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!