Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'?

Posted by: bennevis

Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 06:38 AM

There's a provocative article in the latest issue of Clavier Companion (Nov/Dec 2012) by Robert Weirich, who found Mitsuko Uchida's concert of the last three Schubert Sonatas in Chicago 'too much of a good thing' and 'actually painful to endure'. He also commented on the fact that in Liszt's time (when the solo recital first took shape), pianists played improvisations on tunes suggested by the audience (Gabriela Montero is currently the only classical pianist who does that today) and other fun stuff as well as more serious music. It was only in the latter part of the 19th century that the likes of Busoni started the long, awe-inspiring recital programs consisting entirely of SERIOUS music. Weirich also bemoaned the limited repertoire that we get these days - mostly only the 'tried and true'. But I recall a poster here recently castigating a young and already great virtuoso who enjoys playing 'trashy' Horowitz and Cziffra transcriptions...

I also heard Uchida play the same program in London in April - but via live broadcast on radio. I'd originally thought of buying a ticket for that concert when I received the 'International Piano Series' booklet by post (I've been attending concerts regularly at the South Bank in London for decades), but the thought of sitting through three long Schubert Sonatas in one evening - even played by Uchida - put me off, and I decided to listen on radio instead. The first half (D958 and D959) lasted 65 minutes of actual playing time (75 minutes if applause etc taken in); the second half (D960, and no encores) lasted 45 minutes. Uchida played all repeats.
At home, I listened while having my dinner in the first half, then coffee during D960 grin. No problems with concentration, which was what Weirich found difficult sitting quietly in a half-empty auditorium for 2 1/2 hours.

So, are long programs consisting entirely of SERIOUS PIANO SONATAS by GREAT COMPOSERS too much of a good thing, and putting many people off attending? Are conservatoires too conservative with regards to their student recitals? Wouldn't it be better if pianists interspersed great music with lighter stuff, and even chat to the audience a bit (as Weirich suggests), so that the whole experience isn't like an sanctified, 'ancient and ossified' event?

Incidentally, Uchida is an entertaining and erudite conversationalist, as she's demonstrated frequently when she appears on the BBC Radio 3's In Tune program to chat to the presenter about her latest exploits.
Posted by: sandalholme

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 07:14 AM

I have no problem with hours of serious stuff, but I would support any moves/encouragement for pianists to introduce the music/chat to the audience. It might move us towards a more human to human communication rather than the audience reverently worshipping at the shrine of the maestro.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 08:07 AM

Doesn't the answer depend on each particular person and additionally on the pianist, the particular program, the mood of the listener that night, etc.?

If one looks at the Anton Rubinstein series of historical concerts(before Busoni)then it appears that concerts of that time were far longer than the one Uchida gave.
Posted by: ando

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 08:22 AM

I would certainly welcome some improvised content in a classical concert. That is the single biggest shame of the current classical world - most pianists spend so much time trying to reach the top of the tree, there are not many good improvisors around anymore. I like to hear some great pieces, but would love some improv as well. I like a bit of danger and surprise in a concert. I think being a great improvisor is also the pinnacle of musicianship. Marry that with great technique and you are talking about a supreme musician. When I went to study classical at university, I was pretty much the only one who had come from a strong background of improvisation. There were players who were far superior to me technically, but I could run rings around them in improv and harmonic sense. Colleagues who could play Rach 3 would look at me in wonder because I could play from my own mind. I found that staggering. Piano wasn't even my first instrument. I think it's a shame that this has become so neglected. Especially since it originally was an important part of the classical performance tradition.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 08:44 AM

I find most classical style improvisation quite lacking in interest. For me it's mostly interesting only because it's done so rarely. I heard Katsaris do a live improvisation at Mannes a few years ago and have heard Cziffra and Montero improvise via YouTube. I did not find this style of improvising appealing. Mostly very repetitious use of the same figurations and not particularly interesting harmonically.

I think improvising to any degree has not been around for at least 100 years, and I'm not sure the audience is missing out on so much. One reads stories about the great composer-pianists improvising, and I'm sure I'd enjoy that as their compositional skills are so much greater than average. But I'm not sure I'd like to hear much other stuff in this category.
Posted by: dolce sfogato

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 10:00 AM

Paul Lewis is just playing the 3 last Schubert sonatas here in A,sterdam, tried to get a ticket; sold out. In the Concertgebouw is place for over 2.000 people, that says it all.
Posted by: bennevis

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 11:50 AM

Originally Posted By: dolce sfogato
Paul Lewis is just playing the 3 last Schubert sonatas here in A,sterdam, tried to get a ticket; sold out. In the Concertgebouw is place for over 2.000 people, that says it all.


Some audiences (principally in the Austro-German and northern European countries) are more receptive to these kind of concerts than others. Paul Lewis's concert is likely to be shorter than Uchida's - like Brendel, his teacher, he doesn't play the first movement repeat of D960, and probably not the repeat in D959's first movement either. I wasn't at Uchida's London concert, but the presenter said the hall was 'packed'.

Valentina Lisitsa's London concert in June in the even bigger Royal Albert Hall was even longer (over 2 hours playing) than Uchida's, but had a lot more variety ranging from Mozart to Beethoven to Scriabin, taking in Liszt, Schubert/Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninoff along the way. And she also gave a charming speech to the audience. The longest items in her concert were Liszt's Totentanz and Beethoven's 'Moonlight' Sonata.

BTW, in case anyone is following Peter Donohoe's '50 Great Pianists' selection on BBC Radio 3, she's his chosen pianist this morning.
Posted by: ando

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 11:58 AM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
I find most classical style improvisation quite lacking in interest. For me it's mostly interesting only because it's done so rarely. I heard Katsaris do a live improvisation at Mannes a few years ago and have heard Cziffra and Montero improvise via YouTube. I did not find this style of improvising appealing. Mostly very repetitious use of the same figurations and not particularly interesting harmonically.

I think improvising to any degree has not been around for at least 100 years, and I'm not sure the audience is missing out on so much. One reads stories about the great composer-pianists improvising, and I'm sure I'd enjoy that as their compositional skills are so much greater than average. But I'm not sure I'd like to hear much other stuff in this category.


I would agree, but only because today's exponents of classical-style improvisation are not very good at it! Think about it: the classical genre has no shortage of interesting harmonic devices at its disposal - if it did, it wouldn't be able to sustain our interest with all these pieces we keep hearing. But most of the great improvisors of the last century have devoted themselves to the Jazz/Avant Garde arena because that is where their skills are appreciated and accepted. In reality, those skills can be put to work in the classical world - which after all, encompasses Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Serialist, Modernist, Post-Modernist periods. There's plenty of scope, but not enough people with the ability and courage to use it. Obviously it was considered valuable back in Beethoven's day. A cadenza used to actually be a real thing - not just a pre-composed pretence of improvisation. I think for the cadenza alone, all teaching institutions should have a policy of teaching students to improvise. Cadenza's in our era are a joke. None of the true mastery of the performer is encompassed there anymore - that is, to capture the moment, the energy of the conductor/orchestra, the skill and harmonic sense of the performer and his confidence to wield it. Where has that gone?

I would argue that the loss of the "unpredictable" is a big part of the declining audience of classical music. It is too often just a repeat of something people have seen or heard before. I don't know if it's possible to get it back, due to the ingrained changes in ideology that have taken place that classical music is only about perfection and planning to the highest degree. I have no doubt however that if Beethoven could be revived and announced he was going to perform a completely improvised recital, people would be spellbound by what he could do.

I'm not suggesting improvisation should take over the modern recital, but it should be part of the landscape and the modern musician should be equipped to use it. Even if it were limited to encores and cadenzas I think it would add immeasurably to the world of classical music. People won't believe it because they've only ever seen second rate improvisation on Youtube. Montero's ok, the Cziffra stuff is not good improvisation. It's more of an extended warmup that nobody was supposed to record. If people grew up doing it like they used to, they'd be a lot better at it and people would enjoy it as part of a recital. It would also give us another dimension to discern and appreciate performers with.
Posted by: Orange Soda King

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 12:11 PM

HA! That critic can go take a hike. I would pay LOTS of money to see a great pianist play Schubert's last three sonatas.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 12:13 PM

The interesting thing would be if we could hear actual improvisations by great pianists and great composers of the past. While few doubt that Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Chopin, etc. would have generally sounded fantastic, I have doubts about lesser pianists.

I don't think there is much recorded legacy to show how interesting or how dull the improvisations of the composers or pianists were. If Katsaris and Cziffra are any indication, and I think they are considered among the better ones recently, I don't think we were missing much.

I don't see a problem with playing previously composed cadenzas (by the composer or another pianist)because they will generally be far superior to anything anyone could improvise on the spot. I wonder whether, even in Beethoven's time, if he assumed or expected many pianists would use his cadenzas? If not, why did bother to write them?

I don't think one can expect classical pianists to ever come close to jazz pianists in terms of improvisational skills because improvisation is not the major thrust of playing classical music as it is for jazz.
Posted by: ando

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 01:17 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
The interesting thing would be if we could hear actual improvisations by great pianists and great composers of the past. While few doubt that Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Chopin, etc. would have generally sounded fantastic, I have doubts about lesser pianists.

But that's the fun of it! See who can and who can't!

Quote:
I don't think there is much recorded legacy to show how interesting or how dull the improvisations of the composers or pianists were. If Katsaris and Cziffra are any indication, and I think they are considered among the better ones recently, I don't think we were missing much.

The art of improvisation in classical music died long before Cziffra, let alone Katsaris,

Quote:
I don't see a problem with playing previously composed cadenzas (by the composer or another pianist)because they will generally be far superior to anything anyone could improvise on the spot. I wonder whether, even in Beethoven's time, if he assumed or expected many pianists would use his cadenzas? If not, why did bother to write them?


But cadenzas were designed to be dangerous, not to be recorded for posterity. It's the fear of risk that crept into classical music that condemned the cadenza to being just a part of the composition rather than a point of high drama where anything could happen and reputations were one and lost. I like my high stakes poker!

Quote:

I don't think one can expect classical pianists to ever come close to jazz pianists in terms of improvisational skills because improvisation is not the major thrust of playing classical music as it is for jazz.


Who knows, perhaps it was at some point. Back in the time of figured-bass it was pretty important.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 02:16 PM

Originally Posted By: ando
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
The interesting thing would be if we could hear actual improvisations by great pianists and great composers of the past. While few doubt that Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Mendelssohn, Chopin, etc. would have generally sounded fantastic, I have doubts about lesser pianists.
But that's the fun of it! See who can and who can't!
But we can't see as there are virtually recordings.

Originally Posted By: ando
Quote:
I don't think there is much recorded legacy to show how interesting or how dull the improvisations of the composers or pianists were. If Katsaris and Cziffra are any indication, and I think they are considered among the better ones recently, I don't think we were missing much.
The art of improvisation in classical music died long before Cziffra, let alone Katsaris.
I don't think we know if it died and when it died because we don't know how good the improvisations were when pianists did this more regularly.

Originally Posted By: ando
Quote:
I don't see a problem with playing previously composed cadenzas (by the composer or another pianist)because they will generally be far superior to anything anyone could improvise on the spot. I wonder whether, even in Beethoven's time, if he assumed or expected many pianists would use his cadenzas? If not, why did bother to write them?
But cadenzas were designed to be dangerous, not to be recorded for posterity. It's the fear of risk that crept into classical music that condemned the cadenza to being just a part of the composition rather than a point of high drama where anything could happen and reputations were one and lost. I like my high stakes poker!
Not sure I agree with dangerous or whether danger is even desirable. Why did many great composers write out cadenzas if they didn't expect them to be used?

Originally Posted By: ando
Quote:
I don't think one can expect classical pianists to ever come close to jazz pianists in terms of improvisational skills because improvisation is not the major thrust of playing classical music as it is for jazz.

Who knows, perhaps it was at some point. Back in the time of figured-bass it was pretty important.
We know about music history at least starting in the Baroque and keyboardists played solo works from the music. My understanding figured bass is that this was not used when the keyboard part was the solo part.
Posted by: ando

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 02:52 PM

I won't try to convince you any further. You are in the more conservative camp that sticks with composed works - and there's nothing wrong with that. I actually would like some danger and unpredictability in a classical performance. But I don't expect anyone to agree with that - nor to I expect the classical world to change much either.

Thanks for the chat.
Posted by: Kuanpiano

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 03:01 PM

Apologies for the original comment inspiring this thread...though I don't remember castigating BG... rather bemoaning his choice of repertoire and that his Kapustin wasn't that great.

Though I do agree with the OP's opinion on recitals, too often they tend to be all about monumental works or big collections, rather than just amounting to a fun and enjoyable experience.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 03:01 PM

I'd much rather listen to three Schubert sonatas on the trot than both books of the WTC - now that's painful!
Posted by: jeffreyjones

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 04:05 PM

If played properly, I would pay money to hear D. 960 three times in a row!
Posted by: AldenH

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 04:21 PM

Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
HA! That critic can go take a hike. I would pay LOTS of money to see a great pianist play Schubert's last three sonatas.


Weirich is actually a fairly renowned pianist and teacher, not just a faceless critic. It's fine to disagree with him, but he is worth his salt as a musician.

This is a very big topic, and I encourage everyone here interested to go read Joseph Horowitz's book "Classical Music in America." A large portion of the book detail the shift from composer (and improvisor, implicitly)- to performer-oriented culture.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 04:26 PM

I heard the last three Schubert Sonatas played in a row once but unfortunately this was by not such a great pianist IMO.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/26/12 04:30 PM

Speaking of marathon concerts, how many would like to hear all 5 Beethoven Piano Concerti and the Choral Fantasy played in a row (with a break for dinner half way through)?

This was done at quite a few New Year's Eve concerts by the pianist Anton Kuerti and conductor Jens Nygaard. I heard half the concert one year.
Posted by: dolce sfogato

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/29/12 07:35 PM

depends on the menu
Posted by: wr

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/29/12 09:18 PM

Originally Posted By: sandalholme
I have no problem with hours of serious stuff, but I would support any moves/encouragement for pianists to introduce the music/chat to the audience. It might move us towards a more human to human communication rather than the audience reverently worshipping at the shrine of the maestro.


I hate it when performers take it upon themselves to talk to the audience. It almost always comes off as condescending - oh, poor stupid audience, can't deal with the music without some kind of inane "explanation". AFAIAC, that's what program notes are for. Not to mention that many classical musicians are simply not very good at speaking in public - it's not what they are trained to do, after all.

And the separation between performer and audience hardly makes me feel like I'm reverently worshiping. I just want to concentrate on the music-making. That's why I'm there, and I don't like being distracted from it by extraneous nonsense that violates the usual conventions of concert-going.
Posted by: beet31425

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/29/12 11:24 PM

Originally Posted By: wr
I hate it when performers take it upon themselves to talk to the audience. It almost always comes off as condescending - oh, poor stupid audience, can't deal with the music without some kind of inane "explanation". AFAIAC, that's what program notes are for...

Wow, I couldn't disagree with this more. If there is a single thing I would like to change about the culture of "classical" music, it is the formality, and the lack of verbal engagement, between a performer and his/her audience. The bows, the walking back and forth.... In some ways I might yearn for the days of the salon.

-J
Posted by: Ferdinand

Re: Are some recital programs too much, and 'painful to endure'? - 10/30/12 12:18 AM

I agree with wr about performers speaking to the audience. It makes it harder to concentrate on the music. On the other hand, well - written program notes are valuable. The great thing is that one can choose to read them before the performance, after, or not at all.

And if the audience does reverently worship the music, what's wrong about that?