  He played like an orchestra under the baton of a great conductor and breathed like a great singer.

The simplicity of his approach is ever-inspiring.  Barenboim said, He seems to sift everything through a strainer and only retain what he feels to be absolutely natural and unaffected.  But it’s not as dry as Richter’s approach – there’s a constant inner rubato and a stamping of every note with his personality and will.  It’s a conceptual difference between the two, but it comes across.  { I’ve always felt that Richter’s belief of being able to put the composer in the fore and negate his own personality belied an enormous ego or less-than-balanced mind.  Richter’s black-and-white, it-just-is approach has its own deep beauty, but that’s for a later Essay . . . }


It must be admitted: Rubinstein is not generally a master of shading, and pedaling is not his forte.  He always seems to choose the most direct path; he lacks something of Horowitz’ dark magic, unexpected twists, occasional melancholy or twisted passion.  But who plays with such aplomb or joie-de-vivre?  What the two share is a characteristic of most great pianists – in the moment of performance, their mind and heart are cleanly focused on bringing the forefront to life.  They engage the audience directly and vocally, and that’s the key to heartfelt, moving, meaningful performance.

Rubinstein seems to be most in his element in rhythmically accented music.  His accents are full-bodied and life-giving.  His deFalla and Spanish music in general is strong for this reason.  Chordal, orchestral music also suits him, Brahms for instance, or Debussy’s Engulfed Cathedral, Franck’s Prelude, Choral and Fugue, Bach-Busoni’s Chaconne.  And I can just now hear him playing the solo piano version of Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges – TRULY orchestral!! 

What interpretations does he own?  Obviously, everything he touched turned to Rubinstein, which is easily distinguishable.  But there are few interpretations that I would rate as the greatest of any given work.  Perhaps deFalla’s Fire Dance?  Or Debussy’s Engulfed Cathedral?

The other day I re-listened to his Valses Nobles et sentimentales – not his most convincing interpretation.  He simply recorded too much!  His enormous repertoire and appetite to learn is an inspiration in itself, but he might have been more selective. Sometimes you feel like he ought to have gone home, practiced a few more days, then come back to the studios.  It’s the inner levels that are often neglected – the background finger-work.  Not because his fingers didn’t work splendidly and subtly { as it sometimes seems. . . }, but because in the moment, he wasn’t focused on the inner levels and hadn’t practiced them enough at home for them to come out on their own, peripherally.

Technically, Rubinstein’s is an active forearm and upper arm technique.  Imitating him feels a bit like playing tennis – his full-armed piano is so big already that when you get into forte, it quickly becomes full-contact.  The fingers at first are shocked, even in piano, by the weight and speed of the attack from the forearm.  They struggle to hold up.  But gradually they get used to being walked upon and it becomes completely natural and effortless – and what power!!

He would often attack the keys from a foot or more in the air, enthralling audience with his balletic grace and athletic prowess.  He admitted though, The real attack comes from closer to the key – the rest is just for show.  And he loved to show.

He is remembered and loved almost more for what he represented as a person than for his transcendental pianism.  How many great musicians can you say that about?

Ivo Pogorelich

Ivo Pogorelich


You can be sure something’s not quite right with the state of interpretation in the 21st century when a relatively conservative interpreter like Pogorelich is still considered the bad-boy of classical piano…

If you’ve ever composed, studied jazz or done even a bit of improvising, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The field of interpretation is still wide open for the creative, searching interpreter.

The 20th Century was a paradox for the interpreter.  It saw a string of wars of unprecedented violence and carnage and the birth of the techno-age.  Modern Art responded by exploring and pillaging every possibility of human expression, from the most conservative peace-loving minimalism to violent, vulgar and purely profane expressions of protest against humanity.  Each artist seemed to be out to out-wow his colleagues and predecessors. 

The world itself was questioning the existence of God on a massive scale and some seemed to turn to Classical music as a stand-in for Religion.  Interpreters took up the challenge and began seeing themselves as Monks and Priests of the faith.  The Urtext Age was born; Serialism became a moral obligation for composers.

Pogo sprang onto the scene, gaining fame for not winning a competition.  He seemed to present himself as a Priest of the Anti-establishment – yet he was preaching to the establishment and was ultimately of the establishment.  He reached out not to non-believers, but to believers of wavering faith or sinful tendencies. 


In a way, he was a post-modern throw-back to the pre-modern Golden Age of pianism.  He embodied Liszt’s slogan, Le concert, c’est moi.  But he wasn’t simply selling himself as an artist with a personal take on the repertoire.  He gave commentaries on urtext beliefs.  He deliberately provoked and taunted.

Something about him was decidedly different, and you couldn’t ignore him.  A large portion of the establishment decried him as a False Prophet and would have loved to revoke his performing license.   Others found him to be a breath of fresh air – a Pogo Cult emerged.  Few were lukewarm about him.

His approach to interpretation is essentially cubist.  He distorts and reinvents.  He tries to tell you what is by showing you what isn’t.  Or perhaps he simply tells you what isn’t… either way, the effect on the listener is the same.  Does he really believe some of his half-tempos?!  You find yourself wondering whether he’s rooted in genius or simply a little off center, or both.

But the pianism!  He left his detractors in a conundrum.  No matter what you believe about his interpretational abilities or beliefs, there’s no denying that he possesses a colossal technique, one of the most complete of the 20th century.   The polish and scope of his live performing is astounding.  I heard him live only once in a sold-out 4,000-seat hall.  The largeness of the space was appropriate to the largeness of his playing, and of his ego.

Picasso: The Guitar Player

Picasso: The Guitar Player

He’s not a generally lovable player, but he’s a tone-poet and vexes you with spells.  He revels in making you hate and love him at the same time – a true prima donna in his own mind.

Many of his recordings are simply strange, off-the-mark.  Like his Liszt Sonata or Mussoursky Pictures at an Exhibition.  But even these are must-listens because of the extraordinary never-heard colors at every turn.  Some of his recordings, though, truly rate with the best of the century, like his (Ravel’s…) Gaspard de la nuit, Prokofiev 6th, and the Scarlatti album.  { It’s not Horowitz’ Scarlatti, but nears it. }  His Chopin B-flat minor Sonata will make you feel like you’re hearing it for the first time.  Willfully distorted, granted, but not less-so than Rachmaninoff’s legendary recording.

His distortions left such a mark on the scene that any pianist engaging in cubism is seen as imitating Pogorelich.  But distortion is such an important key to truth!  The possibilities to the 21st century interpreter are still wide open.  The 20th century has yet to happen in the world of interpretation.  It’s one of the final frontiers of Art.

Whether or not you have the courage or will to take distortion to the stage is between you and yourself, but distortion is a must in the practice room.  You have to explore the work you’re studying from every conceivable angle.  I pointed that out to one of my NY piano professors.  He said that he has too much to do already with what is to waste his time with what isn’t.  We didn’t last long together.

If you were a painter commissioned to paint a building as it looks from a certain angle at a certain time of day in a certain time of the year, would you spend hundreds of hours sketching and painting it over and over again to the exact specifications of the commission?  Would you not go out of your mind and lose perspective altogether?  How can you possibly perceive the light and shade and angles and colors without taking in the scene from every possible angle, real and imaginary?  You can only paint truth once you really know the subject. 

Interpretation is no different.  Often, by turning the object upside-down and inside-out, you’ll uncover hidden beauties, possibly even truth that evaded you.  Have the courage to take some of your discoveries to the stage.  Must you live in fear of shocking the listener?


Creative people who can't help but explore other mental territories

are at greater risk,

just as someone who climbs a mountain is more at risk

than someone who just walks along a village lane.

~ R. D. Laing


Martha Argerich

Martha Argerich


The world belongs to those who let go.

~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


I was sixteen and about to perform Tchaikovsky’s 1st Concerto.  I was out of town and had picked up a CD by an unknown pianist.  From the opening chords, I was enthralled - what sounds!  And what free-flowing lyricism!  Then came the famous octave passage in the Development… a stampede of octaves out of Hell.  I couldn’t believe my ears!  I stopped the CD and opened the player to see who it was – Martha Argerich.  {How I reached the age of sixteen without knowing anything about her still surprises me}.

Fast-forward two years.

My Piano Professor was having her annual end-of-the-year party for her students and late in the evening she invited us to watch a new video that she’d just acquired – Argerich playing Strauss’s Burlesque, live with Abbado on New Year’s Eve.  I’d never seen her play before and imagined flailing arms and a bit of jumping up-and-down off the seat.

I see a petite, fragile, feline creature walk on stage with a shy, girlish smile and gesture to the conductor to begin.  A few moments later, she enters with those same, massive octaves and humbling virtuosity.  But she remains perfectly still and calm, as if she were sipping tea.  My jaw dropped.  My whole concept of technique was thrown on its head.  I left immediately, muttering apologies, and went straight to the University.  It was nearly midnight and the School of Music was locked up, but I searched out a cracked window and crawled through it like a thief in the night.

I found a classroom unlocked and felt my way to the piano without turning on the lights for fear of attracting security guards from afar.  I had recently performed Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto for the first time, so I began re-working it, trying to keep my movements – even in the most passionate forte and fortissimo moments – calm and contained.  I played until dawn, elated.


Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind.

~ Jack Kerouac


Argerich would be my idol for the next few years as I tried to come to terms with her technique and artistry.

In terms of color and orchestration, she’s a rather black-and-white pianist; she seems to have learned little in that regard from her studies with Michelangeli.  Nor is she a great architect; she simply doesn’t seem to have a genius for form.  But she dances and sings in a way that more than makes up for her deficiencies. 


She’s also at least as great an accompanist as soloist.  She’s malleable and mirror-like, such that when she works with a good conductor, her interpretations take on a more logical and well-organized form. 

On her own, especially in her younger years, her fiery energy would often get the better of her.  A Liszt Sonata, for example, might end several minutes sooner than it ought to have, details gobbled up in a flood of pedal and passion.

She has a race-car driver’s lust for speed and is one of the few who can often get away with it.  Her performances have a visceral excitement, which she doesn’t apologize for.  Speed sometimes becomes an art in itself.  At her best, she makes you believe that every one else is simply playing several notches too slow!

Onstage she embodies passion, grace, absolute freedom, forward momentum and joy.  She makes you get excited about Classical Music and live concerts because her concerts are live, not replicas of a studio recording.  I was always the kind of person to leave concerts at intermission, but with Argerich, I would hang out at the scene long after the concert was over, savoring the occasion.

I was at her Carnegie Hall comeback solo recital.  Only at an Argerich concert do fans rush the stage repeatedly and beg for encore after encore, clapping wildly even after she’s waved definitively goodbye for the tenth time and been offstage for more than five minutes!

My generation can only say thank you to that kind of inspiration coming from a pianist not 50 years dead but still quite alive.  She’s truly a Spirit from another Age.

Claudio Arrau

Claudio Arrau


Heaven and earth and I are of the same root,

The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance.

~ Seng-chao



Arrau is the tree-planter of the piano.  I imagine him barehanded weeding his garden, watering the plants, sinking his fingers deep into the soil, savoring the earth, his fingers penetrating like the spades of a shovel.  He’s at one with nature.

Practicing for him must have given him the same sensation as tending his garden, applying the same loving care to weeding Brahms and Liszt.

There’s a natural sinking, unforced depth to Arrau that makes his playing speak with the wisdom of a 500-year-old Oak.  The older he got, the slower he played, and the more espressivo every note became.  He became increasingly sensitive.  He searched out emotional tension and sucked the marrow out of it.  Perhaps it became too slow at times, but such expression!  He once said, “Don’t be afraid to be boring.” Granted, it did sometimes get to slow and languid, but he certainly had courage and conviction.   I sometimes wonder if he didn’t intentionally try to bore at times trying to distinguish himself morally from more flashy pianists like Horowitz …

His philosophical approach to music has a serious German bent to it but his soul has Latin warmth.  He sings warm, thick energy into a clearheaded, cool, logical form.

There’s an odd resemblance to Rachmaninoff.  His depth is like sinking into sand whereas Rachmaninoff’s is more actively pressed, but they both penetrate deep below the key-bed. 

Whenever I want to really savor the notes slowly and touch base with the wet earth, I think of Arrau and let him speak to me and through me, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days at a time.  He’s been a faithful companion and inspiration for years and years.


Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould


The truth is more important than the facts.
- Frank Lloyd Wright


When I was seven and had just begun taking piano lessons, my Uncle Steve, himself a pianist, gave me the legendary 1955 Gould recording of the Goldberg Variations.  He told me that no matter how many times I listened to it, I could never tire of it.  Taking him at his word, I put it on every night for a year or so as I fell asleep, each day turning the volume slightly softer until I could only hear it echoing in my imagination.  Occasionally I would turn it up for a moment to see if we were in sync…

That was my introduction to Classical Music, J. S. Bach, and Glenn Gould.  Only much later would I begin to understand the genius of the Canadian recluse, but his stamp was deeply embedded in my psyche from the very beginning. 

Gould was the first bad-boy of the Urtext Age.  He made his way into the Establishment through the hazy back-door of urtext thought, J. S. Bach.  How can you define what’s just and right for a style if it’s so unclear in the text?  It was a conundrum for urtext thinkers.  J. S. Bach was one of the most careful editors of his time.  He didn’t want to give his compositions over in rounded-out form so that any hack musician could improvise his way over them left and right, as was the custom of his époque.  He wrote out much of the desired embellishments into the score with such interwoven precision and detail that he left little to be filled in or changed.

Nevertheless, from a modern perspective, there’s still much vagueness; urtext thinkers didn’t know yet how to nail him down.  The page doesn’t reveal all of its secrets; it can’t be precisely defined.  Tempos, dynamics and articulation, not to mention characterization – all of this is generally left up to the interpreter.  Who’s to say who’s wrong or right?  They knew only that his music needed to be rid of the romantic excesses of the past and be purified, the juicy wet heart excised.


And along came Glenn Gould with his Goldberg Variations, dry as could be, with a flawless finger-technique linked to a cerebral but passionate rhythmic verve that drove the critics into a frenzy.  Down with Landowska and her romantic excesses!  Long live the genius hailing from the North!  1955 became a defining year in Baroque interpretation.

But step by step, without losing his dryness and directness, his Bach became a bit strange, the stamp of genius ever greater.  Still, it was difficult for urtext critics to criticize because he hadn’t actually altered anything in the score.  It’s not as if he had changed a Presto to a Largo, a legato to staccato, a crescendo to diminuendo, because none of those marking tended to be in the score.  It was simply the notes and rhythms, black against white, the rest left up to the interpreter. 

Who’s to say whether Gould’s approach to Bach isn’t a manmade remolding of Baroque Cathedrals into skyscrapers?  Who’s to say whether he has unearthed hidden natural truths or built up his own modern re-creations for his own recreation?  With Beethoven, you can prove it by pointing to deviations on the written page; with Bach it’s any man’s guess.  And besides, it’s usually so convincing!

It was when Gould ventured into less free terrain that his anti-urtext tendencies were blatant and often offensive.  The free-spirited Leonard Bernstein himself, irony of all ironies, felt it his duty to address the audience with an unprecedented disclaimer before beginning a performance of Brahms 1st Piano Concerto with Gould as soloist.  Gould had the idea that it should be slower, that there was a common underlying pulse linking the three movements.  This would add a good 7-8 minutes to the performance and make the whole thing sound endless.  {If you take the trouble to listen to the live recording, it’s actually not a slow tempo at all by today’s standards!}  “In the spirit of experimentation, I’ve decided to humor this young gentleman, but know that these are not my tempos – they’re his...”

Some early Beethoven could be spot-on – dry, electric and full of rhythmic verve and precision.  Other Beethoven, taken with a wetter approach, revealed a terrible command of the pedal, way-out tempi and strange liberties.  You never knew quite what to expect from any repertoire. 

But what people thought of his approach was not his primary concern.  He played for himself and for his scattered people.  He had by now withdrawn from playing concerts and become the mystic voice of the wilderness. 

Whatever you think of him, you always feel that his playing is absolutely sincere, that he isn’t simply trying to provoke, at least not maliciously.  He embodies creative interpretation and integrity.

I think of him as the original cubist.  I sometimes wish that post-Baroque composers had left the pages as bare, leaving greater liberties to the modern interpreter.  Would Glenn Gould have had a successful career if Bach had been as precise in his interpretive indications as Beethoven?  If Beethoven had left his pages more bare, giving the interpreter more liberty, would a Beethovenian Glenn Gould have sprung up among us?


The question is not whether we will be extremists,

but what kind of extremists we will be...

The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Walter Gieseking

Walter Gieseking


Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching



Debussy had a very curious approach to piano technique.  He taught that the keys shouldn’t be “played” – it’s the keys themselves that draw the fingers down magnetically.  That’s a very Zen-like approach to touch!  And it’s very revealing about how he might have interpreted his own piano works.  You would likely assume from his statement that his fingers would have a constant connection with the keys and that he might prefer the fleshy part of the fingertip for its less direct sound.  Except for an occasional martellato effect, he seems to desire a non-martellato sound, a sound devoid of hammers.  If this is so, he may have found one of his greatest interpreters in Gieseking.

Gieseking’s interpretations of both Debussy and Ravel are legendary.  They speak in a language of elves and fairies, pixies and water sprites. The first time I heard Gieseking’s celebrated recording of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, I felt as if I were hearing an unknown magical instrument, anything but a piano with hammers and strings. 

Gieseking has all the painterly qualities of Michelangeli, but the two couldn’t be more different.  Michelangeli’s approach is superior in so many respects:  it has a greater variety of color, it’s more precise in every way, more respectful of the score – you can take dictation from it!  Gieseking’s interpretations are free, full of unabashed liberties.  Many of the notes are so veiled that they would be hard to identify by any but the most gifted listener.  He mystifies the ears, confounds reason.  The notes often lack individual value; they’re grouped together for larger effect.  The unexplainable in what he achieves lends him the quality of a conjurer.  In the Impressionists, his special approach makes for enchanting, enthralling, unforgettable interpretations.


Gieseking had a facile memory, a large technique, and a vast repertoire.  He simply played everything, the 32 Beethoven Sonatas, for example.  The hardest thing about preparing the Beethoven Cycle was memorizing them.  Later in the same interview, he adds, humbly, memorizing them actually came quite effortlessly.  Unfortunately, they don’t say very much.  Much of his recorded legacy simply disappoints.  I would have thought his Rachmaninoff, for example, would be something quite special, but it’s played with little magic, little understanding.

While his discography is vast and varied, if he had simply left us with his recording of Gaspard de la nuit, he would have earned his place among the immortals.  And it’s this recording that I summon whenever I try to achieve an enchanting, hammerless effect on the keyboard.  How would Gieseking-playing-Gaspard realize this passage?  It may seem odd, but it’s a key that has opened my mind and ears to many magical possibilities throughout the repertoire.

Milan Kundera writes, eventually everyone is reduced to kitsch.  And this is what I do without apologies.  I reduce an artist to his greatest quality {or qualities} and use it as a tool.  On the other hand, I don’t hold their weaknesses against them, and I use what I take thankfully.  Sometimes I have to wonder, though, what will I be reduced to?

Alfred Cortot

Alfred Cortot


If you have truely attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.

~ Lao Tzu



Alfred Cortot’s greatness reveals itself most in his Chamber playing; his Trio with Casals and Thibaut is the stuff of legend.  But he’s more renowned as a soloist.  Many nominate him as the greatest pianist of the 20th century, and that’s unmerited, but a greater poet of the piano there never was.  He exudes warmth in prose.

There are two Cortots: pre-Wagner and post-Wagner.  Until the age of about twenty, he was a mere pianist – a fantastic, dry, elegant French pianist – but he lacked depth and sincerity.  I imagine, listening to his earliest recordings of works such as Saint-Saens’ Etude in the Form of a Valse, for example, that he must have played much of his repertoire in a similar vein.  The technique is staggering and the style full of élan.  But it’s a bit insincere and lacks color.

Then he became a Wagner convert, began learning to conduct, and spent his early twenties in Germany working as a Choral Coach and then Assistant Conductor at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.  In 1902, at the age of 25, he conducted the Paris Premiere of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung.  During these years, he reinvented his pianistic language and persona, returning to the stage as a transformed pianist, hardly recognizable.  He had reached greatness.

Although a conductor at heart, you don’t hear the baton in his interpretations as you do with many conductor/pianists { Leonard Bernstein or James Levine, for example }; his interpretations are never orchestral transcriptions.  Rather, he plays with the vision of a conductor and the colors of an orchestra in the language of a pianist. 

The piano is in countless respects inferior to the orchestra but in just as many superior.  The pianist has absolute freedom to manipulate time on every level.  Every nuance is his own.  A conductor would need limitless rehearsals to achieve the same effect.  Granted, it’s possible, but in the modern world it’s simply cost-prohibitive.  Gone are the days of 30 or 60 rehearsals for a new Opera, the underpaid orchestra subject to the whim of a sometimes great but merciless conductor.

The pianist needn’t depend on mercy – his orchestra is ever willing to oblige, and free of charge.


Cortot is the Piano’s Great Orator.  He didn’t separate words and vision from musical expression.  There’s a wonderful clip of Cortot teaching a Masterclass, playing Schumann’s Der Dichter Spricht { The Poet Speaks } while narrating the music’s poetic intentions.  A must-see!  The playing is stunning alone, but accompanied with his words and generous spirit, reveals a light into his soul and thought-processes.

He wrote down his poetic visions about a great deal of repertoire in various Editions, of Chopin and Schumann in particular, and although his writing style is out-dated, over-the-top, and second-rate as Prose, as a guide to understanding the repertoire, it’s often spot-on and visionary.

Many pianists talk about speaking and singing with their fingers – Cortot talks and writes, but also shows. 

What turns off many to Cortot is the way he carelessly throws away countless notes in his recordings.  He belonged to another era and didn’t quite understand the immortality of recordings.  He was thrown into recording from early on, but I doubt he truly believed in the medium.  He was a live artist of the Old School.  But don’t be deceived – if he needed to rerecord and play a note-perfect performance, it would have given him little trouble.  It’s not as if he didn’t possess a colossal technique!  He simply had his priorities elsewhere, on the poetry and the pure expression of his artistic vision.  Hard to fault the man for the noblest of intentions. 

Besides, after his early recordings set new standards for virtuosity, recorded or otherwise, perhaps he no longer felt the need to prove himself on a technical plain.  The first time I heard Cortot’s early recordings, I locked myself in a practice room in the heat of summer for two full weeks, castigating my fingers for their sloth and laziness.  Such was I humbled by Cortot’s elegant mastery.


There’s a revealing story about a change of the guard.  Cortot was to conduct Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto in Paris.  The soloist, the young Horowitz, 26 years his junior, was already making waves across the Continent.  I had heard that Horowitz was an albatross, but upon hearing him in person I failed to see his wings.

Did Horowitz have an off night? 

The following story illustrates the similarity and difference between Cortot and Horowitz.  Each of them enjoys catching you off-guard at the peak of a large crescendo.  They save a little something extra.  Cortot recommended to students to put down the Soft Pedal and make as much crescendo as possible.  At the very peak, release the Soft Pedal to reveal a sudden reserve of extra sound and brilliance.  It produces quite a special effect – try it!

Horowitz doesn’t often use the Soft Pedal above piano.   If he needs to crescendo to ff and then release a mighty sforzando at the peak, he plays a natural crescendo to ff, making you believe he’s maxed out.  Then he hits you with a dynamic level that only Horowitz and a small number of pianists possess – ffff!  It’s only partly illusion.  Most pianists possess a usable dynamic range from pp to ff.  Some possess a range from ppp to ff and others from ppp to fff.  Horowitz’ range is easily from pppp to ffff.  I imagine that only Anton Rubinstein and Franz Liszt possessed such a massive dynamic range with minute control over its entire scope.

The difference between Cortot’s Orchestra and Horowitz’ is that Cortot’s includes Strings, Winds, Horns, a solo Trombone and a solo Trumpet, whereas Horowitz’ includes all of the above plus an entire Brass and Percussion session – a full Mahlerian Orchestra, in effect.

Cortot couldn’t have helped but feel a little threatened by this.

Although perhaps not the greatest pianist of the 20th Century, Cortot certainly ranks among the top dozen.  Ranking, however, is an often juvenile pastime; esteeming, dissecting and possessing is the purpose of these pages.  Cortot still has much to teach me.

Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter



I’ve spoken of Richter’s it-just-is approach on a couple occasions.  There’s something right, even righteous, about his playing.  When you get under its spell, like that of all the great interpreters and Prophets, it seems as if there could be no other way to perceive reality.  It’s pure Zen.  Yes, there’s plenty to criticize, much missing, but there’s a purity to it, a completeness and utter inner logic and consistency.

In America, Richter fascinates and is respected, even loved, but his reputation has never quite equaled that of many other great pianists such as Horowitz, Rubinstein, Arrau or Gilels.  In Europe however, I discovered that Richter is viewed by many as the ultimate pianist, and contrasted to America’s Horowitz, often derided as a tasteless trickster.  At first I found this offensive and laughable, and I still find it misguided.  Richter is over-rated there and Horowitz much under-rated.  Yes, Horowitz can be offensive, and he can at times seem trivial, but don’t let yourself be deceived – there’s an underlying seriousness to everything he does, and he leaves a colossal legacy that will feed countless generations to come, much more so than Richter’s ever will.

But Richter still rates very high in the larger scheme of things.  I didn’t get to know his work seriously until I was in my mid-twenties.  I knew a few of his recordings and respected his work, but I had an aversion to the idea of Richter.  What makes him the Prophet of the great composers?  Who does he think he is!

One night I put on a CD of his and listened to it calmly, without judging.  At first it seemed dry and colorless, but it began to grow on me.  As I continued listening, I actually started to like it.  It quietly insinuates itself into your consciousness.  The CD ended and I pressed play again.  And again. 



The next day I sat down at the piano and worked through some repertoire guided by Richter’s direction, as it were.  It felt like a purifying Zen ritual.  All of the excess color, emotion, and rubato filtered out and the black-and-white form remained, pure and simple.  I excised my will as much as possible to let the music speak – not the composer, but the music itself. 

When I thought deeply though, I realized that there was still one filter remaining – Richter.  He was teaching me, though, and was welcome to stay for the time being.


The Wise Man is square but not sharp,

honest but not not malign,

straight but not severe,

bright but not dazzling.” 

~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching



Richter invites philosophical discussions about the nature of interpretation.  Does the composer have the right to stand between you and his music? 

When a composer creates, he taps into a force much larger than himself – Music.  Music in turn belongs to Creation.  The Composer doesn’t create music; he simply borrows its gestures and arranges them like Legos.  He can create nothing that doesn’t already preexist in the infinite possibilities of musical creation.  He uncovers preexistent truths and has no right to claim them.  The created work is greater than the composer.  And in a practical sense, by publishing, he releases interpretational rights and gives over his creation to interpreters.  As Rachmaninoff so often proves, the composer is not necessarily the best interpreter of his works, even if he actually possesses the instrumental skills to interpret them, which is rarely the case.

The composer needs to be as modest in front of Music as the interpreter does.  At this point in Music History, the interpreter and the composer are no longer co-dependent, practically or philosophically; neither serves the other.  Rather, they are both served by Music.  Music in return is served by purity of intent on the part of its practitioners.

Depending on the composer as a psychological go-between hinders intimacy with the music itself.  Many students have so many go-betweens – their present teacher, past teachers, composers, idols, respect for tradition - that they don’t know what’s real anymore.  Their communication with the listener and with themselves becomes weak.  Some become so blocked by filters that they become emotionally and mentally paralyzed.  A student has to learn how to throw away the image of his go-betweens and make direct contact with the music. 

Filters are tools:  they’ll serve you if you know how to use them, but if you don’t, they’ll either sit idly or get in your way.  Using teachers or composers or idols as filters is invaluable, but first you have to be able to experience the source first-hand.

Sometimes undesired filters are imbedded so deeply inside you, like computer viruses, that you don’t even realize they’re there.  Other times, you’re aware of a filter but find that you’re unable to function without it.  In this case, you’ve probably digested it so much that it’s becoming part of your intuition.  Give it time and don’t fight against it.  Remember that intuition can be viewed as a massive compendium of filters working subconsciously.


Does Richter come closer to Music than all other pianists, as many of his admirers believe?  Certainly not.  You can appreciate his Art though without acknowledging what he or others believe it to be.  The best way to describe it is high-definition black-and-white.  There’s plenty of contrast and glimpses of imagined color, but he deliberately rejects certain beauties for the sake of purity and simplicity.  The language is convincing and consistent in and of itself, and it mesmerizes.

At present, Richter is still not deeply rooted in me; it doesn’t stick to me as well as other filters.  But perhaps that’s because ultimately our approaches to performing, if not interpretation, are not so fundamentally different in many respects; it’s a matter of semantics.

Emil Gilels

Emil Gilels


True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.

~ Albert Einstein


Emil Gilels is one of the Piano’s great Forces of Nature.  He has the qualities of a Poet and a violent storm wrapped in one.  Of all his recordings, Petroushka is his most definitive – some of the most orchestral playing in recorded history!


Like Michelangeli or Radu Lupu, you hear a Sculptor’s approach to the Piano in Gilels, but there’s an essential difference:  In the first two, you usually hear only the finished product, luminous and calm; in Gilels, it’s the actual process of Sculpting that you witness, like Performance Art in a Piazza.  You see the piercingly visionary eyes of the artist, his rippling muscles, the gleaming steel of the hammer and chisel, the chips flying left and right – you witness the birth of a work of Art.  The youthful, fearless struggle with the elements is viscerally exciting, mesmerizing!  Anything could happen.


When you do something, 

you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, 

leaving no trace of yourself.

~ Shunryu Suzuki


Occasionally, usually in studio recordings, you hear a much calmer, more passive Gilels, where the product of his sculpting becomes more important than the actual process.  Wisdom and calm abound.  And this side of Gilels has a glowing appeal as well, like Arrau or late Rubinstein.

Gilels at his best comes between these two extremes, when you feel the inevitability of the final product, but also the singing reality of the moment of creation – it’s present and eternal at once.  Here, Gilels and Michelangeli, seeming opposites, occasionally meet. 


Zen space, the space of Giants...


~ End of Part III ~