Piano Connections with Barbara


It must have been back in the seventies when I first heard the name Rosemary Brown. What a fascinating tale she had to tell!  The great dead composers were communing with Rosemary from “beyond” and using her as a conduit to share their late compositions with the contemporary world. However, Rosemary Brown was not a trained professional musician, but she was gifted with spiritual vision. Some people believed what she was doing; others remained skeptical.  

I wanted to know more about this amazing woman. As luck would have it, after one of my concerts a friend gifted me with her book, Unfinished Symphonies. Iquickly read it and remember thinking how blessed she was to have these great artists in her life and to get to know them personally. As a performing artist, we strive to go deeper into the music so we will understand what the composer is trying to say. Rosemary could actually speak to them and hear their voices directly.

Shortly after reading her book, I was in London for concerts and made an appearance on BBC Television. I was interviewed about my work as the first artist in residence for Deere & Co, an American manufacturer of farm equipment. I spoke about going into the factories and playing for the workers and introducing them to the music of my composer “friends:” Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, etc. As a result of that interview “Pebble Mill at One,” a daily program on the BBC invited me to do a weekly music spot and to speak of a different composer “friend” every week. It was great fun and quite popular with the public, and I received lots of lovely letters from people who watched the show. 

In one letter, I was asked if I had any interest in meeting Rosemary Brown. The lady who wrote to me was a friend of Rosemary’s then publisher Basil Ramsey. A meeting was arranged, and I was invited to have tea with Rosemary at her flat in Wimbledon.

My first meeting with Rosemary was unforgettable. I still remember her first words to me. “My friend Liszt has told me all about you— how lovely to meet you!”  How’s that for an icebreaker! Then during our visit, it seemed as if she were talking on the phone and listening quietly to something being said to her by the other party. “My friend Rachmaninoff wants me to give you a message. You’re one of his favorite pianists, but he wants you to know that in the second movement of his Third Piano Concerto (I had been touring with the Third Concerto that season), there is an inner voice that you need to bring out in measure 12.” I must confess that after this statement, I started to have my doubts about what she was saying. I knew that Rosemary was not a professionally trained pianist and certainly was not capable of performing this concerto, but she made it clear that she was only delivering a message. As soon as I returned home, I grabbed my score to check out what she had said and sure enough found that hidden voice that I had missed in the thicket of notes that Rachmaninoff had written.

Over the years, we corresponded, and we would try to visit whenever I returned to London. Rosemary often spoke to me about the strain of her work and the time and effort it took to put these compositions down on paper. We discussed the different personalities of these composers and their unique style of communicating and how they would go about dictating their works note by note to her. She shared with me the difficulties she had endured and the abuse she had suffered from the music establishment who questioned her veracity and expressed doubts about the work she was doing. We would discuss her recent compositions, and then she would send me home with some of her music. On a few occasions she was able to attend some of my performances, always escorted by her young friend Adrian. 

We never spoke about our personal lives outside of music. I knew that Rosemary was a widow with two children, and I do remember meeting her daughter at her flat on one occasion. In retrospect, I now realize that we were both widowed around the same age, and we both lost our husbands after the same number of years of being together— a fact that we did not know we shared at the time of our friendship.

I think of Rosemary so often, and I cherish her friendship. I am now better able to understand the spiritual work she was doing and the importance of uncovering the message that these great composers need to share. As a performing pianist, I am striving to go deeper, to go under the notes, and go beyond the pianism and technical bravura. The journey is about discovering the depth of the composers’ spirit so that I can connect their music directly to the souls of the listeners. Rosemary has inspired me to venture into the unknown without fear and to have the faith and the courage to trust my intuition so that I can hear the voices of the composers and share their stories.

Thank you, Rosemary, for your guidance, your faith, and your boldness. You never lost sight of your mission in life. Always in our thoughts, your spirit continues to inspire.

THE FEAR OF BOLDNESS! October 9, 2023 

I was just practicing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto as I will be performing this work in a few weeks. The last time I played it was at least ten years ago. What a gift to rework one of Beethoven’s masterpieces—after all the notes return and the fingers know where they are going, a journey of discovery as well as self-evaluation can begin.

The reworking process tells me exactly where I’ve been, how much I have changed, and how I have grown. It also points out my weaknesses and allows me to be aware of the things I never dared to do at the piano years ago when I was a young performer. Now I can acknowledge the lack of boldness that I experienced so long ago as I tried to get everything “right.” As a student we learn how to behave properly at the instrument and to pay attention to every detail—every marking on the page. But that knowledge and focus can indeed be limiting and may even impede the discovery process. By only concentrating on minutiae, it is harder to grasp the entire picture, thus limiting our freedom to travel to the deeper places of this composer’s psyche. However, perhaps that larger picture can only come from the experience of our youthful mistakes as well as the gift of hindsight.

When I think of Beethoven, I think of his boldness—his courage to be himself and to journey where nobody dared to go before him. As a performer of his music—music that is so boldly written—I need to be bold as well. Ideally, I need to walk on that stage and play without fear and any sense of reticence or caution. That requires confidence—not only in oneself but a commitment to the music and its interpretation. I want to get as close as I can to what Beethoven himself would have done with this Concerto if he were seated at the 9-foot Steinway. Actually, he was the pianist who premiered his Fourth Concerto and what a virtuoso performer he was—quite a giant at the keyboard— head and shoulders above his contemporaries!

Remember all those sketches of Beethoven working at a piano with broken strings, probably playing as loudly as possible so he could hear its vibrations once his deafness had set in. I do believe that he would have loved our modern-day Steinway. Performers who go back to the instruments from the era when he was performing, place limits not only on themselves but on the musical possibilities as well. Beethoven always went beyond his instrument. As he said to that violinist who told him that it was impossible to play a certain passage in one of his symphonies, “Do you think I am aware of you and your puny instrument when I am writing my music?” is quite apt. He always stretched the possibilities to go beyond the status quo and venture into completely new territory. He does that at the piano, going beyond the instrument to challenge the performer to make sense of what he himself hears, in spite of the piano’s limitations. Beethoven hears symphonically and asks us to do the same at the piano.

It takes boldness and courage to play Beethoven’s music and capture his joy of freedom. Not to be shackled by fear should be the ideal of every performer. 

And once fear is overcome, then the joy can be shared!

BOLDNESS, COURAGE & TRUST October 7, 2023 

So often I am asked how I manage to do what I do. How do I have the courage to walk on that empty stage and sit down at the grand piano for a two-hour recital. 

Is it courage? is it boldness? Some might say it’s insanity, or is it an act of faith and trust? Pianists spend many hours practicing so we can stride out on the stage with confidence and the knowledge that we have something to say that can make people listen and make them feel. We want to take them on a journey to a magical place, miles away from the world in which they normally dwell.                                                                                 

There is a need for all artists to share—to share why we love music so much. Without words, we can communicate a passion that has made such a difference in our life. As the English psychiatrist Donald Winnicott wrote, “it is the need of the artist to create symbols”— to better navigate the world in which we live.  More than a need, it is a responsibility that the performer has to the composer as well as the listener—a sense of mission, a fulfillment of a god-given talent, a need to speak truth.

Frankly, my life could not function without music and the piano. It provides meaning— structure. It defines who I am and has taken me on the magical journey of discovery. It allows me to look deeper inside my soul without fear, so that I can tap into what the composer is trying to say, hear his message, and communicate it more directly. In so doing, the performer allows music to touch souls while he himself travels into that higher realm.

I remember reading a wonderful quote by the late popular country-singer Hank Williams. His words seemed to understand the role of the performer.

“Everyone has a little darkness in them. They may not like it. They don't know about it, but it's there. And I'm talking about things like anger, misery, sorrow, shame. And they hear it. I show it to them. And they don't have to take it home.”

And perhaps that says it all- the performer can take you to all those dark places but you don’t have to stay there. As Williams said, “You just have to listen to me sing about it.” Much easier to deal with that way! You immerse yourself in the total experience but can leave anytime with your soul more intact. Pure transference! 

A remarkable fact about music is that no two people will listen in exactly the same way. Each will bring their memories, associations, their own set of baggage to the experience.  But the important thing is to listen— to connect—to feel and experience the passion and the joy of the moment. And to use it to pry open the heart! Sounds like I am describing a good therapy session!

No words necessary and definitely much easier than singing a Hank Williams song! 


LOOKING IN THE MIRROR! September 19, 2023 

I remember so many discussions with my late husband about artists and how they work. He was a poet, what I call a “primary” artist, the person who starts with the blank page and then begins his work; I am a performer, what I call a “secondary” artist. No blank page for me! I start with the musical score, preferably the “urtext,” the original edition that the composer left. (Extremely important especially when interpreting Beethoven as too many editors have made changes to what Beethoven so carefully indicated in his scores.)

By observing how my late husband worked on a poem, I had a glimpse of what it means to be a “serious” artist. His meticulousness in placing a comma or hyphen or choosing the “right” word for the natural rhythmic flow was in evidence within every draft of his well-crafted poetry. At my first visit to his apartment, I saw papers posted along the wall. These were the drafts he lived with, and when walking by would make minute changes until he felt that he had finally gotten it “right.” 

Not all performers can be called “serious” artists even if the talent is exceptional and the facility—what is called technique—astounding. Of course, that is a prerequisite for getting on the stage. But the more important question that needs to be answered is this: do they dig deeply enough and go under the notes of the score to understand the composer and convey what he is trying to say? Are they able to rise above themselves and go beyond their own ego to communicate a spiritual message directly from the composer to the listener without getting in the way and interfering with the process?

Franz Liszt suffered throughout his career with accusations of circus antics and too much theatricality, but underneath all the trappings was a seriousness of purpose—a need to communicate and share with the masses what he believed was the good, and he did so with noble intentions.

Piano competitions have usually emphasized the importance of speed and note-perfection above individuality in that quest for the first prize. Remember that famous quote of Bela Bartok? “Competitions are for horses.” These words were said by the great composer after a fellow competitor of inferior talent was named the winner over Bartok at an international competition for composers. Anyone who rises above the norm and demonstrates their uniqueness becomes suspect in most competitions. The natural talent usually has a harder time climbing the ranks than the well prepared diligent student whose blander personality will not offend the judges—nor will it truly excite! 

Often in our talks, my husband and I debated the question whether most artists are aware of the level of their own talent. He insisted that when an artist looks into the mirror at two in the morning and confronts his own soul, he truly knows his own level if he is honest with himself. I frequently disagreed as I am acquainted with so many successful performers who seem so self-satisfied with where they are professionally. However, after repeated listening, there is the realization that their playing always remains the same—it never changes because they haven’t grown—they haven’t had the courage to look inside and venture deeper into the music and confront their own souls.

I’ll admit that the hardest thing to do is to look inside and evaluate the self. I recall an audition that I had many years ago when I was based in Amsterdam as a young artist and very active as a performer throughout the country. Holland at that time could boast 22 orchestras. Quite extraordinary for a country the size of our state of Kentucky and what wonderful opportunities for young artists to perform! My manager had arranged an audition with the Director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. He was a lovely man, a hero of the Resistance, and a composer himself and extremely knowledgeable— truly a wise man. I still remember what I played for him- Franck’s Prelude Chorale & Fugue and perhaps also a Beethoven sonata. I thought the audition went very well— I felt I had played my best. When I heard from my manager what he had told her after my audition, I didn’t quite understand at the time what his words had meant. He said that I was indeed a good pianist but not “committed” enough. Only now do I understand what he was talking about. I was not at the point in my life where I could go under the notes and commit myself to that serious journey of exploration. As a young and flashy performer with plenty of facility, it didn’t occur to me to play any differently than I did. I was not ready to search for my own growth. I was too involved with making my own concert career! Looking back, I can understand now why this man wisely made this observation.

My late husband often spoke about the “artist’s responsibility to his own talent.” In other words, never take lightly the gifts that you have been divinely given. Try and search for meaning in everything you do and uncover the mission, the responsibility with which you have been entrusted.  As a performer, that means an allegiance to the composer and his spirit, and an obligation to the public who has come to hear you, to play at the highest level.

Looking back at the journey I have taken with the piano makes me feel as if I am always at the beginning of a new adventure—starting all over again with that blank page that is yet to be written. Also the realization that yes indeed, I truly am a late bloomer! Performing and recording Prokofiev’s music proved to be the turning point for me as a serious musician. This Russian composer encouraged—even dared me to go deeper and go beyond the notes to try and clarify his complexity. And he presented me with a difficult challenge. As I lived with his music, I began to understand the nature of this man, so misunderstood in his own lifetime. I began to feel in tune with him and his music and much more in harmony with myself.

However, as much as we strive, we never do arrive to our destination—there is always so much more to discover—many more layers to be uncovered on this exciting journey! And what is needed is the time to do so.

LOVE & LOSS & RACHMANINOFF! September 3, 2023 

Falling in love, I believe, is one of the miracles of human existence—a true blessing gifted to some on the adventurous journey called life. Stored in our memories are marvelous sensations and thrills of special moments—remembering an unforgettable meal once savored, a treasured conversation with dear friends, a tune that stays in our ears forever with joyful associations, a beautiful place that recalls happier times—or looking across a crowded room to lock eyes with the person destined to become the love of your life. Recollections become embedded with our personal history, but it is impossible to return to that exact place in time ever again. To have known love, no matter what its shape or form, even briefly, is to have experienced one of the miracles and divine blessings of life. However, just as night follows day, love will eventually be followed by loss. That is part of the cycle of life.

Spending many hours living with the piano music of Rachmaninoff, means entering his world of sadness and pain. Intimately acquainted with loss from an early age, Rachmaninoff witnessed the deaths of two sisters. Perhaps this accounts for his generous use of the “Dies Irae” theme throughout his compositions. Poverty was certainly not foreign to his existence. Due to the unpredictable behavior of his father, Rachmaninoff witnessed the dwindling of the aristocratic family fortune, sometimes being left as a young student with not enough money to buy his next meal. (Ironically, later in life, Rachmaninoff would become an extremely wealthy man and the highest-paid professional pianist in all the world!) Within Rachmaninoff’s deeply dark Russian soul, the pains of suffering and depression managed to coexist with ecstatic highs, always leaving the listener of his music some glimmer of hope for a better future.

This is a man who loved his homeland, and the sounds of the Russian landscape are heard throughout his music. Listen to the tolling of the Orthodox Church cathedral bells and the longing and yearning in those never-ending phrases that keep climbing towards their emotional climax. The real tragedy of Rachmaninoff was having to leave Russia and fleeing with his family during the 1918 Revolution. He loved “Ivanovka,” the beautiful rural estate where he composed his Preludes and his Etudes-Tableaux but was forced to leave everything behind to forge a new life. Rachmaninoff eventually settled in the States and made his living primarily as a concert performer. It is interesting that most of his compositions for solo piano were written while still living in Russia. That’s where his soul always remained, surrounded by melancholy and an unquenchable yearning for what was lost, never to be regained. To fully comprehend the man, his music, and the tragedy of his life, perhaps it is necessary to have loved deeply and to have experienced, as he did, the pain of losing something so very precious.

Rachmaninoff wrote about feelings and matters of the heart—his music probes the universals of the human condition and brings these emotions to the surface. Yet in the beginning of the twentieth century, critics often condemned what they called the “banal sentimentality” of his music. During that time, complexity was worshipped at the expense of muting what the heart was feeling. Rachmaninoff made feeble attempts to please current tastes, but his soul was unable to comply. Both the man and his music were out of favor—certainly not given the respect shown to him today. The same criticism was also leveled at the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff’s mentor. 

I remember the first time I fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. I was 10 years old, in a music store in Philadelphia buying sheet music my piano teacher had assigned me to learn for the following week. The concerto was being played on the loudspeakers throughout the shop. Immediately I ran up to the clerk to ask her what I was hearing and then requested a copy of the music. Unfortunately, I was only sold the easy version of the main theme—not the original score. Even at that young age, I was determined to one day learn Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto. Years later, I was ecstatic when I received Van Cliburn’s Moscow performance of that glorious composition as a birthday gift. I listened to that recording so many times that I nearly wore it out. What an inspiration as well as an affirmation of what I wanted my life’s work to be. I had fallen in love with music and the piano!   

Certainly, for me, music has been the gift that keeps on giving! The deeper I venture to explore and the bolder I become, the more I can receive. To share the love of music, to connect the composer to the listener and to manage to pry open the heart into feeling the deepest of emotions, that is the true function of the performer. 

Indeed, music is truly an offering of love—to be shared and cherished forever.  


THE NATURAL TALENT August 10, 2023 

I am a pianist and a performer. My ultimate goal when I am learning a new composition is to arrive at that point where it sounds “natural”—without pretense—as if it were flowing as naturally as speech. That only arrives after all the notes are learned, the structure has been fully analyzed, the memory secure, and there is a deep understanding of what the composer is trying to say. Once these hurdles are overcome— technical, intellectual, emotional—then the striving for mastery can begin—that process of letting the composition become yours, making it your own while always honoring the intentions of the composer.

The phrase “letting it come to you” should be the mantra for all our work. The process of discovery cannot be pushed or accelerated, just as we cannot push the river to make the current flow slower or faster. It will follow its own course as nature dictates. And so it is with our work in music: as more and more layers are peeled away and secrets revealed, we are swept forward towards understanding the natural flow of the music— to listen and experience its inner voice and ultimately discover the voice of the composer.

As a young piano student I remember how much I loved gobbling up new repertoire. There were so many works I couldn’t wait to learn and perform. Now looking back, perhaps I was only scratching the surface at the time. Yes, of course I mastered the notes and performed these pieces rather well, but perhaps I never truly went deep enough. Or maybe at that time of my life, I wasn’t ready to dive under the notes without fear. Now that I am older, I am granted the luxury of taking the time to dig deeper, no matter where it might lead. My goal is to try and embody the spiritual essence of the composer and share his soul with the listener. Obviously with a great piece of music, that work will never be finished. The more we dig, the more there will be to uncover. But what a joy to discover what hasn’t been seen before! And so we keep trying to get a bit closer every time.

When I am invited to listen to a musical performance by a fellow artist, I want to be taken on a journey of discovery. It is not sufficient to just hear a mastery of all the technical difficulties. I want to be surprised as well as convinced by the performance. And most importantly, my soul is craving an emotional and spiritual connection to the music I am hearing. I want to be touched and feel the divine essence of the composer’s spirit. Only then does the magic happen—transporting us from our earthbound existence to soar towards the heavens!! 

Posted on my refrigerator door is the following quote: “Every man is born an original but sadly most die as copies.” If we apply that adage to piano playing, that means forging our own pathway with the instrument. For the professional pianist, it signifies no longer being the student but having the courage to step forward to become a master –in other words finding one’s own voice at the instrument.

I am reminded of an experience I had while a student in high school. My first piano teacher realized that it was time for me to study with someone of greater musical experience. Residing in the city of Philadelphia, we went to the renowned music school for advice and guidance about the next step to be taken. The decision was made that I would start studying with this well known professor. Her students always won the auditions to solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra at one of their children’s concerts. I still remember that first lesson with this rather stern and imposing woman. I played the Bb minor Chopin Scherzo among other things and probably played it quite well for someone my age. Her first comment was that my technique was all wrong, and I would have to start all over again to relearn how to play the piano. A book of exercises by Pischna was assigned. There was no acknowledgement of any natural facility that I might have had at the keyboard. All this professor could see was that I did not approach the instrument “her” way, the way that she herself had been taught. Instinctively I knew that one should never tear down a solid foundation but should build upon it to make it stronger. I am still amazed that at my young age I had the wisdom to say to my mother that this teacher was not the right teacher for me, and the courage to walk away from her class, even if it meant giving up the chance to win one of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s young artists’ auditions. Eventually I found a teacher who would help build my technique by adding to its solid foundation at the instrument. And by the way, when I finally made my American professional debut with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 24, I realized that it was so much more meaningful and definitely well worth the wait!

Sharing this story recalled stories about my old friend Sergei Prokofiev, a man who always believed in his talent, no matter who was telling him otherwise. He managed to shake up the status-quo and forge his own direction without kowtowing to others. He always did it his way! This was a man who expressed himself directly and with honesty; being tactful was never part of his DNA. Of course, this led to frequent misunderstandings with many of his musician friends. Diplomacy was not a word in Prokofiev’s vocabulary. Check out these words written by a man who surely knew the level of his own talent. He's not being arrogant- he just knows his gifts!

“Human hearing, and maybe even the ear, evolves continuously, and the key to your misunderstanding is that by nature’s will I am thrown several divisions ahead on the scale of evolution compared to you”...

But he forged his own pathway and always possessed that natural voice, the voice that nobody could imitate. He was truly an original!

And yes, we need more originals in this world— less copies—especially in the field of piano-playing!!


INSPIRATION! March 12, 2022 

Recently I read several interviews with performers who talk about gaining their inspiration from audiences while performing a “live” concert. During these lockdown years when performances have been at a minimum, all of us missed that stimulus, and we certainly missed the energy and excitement that accompanies a “live” event. 

Granted, there is a completely different kind of feeling when playing for a live audience than performing all alone in one’s living room or even in a recording studio. The energy and anticipation right before a concert can be palpable. Who doesn’t feel the excitement just before the artist walks out onto the empty stage and seats himself at the piano? Before launching into that opening passage, the audience is at attention, silent, receptive, listening and waiting to tune into the unique talents of the performer. 

But there is a contradiction at work here. (For argument’s sake, let’s confine our discussion just to classical artists.) 

Concentration and focus are of prime importance to great music-making. When I walk out onto the stage, of course I feel the excitement level of the audience, and I must admit that my adrenalin is also working overtime on concert evenings.  But I try hard to not allow the public to distract from my concentration process or interfere with my focus. The reason is simple.  As soon as I turn away from the music, even for a split of a second, and think about the people in the audience or anything else that might pop into my mind, my focus has been lost. The line that I am trying to sustain has been broken, and the journey that I am trying to share has been interrupted. Simply put and usually accompanied by a heavy dosage of nervous adrenalin, I have allowed myself to be distracted.  So instead of opening the door and inviting the listener into my musical world, I detoured for that split of a second and went off course. I left “the zone.” 

How does the artist get “into the zone” and still manage to maintain that connection with the audience and the composer? A delicate balance is necessary to share the magic of the music and open the portal to all. The performer is not building a wall between themselves and the audience, but leaving the door open so they can feel, understand and enter into the world of the composer. It takes boldness to open oneself up to the experience—boldness from the performer as well as the listener who becomes part of the event. Both are taking the risk to feel, explore and make something memorable happen, and it is being done completely without a safety net! 

As a performer it is my responsibility to take you into the composer’s world and make his music come alive. The biggest problem for me to overcome is to not interfere with the direct line of communication. I call it “getting out of the way” so the magic can happen, and the music can travel directly to the hearts of those listening. The performance should not be about me. It’s about allowing the music to pass through me. I am only the conduit—the connection between the listener and the music. Ideally, I try to create the space where only the composer and his music can reside comfortably without outside earthly distractions. And then I invite you into that magical world where we can both experience the divine gifts of his creation. 

All of us strive for those rare and memorable moments when everything works—the performer, the piano, the acoustics—all are in tune—no cell phones accidentally going off— everything is in harmony. Here we can leave our earthly world behind and take a leap of faith to venture into a higher realm, always seeking to get closer to the divine spirit of the music so it can freely soar and touch deep into our souls. And it is the music that connects us and inspires us to keep striving to achieve the impossible! 

When Stravinsky was asked about the “ideal” performance of his works, he answered: “the very moment that I myself have heard the work for the first time— that divine moment of creation.” 

The performer is the middleman between the composer and his music and has the responsibility to come as close as humanly possible to try and convey that divine moment to the listener. That’s what it’s all about—that is the true inspiration! 

Easier said than done! And that is why we keep practicing, keep performing, keep striving—chipping away to get a little closer every time. 

A life-time addiction!

JUST CALL ME A PIANIST! April 30, 2021 

We live in a time when gender and identity are frequent topics of discussion. When it comes to piano playing, how important is the gender of the artist? We certainly don’t identify my male colleagues as male pianists. They are just pianists. Why the need to create a special category for women pianists? Personally, I would like to be perceived as just a pianist— a pianist who happens to be a woman –- just don’t call me a woman pianist! 

So often in interviews the question has been asked if as a woman, I have felt discriminated against by the music profession. Perhaps that is not the right question—wouldn’t it be more appropriate and beneficial to discuss the opportunities available for young artists to be heard and the proper environment for individual voices to develop. Each of us, regardless of gender, brings individuality to the art of music-making.  Every artist contributes a unique blend of strength and sensitivity. However, the ultimate question that needs to be asked regardless of gender identity is if the level of talent is strong enough to communicate the message of the composer directly to the hearts of the listeners. The touching of souls— that is what artistry is all about! 

I often remember after my concerts hearing comments like “you play like a man” and numerous compliments about my physical strength at the keyboard. These observations can be understood and also forgiven because most people don’t realize that it doesn’t take strength to make a big sound at the piano— just proper coordination of all the elements working together in harmony along with gravity and weight technique to enhance the sound—all delivered without force or tension. The bottom line is that you don’t have to be a 300-pound weightlifter to get a rich sound at the keyboard. Even a small child is capable of producing a big sound at the instrument. 

I guess there is a certain preconception when one sees a female at the piano— the false assumption that she might be delicate enough to play Mozart or Haydn but she dare not tackle the big guys like Liszt or Prokofiev. And that just ain’t so!  Another stereotype that needs to be refuted or perhaps a holdover from the time when all proper young ladies were able to sit down at the fortepiano and perform adequately in public.  

As the saying goes, “we’ve come a long way baby!” And we are firmly on the pathway. 

Now let’s make sure that all of us, regardless of gender, develop our own individuality and let our voices be heard distinctly over the roar of the crowd. And most importantly, always let the voice of the composer shine through! 


Hard to believe that over a year ago most of us were going about our daily lives without giving much thought about the COVID virus or its ramifications.  

I treasure the special memory of my last recital in New York City last March. It was held in St. Stephen’s Church, a beautiful sanctuary not far from Lincoln Center. As I was trying out the piano the day before and rehearsing Liszt’s B-minor Sonata, I remember thinking that the composer himself probably would have liked being in this lovely space—Liszt would frequently stop at churches along the way to his concerts and usually sit down at the organ and do some improvising. Coincidentally I opened my recital program the next day with his wonderful transcription of Bach’s Organ Prelude and Fugue in A minor. 

Perhaps the memory that I cherish most from that March concert was the feeling that everyone in the audience truly wanted to be there—it’s as if we were already starved for the music that was needed to provide nourishment for our souls. In retrospect—sadly, this was the last live concert that most of us would be able to experience for a long while. The next day after my recital, New York City went dark and everything shut down. 

And what have we been doing since then? Playing the piano of course! Since I was a child, the piano has been my constant companion and best friend. It has helped me survive and cope with difficult times. And living with Beethoven sonatas this past year has been such a joy and a challenge.  He certainly doesn’t make it easy for the pianist, but the process of wrestling with these extraordinary works has nourished both my brain and my soul. 

As a performer, I am always trying to get closer to the composer’s intention. I remember what Stravinsky said when asked what was the best interpretation of one of his compositions. And his answer was “when I heard it for the very first time in that moment of creation when it came to me— that represented the ideal.”  And that is the constant quest of the performer—to get a little closer every time to the composer’s ideal—to that moment of divine creation. 

That is what I have tried to do with my latest recording—the last sonatas of Franz Schubert. I had learned these sonatas as a young university student but to revisit them now at this point in my life has been a revelation. There is so much pain and joy and beauty contained within these late works. 

And remember what Schubert said about his music, “It is a combination of my genius and my misery.” 

And don’t forget the joy that he shares with all of us!! So very much needed these days!

HERE'S TO THE NEW YEAR! January 4, 2021 

So many of us were anxious for 2020 to come to an end, but there are always lessons to be learned from difficult times. The overcoming of obstacles is what musicians do practically every day with their daily practice. However, these struggles of the past year were unfamiliar to most of us and represented unique challenges. 

I learned from these past months how important music and the piano are to my well-being. Playing the piano has kept me sane and focused during these trying times. Interesting that the composer I want to spend time with every day in my studio is Beethoven—not always the easiest guy to be around but my wrestling matches with him and his music are always stimulating and challenging. He always takes me away from where I am and we travel together to far away places. And Beethoven encourages me to go deeper into myself to try and understand his message. It’s a life-long relationship and a constant challenge. And what a blessing these days to be able to live with Beethoven and dwell within his music. 

I believe that I now can understand a little better how isolation affected him and his compositions. His deafness left him totally alone within his own sound world. No outside influences, no distractions, only the freedom to follow his own pathway wherever it would lead him. Working on his late sonatas, it is amazing the places where he dared to travel, always without a safety net. There is boldness and courage in his independence. And Beethoven is the poster child for overcoming difficulties. His deafness, usually considered a liability became an asset towards achieving greatness. 

My last public concert was on March 8th in New York City and similar to the fate of most musicians, all engagements since then have been cancelled. The need to perform again found another outlet in my studio. Speaking into my MAC, a new series was created called “Behind the Notes.” Each of these programs focuses on one composer and I share the work that I do at the piano while trying to get closer to the spirit and soul of these great ones. It has been fun putting together these 14 programs so far (with more to come) and to create an educational library for the young student and music lover to appreciate. When audiences see me perform on the stage, they hear a somewhat finished product, arrived at after much struggle but rarely does a performer talk about the process and what goes on during the many hours of preparation. And that is what I share within these programs. 

It has been a joy to put this series together and immerse myself into the world of these composers. It has made me go back and explore and rediscover pieces that I have not played in many years so the process has been a growing experience as well as a time of reevaluation. It has made me aware of my musical growth and the mission that I wish to accomplish in this life. 

And more importantly it has been fun to share, as best I can, with an audience that at the moment is feeling a bit isolated from their community. There is no doubt that music is a nurturer of the soul and can help restore a well needed balance and equilibrium.  I remember as a child the magical world that the piano opened to me— what a privilege and a blessing it is to reenter that secret place and take you with me on an exciting voyage.   

Here is the opening program of our “Behind the Notes” series featuring everybody’s favorite Beethoven sonata, The Moonlight. Enjoy!   


BOLDNESS & COURAGE! September 1, 2020 

Recently I participated in an online webinar for pianists—we were discussing the why’s and why nots of memorization, an essential tool for public performance. After that dialogue came the realization that it takes a great amount of boldness and courage plus a huge leap of faith and trust to walk out on the stage and sit down at the piano, exposed—warts and all— for all the world to see. We trust that our memory will work and not fail us and that our fingers will remember how and where to move around the piano. Most importantly, we pray for our hearts and souls to be engaged so we can try and create a magical experience for everyone including ourselves.   

And why would anyone want to subject themselves to this trying experience? 
Because the artist feels that he has something to say—something to communicate that might touch the souls of those who listen— a personal point of view to share through the music. The English psychiatrist Winnicott analyzed this as the “need of the artist to make symbols.” The poet uses words; the musician relies on sound. Somehow this process allows the craziness of the current world to seem more bearable and to give the artist a sense of mission and fulfillment.  

So many of us sit in our music studios and we practice.  We follow our nose and keep trying to chip away to get a little closer to the composer’s spirit and to what his music demands. But performing on the concert stage can be a very different experience than just playing in our living room. 

Yet most audiences never realize the anxiety that can accompany a public performance. The body doesn’t seem to function normally the day of a concert. Add the problems of travelling and sleeping or not sleeping the night before. And then there is the nervousness that accompanies the backstage waiting. They call it “fight or flight”—the body’s innate response to danger. Most performers know that feeling. I remember wanting to crawl out a window and disappear before one concert began, but there was no window there for my escape. And then by some miracle once I walked out on stage and sat down at the piano, I calmed to the fact that I was going to make music that evening for everyone to hear. 

Adrenalin affects each of us so differently. Performers learn to cope with it and try and make it their friend. Adrenalin can certainly help to make any performance much more exciting with faster than normal tempos, usually the result of a more rapid heartbeat.  However, adrenalin must be controlled or else it will take over and be in control. Frequently the performer is forced to learn on stage (publicly and sometimes painfully) how to cope with this friend or foe. Even great artists are not immune to its problems or the disasters it can cause. 

I always think of performing as having the courage to go out and do a high-wire act without a safety net. And sometimes the magic does happen and the music soars to the heavens— those are the rare concerts that play by themselves—or so it seems. However, there is always that delicate balance between control and freedom that must be found. Too much control and the performance can remain earthbound— cautious, a little boring and much too predictable. Too much freedom and we can risk a train wreck. But somewhere in between exists that perfect balance where everything functions in divine harmony. And that is when the magic can happen!!

Perhaps that is the addiction—why we need to keep getting back up on that horse to try again—striving not for perfection but for the harmony of all the elements coming together—always in search of that special place where the performer is at one with the music and the composer. And that is when all of us can come close to experiencing that divine moment of creation.

It’s a life-long challenge yet a blessing as well—a true passion that helps us survive even the craziness of today’s world.

HOW DO YOU MEMORIZE!! July 22, 2020 

I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me after a concert and said, “And you don’t use music!!” They are amazed that solo musicians actually memorize the works they are performing. Given the choice of performing a work with or without music, I would always choose to perform without using the score (or using an I-pad.) Personally, it would be a distraction to have to put on my glasses to read the music; that is what I do only when I am beginning to learn a new composition. And more importantly it would make me feel inhibited at the piano, not as free to focus completely on the music. I strongly believe that any performer who chooses to get on the stage and share with an audience has the responsibility to know the work inside and out, to understand how the composer put it together and be committed to a personal conception of the work. Without that, how could the pianist convince the listener that it is worth his time to listen! To master the notes is not enough; that is only the starting point. So to answer these folks, I always say, memorization is just one of the many elements that goes into preparing a piece for concert performance. There are so many more obstacles to overcome before one is ready to walk out on stage and perform. 

But let’s get back to the problem of memorization. How does one memorize? Recently a friend of mine who just went back to study the piano in her retirement years told me that she just could not memorize. I do not agree with her; I believe that the problem she encountered was that she was trying to memorize too soon— before she truly was acquainted with the music. She had not mastered its technical problems, had not analyzed how the piece was put together and was trying to memorize measure by measure using a rote technique—that never works. It’s also a tedious and boring way of practicing! What that method brings with it is fear— the fear of forgetting and the fear of failure when the time comes to perform. Memorization should only take place when the piece is ready to be memorized—when all of its problems have been mastered. 

I believe that the most important element for memorization and performance is focus and concentration. One cannot perform at the highest level if you are thinking about what you are going to cook for dinner that evening. The focus must be on the music and where you are at that precise moment in the musical journey. The bigger picture must be analyzed and grasped—the total structure. We’ve all heard the saying: “Seeing the forest for the trees.” In performance that applies; it doesn’t work the other way around. Seeing only the trees translates to hearing only the details and not understanding how these details contribute to shaping the entire composition. The artist needs to comprehend how the composer conceived the work and try to get closer to his spirit and character at that very moment of creation. The true artist keeps striving to capture that magical moment of conception. And our work is never finished!! 

Focus and concentration are essential tools of the trade. Some people do breathing exercises; others do yoga or meditation to help them to focus and rid themselves of all the extra chatter. I know some artists who sit and do crossword puzzles before a concert to cope with their nervous energy. Whatever works to calm oneself down and helps with the adrenalin buildup that accompanies any performance is a valid tool. And we do need that flow of adrenalin; we need that extra element of excitement—being in the moment. Getting on the stage takes boldness and courage—it is a special event. Without that extra burst of energy, most of us would play like automatons. So, we need to make adrenalin our friend and not our foe.  We must learn how to deal with adrenalin and also understand how it can make our bodies react to the stress. Accept the fact that most people do get nervous before they are walking out on stage to “do their thing.” That is a healthy reaction. Use the techniques I have mentioned to remain as calm as possible and to get “in the zone” where you will not be distracted by anything extraneous. Build that invisible wall of protection between yourself and the audience. Residing within this sacred space, there is only you and the music. And frankly the focus should not be on you but on the composer and his masterpiece that you have the privilege of performing. And what a privilege and opportunity has been given to you to share! And quite a responsibility as well! That is the attitude necessary to make the magic of music happen and to touch the hearts of listeners. 

However, before this point is reached, we need to do our homework—technically and musically. If we don’t master every technical problem these difficulties will definitely return to haunt us during the performance and most likely affect our memory as well. You can count on that!! Also we need to analyze the composition—know its form and the structure and understand its key relationships. We need to discover secure structural marking points, places that can be relied upon should an unexpected “detour” occur. Let me give you an example. You are playing a concert; you are definitely in the zone; everything is going so well, and suddenly, someone’s cell phone goes off— it’s the most beautiful moment in the adagio and you as well as the audience are jolted out of that special place and you are dangerously close to losing your concentration and memory. What do you do? You can’t stop the performance—you must go on. It is at moments like this that you need to have in your mind exactly where you are in the total structure, a marking point that you can jump to just in case it is needed. Accept the fact that none of us are perfect; we are human and we are not machines. Nor do we want to play the piano like machines!  The goal of performance should not be about perfection. It is about sharing the glory of this wonderful music with others—raising the bar so that music can inspire and nurture the souls of those who listen. 

And after all the work has been done and you feel ready to go out there and share this music with the public, then you must practice performing. If you don’t prepare yourself in performance mode, you might be surprised how differently you will feel that first time you walk out on stage when adrenalin kicks in. Trust me, it’s a very different feeling than just playing for yourself in your living room. The issues of control and freedom also need to be addressed. How much freedom can you exercise without losing control and how much control do you need without losing your freedom of expression. Being too cautious can be boring but going the other way can turn into a disaster!  And the answer to these questions comes with the experience of getting out there every time and doing it—always with focus and concentration. And trust me, no performance is ever the same. These techniques of concentration and focus must be practiced and learned so they become second nature; they need to become part of your DNA. Actually you should not practice the piano without having the necessary focus and concentration to do so.  Lots of time will be saved that way!! 

Playing the piano is a life-long challenge and a wonderful addiction— the need to make glorious music and to share it. Rachmaninoff was right: Music is enough for a lifetime but a lifetime is not enough for music. And so we keep trying and we keep chipping away at it! 

It provides a bit of sanity in our crazy world!! 



Ever since I was a child, all I ever wanted to do was play the piano. I believe that my awareness of the instrument began the first time I heard my older sister trying to master Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor. I must have been four or five years old, and that is the moment I started to beg my mother for piano lessons. In our neighborhood, there was one piano teacher who serviced the entire block of row houses, going from door to door teaching every child how to play the piano. Looking back, I can understand how he did it— he used the “one size fits all” approach, and his rote method proved successful. I think he could have taught a monkey how to play with his technique of  “repeat after me: first line E, second line G, etc.” Except that method didn’t work for me. I never could remember what he was asking me to repeat, and guess I just didn’t understand. After several unsuccessful attempts to teach me, he concluded that I was a lost cause and generously suggested to my mother to stop wasting her money as her little girl was never going to be able to play the piano. However, my mother was not someone to give up that easily, and she insisted that we continue. In retrospect, I am a wonderful example of a late-bloomer. The light bulb did not go on until several years later, and then I just started to read music on my own. So the adage that a child learns when they are ready to learn is appropriate here, and I am living proof of that. 

Thank goodness for the piano. Growing up it became my secret best friend. I could tell it anything; it knew when I was happy or upset, and playing the piano always made me feel better. It represented a safe and magical space where nobody else could enter. It blocked out the world around me and transported me to a very special and sacred place filled with beautiful melodies. And it still does! 

The piano has helped me to weather many storms encountered during difficult periods of my life. And now, when all of us are hibernating in forced isolation, my constant friend is my Steinway. What I find so interesting is the music I have chosen for my seclusion. I have no desire to be with anyone else but Beethoven these days. He is the composer who speaks to me at this moment in time. Perhaps now I can better understand his sense of isolation— the silence and lack of social contact. Reworking one of his late sonatas, Op. 101, I realize that this blocking out of the world enabled him to be the revolutionary that he was— to go his own way without distractions. Nobody influenced Beethoven or stopped him from soaring to the heights he achieved. And he left his mark on every composer who followed him. 

I am amazed by his strength of character, his vision and his humanity.  As deep as his soul seemed to be, he could still speak to every man with directness and relevance. Exploring his piano sonatas, I am stunned by the modernity of his writing— so ahead of his time— the voice of the future.

I am pleased to share with all of you, our latest CD that has just been released. I have gone back to the early sonatas that I learned many years ago. What a joy to revisit old friends and see things much more clearly than I did in my youth. I am amazed by the virtuosity of the master and the minimalism of expression.

There is no filler in these works—just direct communication from his heart straight to ours.  What a blessing for all of us!

A NEW CHAPTER!  January 4, 2020 

A new year- a new decade- new beginnings- a fresh new calendar proclaiming that we are going forward into the future presents us with new and exciting possibilities. The blank page beckons and awaits our decisions as to where we want to travel on this journey! Where will our time be spent and what will become most important as we proceed on life’s pathway. Having just celebrated a landmark birthday, I am even more aware of the value of time.  Fortunately now I can focus on the things I wish to leave behind for future generations. 

On that note, I am delighted to share with you that the Three Oranges Foundation is now firmly established and up and running. (http://threeorangesfoundation.org)  I am excited by the possibilities and how many souls can be touched with the sharing of our educational projects.  Our mission is to make music accessible to many— to bring it into the community, into the schools—to make it a vital part of everyday life, and to make a difference. 

It is my firm belief that anyone can respond to classical music—the factory worker as well as the university professor. Prior education is not required. The only prerequisite is the ability to listen and allow ourselves the freedom to feel and go where the music takes us.  How fortunate musicians are!  No translation required—no words are needed to express emotions and transport the performer and listener to a magical place. 

Perhaps that’s why I adore the romanticism of the 19th century. There is a freedom within the music to go wherever the heart wants to travel—and what a wide range of emotions to experience along the way. When I think of Rachmaninoff and his music, I hear his divine gift to take us to the darkest places. But he never just leaves us there to wallow in the grief; he always manages to bring us back into the light—back into the sunshine—more enriched than before by the journey. 

Our latest CD on the Three Oranges label (http://threeorangesrecordings.com) Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev & Ramey includes a recording of Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata- the earlier uncut version as well as his Six Moments Musicaux. These works present a technical challenge for the pianist especially for a pianist like me with a small hand and limited stretch—just imagine Rachmaninoff’s huge hands that could expand to cover nearly a 15th on the keyboard-- I can barely manage a ninth! In addition to the technical challenges, these works present us with an emotional and spiritual hurdle. We need to trust in what Rachmaninoff is saying and open our soul to go with him to these darker places of the heart.  And after all its technical challenges are conquered and its many notes mastered, only then do we have the freedom to experience the music’s many emotional and spiritual layers. And the good news is that every time we explore these works, there is so much more to be discovered. Each performance becomes a different moment in time. As we grow emotionally and spiritually, we uncover yet another layer. 

Quite enough to fill up the hours on that new calendar in the life of a pianist.

RAISING THE BAR March 20, 2019 

That’s what artists are supposed to do— with every performance, with every new challenge they try to raise the bar. Perhaps that is why true artists are never completely satisfied with their work—it could always be better! And they keep striving and working for the next time so they can get a little closer to the ideal. 

Who sets the standard? It is the artists themselves who set their own standard of excellence. The written words of a critic should not be necessary to tell the performing artist whether he has played well or not. Critics offer their educated opinion, but the real artist knows deep down in their gut if they are in “the zone” or off center. He is the one who has to answer to a higher master to judge whether he managed to come a little closer to the composer’s intentions. Ultimately, the artist competes with himself and wrestles with the level of his own talent with every performance and every recording. 

What is important to remember is that there is more than one pathway to interpreting a piece of music.  I am not talking about the quest for perfection here; note-perfect, correct performances can be saved for competitions. We are seeking a personal relationship with the music. Isn’t that why we keep going to concerts to hear the same repertoire performed many times by different pianists and listen to recordings of great artists from the past— all were individuals who brought a unique character to their interpretations.  What we are searching for is the magic and the power inherent within the music.  Our responsibility as performers is to bring out that sensibility so the music can soar and directly reach deep inside the souls of listeners. 

The older I get, the more I am amazed by this exciting process: digging under the notes to go as deeply as possible into the music, keeping our focus and getting rid of all outside interference, and allowing the music to come to you. Ultimately, we are raising the bar every time. It comes down to the unwritten agreement that the artist makes with the composer—the pact to get as close as possible to what their conception might have been at that very moment of creation.  That’s the ideal, and it is the responsibility of the performer to try and communicate this to the listener. 

What a joy to watch something grow and take shape and flower!  I have been preparing works for a series of recitals and recordings that I studied as a young student, but never truly performed in concert. The process has been a revelation. It gives me a good idea of where I had been so many years ago and how much I knew and didn’t know.  I am not talking only about technical mastery here—I am talking more about the search for musical meaning. That process of extracting what is meaningful and then making it your own— owning it in order to convincingly convey its meaning to others. 

And that is the real addiction. The artist is never satisfied so he keeps going, keeps working with an unreachable goal in mind. What a joy and a blessing to have this purpose and mission in life and also to embrace the responsibility that comes with it! 

My favorite quote from one of my favorite composers says it all.                        

“Music is enough for a lifetime but a lifetime is not enough for music.” 
Wise words from Sergei Rachmaninoff. 

And so we go forward!

This looks like the cover of my new release, Out of Doors.

It's "wild 'n wonderful" West Virginia in the January snow!