b Riding East

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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Étude-Tableaux No. 3

After a fairly significant lapse, I'm writing again. I've been a bit busy lately with work and school. And my kids.

I considered continuing my preludes with a second book. Yet at least for now, I want a little more freedom to explore new ideas without boundaries and structure. A single prelude might satisfy such goals, but not a set. And so I'll try something new, paying homage to a former resident of Menlo Park. I hope to record this piece in the coming weeks.
[5/1/2015 just recorded it. needs work.]
[5/30/2015 no 1 just became no 3]

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

ps I'm not gonna talk so much about the structure any more. If you discover something interesting, it may have been by design.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Baldwin vs iPad

Smule marketing approached me the other day and asked me to record the Presto Agitato from Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op 27 No. 2 in C-shart minor, "The Moonlight".  Their concept was to juxtapose performances of this piece on the piano with the "Magic Piano" from Smule.  I mentioned I didn't know the piece and it would take some time to learn it.  They responded by asking if later in the week would work.  I chuckled and reminded them I wasn't Van Cliburn.  They asked to confirm whether later in the week would work...

Not that week but a week later (!), we recorded performances of the piece at Smule's offices in San Francisco with me on the piano and Naoko Maruko of Smule on the iPad.  Here is the final video:
Ironically, they didn't use my first recording.  They claimed the piano was too fast for the iPad -- it couldn't keep up (not the performer but "Magic Piano" latency).  So, we came back two days later and recorded again at a slower tempo.  
It's a fun video.   Kudos to Smule marketing:  cute concept and nice editing.  And great job Naoko.  I think the piece might actually be harder to play on iPad than Baldwin.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chopin Preludes Opus 28

I sat down this morning on my Steinway B and recorded a few of the Chopin Preludes I've been practicing.   They're not quite ready but getting closer.  I'm hoping to put together a recital, perhaps commemorating many different recent life events, both personal and academic.

I was inspired by Kenneth Hamilton's lecture at Stanford a month ago in the Reactions to the Record IV Symposium.  Kenneth's lecture walked through the recent history of piano performance, focusing on the changes of the past century, perhaps relating to the era of the recording.  He spent considerable time exploring the notion of the unpolished, authentic, improvisatory elements of performances in the previous century, including the practice of 'preluding' between pieces in a performance.  Most of this preluding represented somewhat spontaneous musical musings of a pianist in transitioning between pieces, although in many cases I'm sure those transitions may have been planned, composed, or perhaps drawn from a collection of tools.  Beyond such musings, we have several collections of preludes in the canon of western music, notably Bach's WTC I and II, but also Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin to name a few.

I contemplate a recital where every piece is connected to another piece through preludes, mostly those chosen from Bach, Chopin, and Debussy (and perhaps one or two of my own), but also sometimes more improvisatory in nature.  My hope would be to create a somewhat continuous ribbon of music from start to end with no breaks, where different movements of disjunct works might be integrated with one another in novel ways.  Ideally the listener in the end perceives the works but also the connections between them (that is to say the preludes), and in some cases might have their lasting attention drawn to the preludes themselves.

Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 1 in C Major
Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 10 in C-sharp Minor
Chopin Prelude Opus 28 No. 14 in E-flat Minor