b Riding East

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bach Goldberg Variation No. 13

The first thing I did when I arrived in Fairview, Wyoming today was to open the gate to the outer pasture, hopefully persuading the horses to come and visit so it will be easier to catch them tomorrow.

The second thing I did, after arriving, was play the piano. It's such a treat to be able to play while watching the wind blow through the quaking aspens as the sun is setting on "Big Ridge" to the west.

I think a lot about the sacrifices my ancestors made for me.  This land was my great-grandfather's, Robert Hillstead, an immigrant from England.  On the ridge of the mountain, nestled near the Bridger Nat'l forest, this "dry farm" (not irrigated) would support grazing the dairy cattle during the summer months.  My grandfather and his brothers would take turns making the trip to the ridge from the valley each evening.  They would round up the cows, milk them, spend a night in a little shack (quite near the corral in the photo), and then repeat the exercise for the morning milking the next day.  After, they would take the milk down to the valley and sell it.

I remember many summers here in Star Valley with my Grandpa Joe.  His heart never left this valley.  I think my heart will never leave Star Valley either.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Preludes No. 8 and No. 11

Today was a day of reflection. Seventeen years ago, or June 6th, 2000, my father passed away. One year prior, on the same day, my Grandma Smith, his mother, had passed away. They are buried next to each other, alongside his father and sister, in Holladay, Utah. From his grave, you have a perfect view of Mount Olympus in the Wasatch mountains, his favorite mountain peak.

I experienced every emotion that summer. At work, we were busy closing our quarter, our fourth as a public company. I was a week away from starting the road show for our secondary offering. In parallel with the secondary, we'd signed a term sheet to purchase another company and were commencing diligence. At home, my wife Tina and I had just purchased our second piano, a beautiful Bösendorfer from Austria (which I used for the recordings below). She was seven months pregnant with our first child, my son Noah. And then my father died.

I think of this summer often. When I see Mount Olympus, when I play some of my own pieces from that era, when I hold my son, when I hear and sing the hymns my father and I sang in church together. I wrote these pieces, Preludes no. 8 and no. 11, six years later, still reflecting. No. 11 is a variation of the hymn, Be Still my Soul, taken from Sibelius's Finlandia.

Prelude No. 8
Prelude No. 8 score

Prelude No. 11
Prelude No. 11 score

Monday, May 15, 2017

Brahms Ballade Op 10 No. 1 in D Minor

I turned 50 on March 11 and hosted a piano recital for my birthday.  My program included Brahms Op. 9, the Schumann Variations, as well as Ballade Op. 10 no. 4.  Family and friends attended, who were quite gracious and forgiving of my lack of practice time.  

Since the recital, I've been working on the rest of Brahms Op. 10.  When I was younger, I couldn't get enough of late Brahms.  Now that I'm getting older, I'm drawn to his earlier works.  I sat down tonight and briefly recorded Op 10 no 1.  I need to memorize it and work on the sound (too harsh), but I find this piece enchanting -- from another world, another time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Chopin Prelude in F# Major Op 28 no 13

My cute eight-year-old daughter Sabine recorded me playing Chopin today.  Sabine was a flower in the Hillview Middle School production of Jungle Book this past Saturday.  I've included a shot from her show.  As you can see, the tiger was really good.  I also loved the palm tree.  Nice touch.  You can see Sabine as the flower next to the plant on the left.  The plant had a lot of energy throughout the show.

I learned most of the Chopin preludes a year ago and decided to come back to some of them the past couple days.  The F# Major op 28 no 13 is such a gem.  The lines of this piece are amazing, especially the embedded/implied inner lines.  I love, for example, how he starts on the octave (A#) in both hands. The piu lento sostenuto in the middle of the piece is another great example of the wonderful lines and inner melodies Chopin develops.  So precious. 

It seems all young pianists love Chopin, and understandably so.  I felt there was almost too much bias towards Chopin when I played more in college, and was determined to venture out.  I'm older now and find myself coming back to Chopin.  

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Sunday morning playing Brahms in pajamas

A typical Sunday morning playing the piano in my PJs. My daughter Charlie filmed this on my iPhone 6. Sound quality is ok, not great.  When I take the time to bring in my high end microphones, it becomes a whole day affair of recording, and I didn't have the courage today. So this iPhone captured spontaneous and scraggly recording will have to do.

I've learned this entire set of the Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann, Op 9, by Johannes Brahms.  I love this piece.  My goodness.  I've never found a more intimate character piece in all of art.  The story of Robert's life with Clara, from marriage through his death.

I play three variations from the set in this performance (in my pajamas), namely 7, 8, and 9.  The meter in Variation 7 moves from 4 to 3, almost representative of a life cut short.  Variation 8 is one of the most amazing canons ever written.  Truly inspired.  Variation 9 seems to suggest the storm that is coming in all of its despair, the beginning of the end perhaps.

Yes, I know, I need to learn how to play the piano in piano.  Working on it.  Also, I really haven't perfected this set yet.  This was more of a morning romp.  I'm hoping for a recital that would include this set, the first French Suite from Bach in D minor, Janáček's X. 1905, maybe some Ravel, and then a few of my own pieces along side Rachmaninoff.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Étude-Tableaux Nos. 1, 2, and 3

I have decided I will write a set of Étude-Tableaux. Hopefully six. I think the form is open to exploration, and am surprised no one seemed to follow Rachmaninoff. Some modern composers would object to any references to images or "programs", or God forbid the use of text [B.F.]... I kind of don't care what modern composers think.

I started with No. 3 a couple months ago. I then realized that my previous "Lander Pass" made a lot of sense in the set, and having never written a score for the piece, spent a month transcribing and frankly recomposing the piece. The set starts with Lander Pass as No. 1. I also realized that a late "prelude" -- a term I attached to several pieces that lacked any relationship to one another but were simply experiments of sorts -- also belonged in this set. Voila, No 2, dedicated to my brother Greg.

I'm now committed. I'm starting to put together some sketches for Nos 4, 5, and 6.

Étude-Tableaux No. 1
Étude-Tableaux No. 1 score

Étude-Tableaux No. 2
Étude-Tableaux No. 2 score

Étude-Tableaux No. 3
Étude-Tableaux No. 3 score

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Étude-Tableaux No. 1: Lander Pass

I wrote a new piece last month, Étude-Tableaux No 1. I realized after I wrote it that it made sense alongside a piece I wrote in '07, Lander Pass. The problem with "Lander Pass", however, was I had only played it from memory -- I'd never written out the score. When I got sick last month and couldn't leave my house for a couple weeks, I made the time to finally transcribe the piece.

It ended up being difficult to transcribe as I realized that my improvised playing from sketches was virtually impossible to notate. The timing and meter were all over the place. I changed and simplified the piece somewhat as a result. I hope it is better. "Lander Pass" is now Étude-Tableaux No 1, and the previous No 1 is now No 3. No 2 is also already written (mostly), and coming soon.

I sat down and recorded No 1 earlier this afternoon. There are several sections where I'm faking it still, and the arpeggios just aren't even or clean. One day...

Étude-Tableaux No. 1
Étude-Tableaux No. 1 score