Faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang discusses his Nov. 29 Horowitz Piano Series recital program

Wei-Yi Yang

On Nov. 29, faculty pianist Wei-Yi Yang will perform a Horowitz Piano Series recital featuring Schubert’s demanding and lively “Gasteiner” Sonata. The program will also showcase music by Bach and two composers whose work he inspired, Schumann and Liszt.

Talking about the pieces that will begin the concert — Liszt’s Prelude after J.S. Bach, Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, and selections from Schumann’s Four Fugues, Op. 72 — Yang said, “These two important composers of the Romantic period followed in Bach’s footsteps in the works selected here. Although some might associate Bach’s works and methods with precise craftsmanship and mathematical intrigue, here the two Romantics inherited the Baroque master’s obsession and passion in developing motifs and subjects, and grew the smallest musical seedlings into magnificent forests.

“It is striking to hear how two of the greatest Romantic composers used chromaticism and harmonic turns in the mid-1800s, lush and wayward they may be, which at times seem perfectly aligned with Baroque sensibilities,” Yang said. Their work in these pieces, he said, “encapsulates the timelessness of Bach’s vision and influence.”

Yang further explained that “Bach at his core is about the elements of song, dance, and, most of the time, a combination of both. The partitas are cosmopolitan collections of different dance movements that go straight to the heart of Baroque style in elegance and eloquence. Schubert is also always about the song (Lieder) and the dance, although in dance he is singularly obsessed with the Ländler style, which can be felt in the center movements of the D-major Sonata.”

The “Gasteiner,” Yang said, “is unusually sunny and optimistic for Schubert, although it is not without nostalgia and tenderness, while the composer spins out an unusual, virtuosic keyboard style combined with orchestral and quartet sonority and the omnipresent singing lyricism that is deeply embedded in his DNA.”

Asked about the significance of the program being centered on the key of D, Yang said, “I must confess that hearing a tonal thread is very important to me when I listen to and conceive the details of a program.”

 What’s important to him in the end is that “the audience will see and hear the prismatic aspects in music that I strive to unlock, whether it’s about tonal relationships, stylistic influences, or genre crossing.”

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Published November 21, 2017
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Boris Berman’s “Notes from the Pianist’s Bench” enhanced with multimedia elements

Fifteen years after its initial publication, faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench (Yale University Press, 2002) has been enhanced to include audio and video clips that support the written content, which has also been updated.

“I expanded it in terms of the content,” Berman said, “but also, I added the visual and audio components.” A decade and a half after writing the book, Berman considered various pieces of feedback, and, “in some cases,” he said, “I changed my view on certain subjects.”

The “YUP approached Boris with the idea of adding audio and video components to the book,” Yale University Press publicist Alden Ferro said in an email. “Accompanying both the print and ebook versions is access to multimedia components: 20 video examples and 25 audio examples. In the multimedia edition, clicking the links takes you directly to the audio and video examples. In the print book, audio and video symbols throughout cue the reader when and which example to watch or listen to online. If a reader buys the print edition, they can gain access to the audio and video components by going to www.yalebooks.com/berman and registering for an account on the companion website.”

Ferro noted that “as in the original edition, Berman gives tips on everything from the practical matters in piano playing— sound and touch, technique, pedaling, and articulation — to how to emotionally prepare for a performance.”

Of Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench, the late Claude Frank, who taught piano alongside Berman at the Yale School of Music, said, “Whether the subject is rubato in Mozart and Chopin, pedaling in Bach, or merely the position of the thumb on the keyboard, Boris Berman deals with it comprehensively but concisely, imaginatively and realistically. The book is neither too elementary nor too advanced for any pianist, piano teacher or piano lover. It is informative, inspiring and entertaining.”

Acclaimed pianist Emanuel Ax offered, “What makes Mr. Berman’s book so persuasive and enlightening is his understanding that there is no one ‘method’ of teaching music — each relationship with a student is a process of discovery for teacher and student both.”

Learn more about the new edition of Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench on the Yale University Press website.

Published November 15, 2017
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YSM faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty, on collaborating with faculty pianist Peter Frankl

Janna Baty

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl will give one of his last performances at Yale before retiring at the end of the semester. He’ll be joined for an all-Schumann program by faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty and baritone Randall Scarlata. We asked Prof. Baty about collaborating with Prof. Frankl, and about her colleague’s contributions to the Yale community and beyond.

Q: What about working with Peter Frankl is inspiring and artistically nourishing?

JB: He is utterly engaged and dedicated to getting the music right. He is exacting in his own work, which inspires me in mine. He is also deeply in love with vocal literature, which (alas!) cannot be said of all pianists, and understands its conventions and techniques. He has a Geiger counter-like sensitivity to the placement of consonants and an in-depth knowledge of every inch of the poetry, which means he colors his accompaniments perfectly. Schumann is especially good with Peter, as the singer and pianist are effectively two sides of the character’s brain. It’s an immersive and even overwhelming experience to work with him, one for which I’m enormously grateful.

Q: What are your conversations about music like?

JB: They range from matter-of-fact (tempi, rubati, choices of repertoire) to gossipy! We both adore opera and spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about this production and that, this singer and that. It’s always so much fun. Our musical conversations — meaning, poetry — are mostly just that, expressed in the music. When you get it, you get it.

Q: What do you learn — and what have you learned — about music and your own artistry from working with Peter? (In a sense, what kind of teacher is he?)

JB: My first collaboration was with Peter and Claude Frank singing Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer as a graduate student (calling it a collaboration is a stretch … it was a public recital at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, but for us singers it was a master class!) and, more than 25 years later, this recital is the most recent. I’ve learned that sincerity, dedication, honesty, and passion onstage are all that matter. The other junk — egos, publicity, the public reaction — just doesn’t matter. When you are completely committed onstage, the audience comes with you.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the concerts you perform with Peter Frankl?

JB: That vocal chamber music is every bit as viable an art form as any other type of piano repertoire. It is, in so many ways, the most important form of chamber music of all, because it includes words. Peter treats collaborations with singers no differently than he treats collaborations with other artists, which is validating to singers like myself and so important for the public to see. I wish all pianists had this dedication to and skill with the repertoire!

Q: How would you describe Peter’s artistic contribution to the YSM community and beyond?

JB: Immeasurable. He is a treasure and will be missed profoundly. But I have a feeling we’ll see him around here again someday! Are you listening, Peter?

Peter Frankl will perform a Horowitz Piano Series recital on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. He’ll be joined by faculty mezzo-soprano Janna Baty and baritone Randall Scarlata in an all-Schumann program. Learn more and buy tickets.

Published November 7, 2017
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YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl to retire after 30 years, having inspired generations

Peter Frankl

By Lucile Bruce

Peter Frankl will retire at the end of this semester, concluding his remarkable 30 year career at the Yale School of Music, where he has touched the minds — and more important, the hearts — of hundreds of students.A virtuoso performer and beloved teacher, Frankl was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935, into a musical family. His parents were semi-professional musicians who played piano at home. They took their son to many concerts and he remembers hearing “many great artists like Klemperer, Bernstein, and my idol, the pianist Annie Fischer.”

Frankl began playing the piano at age 5. “It has been my passion in life ever since,” he said.

He made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in 1967. Since then, he has played on the world’s top stages with the most celebrated orchestras and eminent conductors, including Abbado, Boulez, Davis, Haitink, Maazel, Masur, Muti, and Solti. His world tours have taken him to Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He has appeared more than 20 times at London’s BBC Proms and at many major festivals. Inspired as a young musician by the legendary Leó Weiner, his chamber music teacher, Frankl is also a well- known chamber music performer. For years, the Frankl-Pauk- Kirshbaum Trio traveled the world, and Frankl’s many chamber music partners include the world’s most renowned artists.

It was Boris Berman, professor of piano and coordinator of the piano department at YSM, who invited Frankl to come to Yale, first in 1987 as a visiting teaching artist.

Until that time, Frankl’s occupation was mainly concertizing; he rarely taught, even master classes. “It never occurred to me to teach on a regular basis,” he said. “However, Yale’s reputation attracted me greatly and I decided to give it a try.”

He harbored a deeper reason, however, for teaching. “By then I was 52 years old,” he explained. “I had the impression that the young generation of pianists were more interested in reaching technical perfection than in involving themselves in the emotional and spiritual meaning of what each composer wanted to express in their works.

“Somehow I started feeling responsible towards the future of music-making,” he continued. “Instead of grumbling about this, I wanted to do something positive.”

He thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere at YSM, including the School’s “relatively intimate size.” As two esteemed piano faculty members were approaching retirement, Yale offered to extend Frankl’s appointment. He gladly accepted.  MORE

Published November 6, 2017
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YSM professor and Brahms expert Paul Berry, on faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Sept. 27 recital program

Boris Berman, left, and Paul Berry

School of Music faculty pianist Boris Berman kicks off the 2017-2018 Horowitz Piano Series on Wednesday, Sept. 27, with an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119. We spoke with YSM Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry, the author of Brahms Among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford University Press, 2014), about the works that Professor Berman will perform, what the music tells us about the composer and his environment, and what the late piano works demand of a performer.

Q: Brahms’ piano pieces, Opp. 116-119, were composed during the last decade of his life. What does that lateness mean in terms of the character of these pieces, and in the context of his career and his personal life? According to our program notes, Lionel Salter said, of Op. 116, “It is as if the composer at the end of his life had compressed the essence of his musical and emotional thoughts into these miniatures.” And Brahms himself described the Op. 117 set as “lullabies of my sorrow.” What, if anything, did Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann say about these pieces?

A: Well, the idea of lateness can inform our hearing of these piano pieces in several productive ways. The most obvious is their placement in the composer’s output. In the early 1890s, Brahms was not yet 60, and all his friends constantly commented on his fitness and robust health; he had no idea that this would turn out to be his last decade. But he did know that he would soon retire from public life as a composer. Indeed, he had already retired once, only to return to composition when he encountered the clarinet playing of Richard Muehlfeld. The late piano miniatures are the most abundant fruit of what he planned to be his final harvest. Especially with the example of late Beethoven in the ears of the musical public, a composer would naturally understand that his final works were likely to be interpreted as summations of his craft and emotional range, and compose them with the judgment of posterity in mind. Certainly Brahms did so with these piano pieces.

At the same time, the late piano pieces first surfaced not in published form, but in manuscript copies made for Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists and musicians of the century and Brahms’ oldest and firmest friend. Throughout the summers of 1892 and 1893, he sent her packages containing individual miniatures, some of which were so dramatic in effect that she took them to be the building blocks of a larger piano sonata (a genre Brahms had avoided since his youth). Though she had retired from the concert stage by now, these pieces soon became a dominant focus of her private music-making. In fact, we have accounts from her daughters and grandchildren concerning her renditions of them and, in some cases, the poetic significance she attached to them (Op. 118, No. 5, for instance, seemed to her to represent the emotional landscape of an elderly couple reminiscing about their lives together while their grandchildren play nearby). So from both a professional and a personal standpoint, Brahms’ late works lend themselves to interpretation as late works.

Q: In what historical and political contexts were these pieces composed, and how did Brahms’ immediate environment and the changing world around him inform the music he composed toward the end of his life? What do the pieces of Opp. 116-119 tells us about where composition had been and where it was headed?   

A: Brahms’ political environment was challenging for him and his fellow liberals, who found their longstanding commitment to education, religious tolerance, and upper-middle-class values under assault from populist and overtly religious parties, whose members preferred the more direct musical styles of composers like Wagner or Bruckner. Brahms’ primary musical market was under attack, and these pieces can be understood as speaking to the alternately nostalgic and grumpy impulses of a soon-to-be minority party. Those elements of this music that seem to us now the most forward-looking (daring modulations, hazy tonality, complex interweaving of multiple melodies) may actually have been designed to summon up appreciation for the learned elements of a craft that many already perceived to be outdated and in decline.

Q: Talk if you would about the form, structure, and styles of these pieces and how Brahms might’ve intended them to be performed and presented.

A: Most of these pieces present some variant of ternary, or three-part, form, in which the main material is presented at the beginning, cedes its place to contrasting material in the middle, and then returns to close the work near the end. Brahms’ craft emerges in the seemingly infinite variety of approaches that this ancient musical form elicits from him in each individual context, from the straightforward, almost folk-like simplicity of Op. 118, No. 5, to the complex twists and turns of Op. 117, No. 2. It’s always worth listening for moments of return, when familiar material reappears, and comparing them to one’s memory of that material from earlier in the piece; so many of these works create subtle but remarkable transformations in mood when one encounters the same material in new contexts.

Although these pieces are rightly seen as intimate, private ruminations, this is also virtuosic music, though it usually wears its virtuosity in an understated way. Most of the pieces were premiered in public by the best pianists then performing, and reviewers consistently noted the difficulties that they posed to a pianist’s technique, especially in the faster pieces. The final work on the recital, Op. 119, No. 4, is a good example, with its whirl of gypsy-style rhythms. But the slower works, too, present real technical challenges involving the thickening of texture, and these challenges are often aligned with pivotal moments in the unfolding of the piece: the return of familiar material after a long absence, for instance, is often much harder to play than the initial presentation of the tune. Even the famous lullaby, Op. 117, No. 1, is almost overwhelmed near the end when its fragile voices multiply under the pianist’s hands.

Q: What should audiences listen for in these works as they think about Brahms and his world and the culture in which we live today?

A: Some elements of our current political scene (the rise of populist ideologies in the United States and abroad, increasingly overt intolerance and suspicion of “elite” attitudes, a pervasive sense of loss and frustration) mirror aspects of Brahms’ own environment in the 1890s. The variety of moods explored in these short piano pieces, from resignation and nostalgia to brooding anger and firm resilience, therefore resonate productively in the present moment.

Q: What, in your opinion, does Professor Berman bring to these works? And what do these pieces require of a pianist, both technically and with regard to scholarship?

A: These works require of a pianist a deep immersion in the intricacies of the composer’s craft and a deep commitment to the emotional world projected in each piece. Professor Berman brings both immersion and commitment to his playing. He also brings a firm sense of clarity with respect to large-scale structure. He does not “lose” his listeners, but guides them through the unfolding of each piece.

Faculty pianist and Horowitz Piano Series Artistic Director Boris Berman performs an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm in the Blocker Room. Learn more and purchase tickets

Published September 25, 2017
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Robert Blocker presents five new works by YSM faculty and alumni

This recital is a rescheduled event from Wednesday, March 9.

blocker2The Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents a recital by Robert Blocker on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 pm. Blocker, the dean of the School of Music, has played with such orchestras as the Beijing and Shanghai Symphonies, the Houston Symphony, and the Prague and Moscow Chamber Orchestras.

Blocker will open his program with works from the classical canon. Mozart‘s Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K. 310, written soon after the death of Mozart’s mother, will be followed by Ravel‘s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes).

The second half of the program will open with a set of character pieces, all written by Yale faculty and alumni composers. David Lang‘s ’83 MMA, ’89 DMA Winter Piano will be followed by Hannah Lash‘s ’12 AD Prelude. Next are Illusory Rail by a recent YSM alumna Fay Wang ’10 MM, ’12 AD, and Three Novelettes by Warren Lee. Closing the set will be Christopher Theofanidis‘s ’97 DMA Wake Up, Called the Voice. MORE

Published February 29, 2016
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Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon makes his Yale debut Feb. 17

Dénes Várjon

Dénes Várjon

The Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents a recital by Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon on Wednesday, February 17 at 7:30 pm.

Várjon, hailed as “a musician of unusual power” by the Washington Post, comes to the Yale stage the day after performing at Carnegie Hall. His concert will offer a diverse program that includes works by Haydn, Schumann, Janácek, and Chopin.

Opening the program is Franz Josef Haydn‘s Sonata in E minor, Hob. XVI/34, in which the composer exploits the dynamic range of the fortepiano — then a newly invented instrument that offered more variation in volume than its predecessor, the harpsichord. MORE

Published February 12, 2016
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Pierre Réach performs Beethoven, Schumann, and Berlioz Jan. 20

reach-pierreThe Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents a recital by acclaimed pianist Pierre Réach on Wednesday, January 20 at 7:30 pm. This performance is Réach’s first return to Yale since his rendition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations captivated audiences in 2009.

The recital will open with one of Beethoven‘s Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, “The Tempest.” The sonata’s stormy nickname was given not by the composer but rather by violinist Anton Schindler, who claimed that the piece was inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Next on the program is Schumann‘s Carnaval, Op. 9. The work comprises 21 short pieces representing masked figures at Carnival, the festival that precedes Lent. The 21 pieces are connected by four-note figures which Schumann uses as musical cryptograms to spell out several messages.

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Published December 16, 2015
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Hung-Kuan Chen performs Chopin’s 24 Preludes and more Dec. 16

Hung Kuan ChenThe Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents a recital by acclaimed pianist Hung-Kuan Chen on Wednesday, December 16 at 7:30 pm.

The recital will open with one of Haydn‘s early piano sonatas, the Sonata in G major, Hob. XVI: 6. This is followed by Schubert‘s Sonata in C minor, D. 958. One of Schubert’s final works, the sonata was not published until well after the composer’s death, and is now considered one of his masterpieces.

The program will conclude with the full set of Chopin‘s beloved 24 Preludes, Op. 28. The short pieces for piano are written as a cycle which encompass all of the 24 major and minor keys.

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Published December 9, 2015
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Melvin Chen offers premiere of interactive piece Dec. 2

Melvin Chen, Deputy Dean and piano facultyThe Horowitz Piano Series at the Yale School of Music presents a recital by faculty pianist Melvin Chen on WednesdayDecember 2 at 7:30 pm.

The program, encompassing music from the nineteenth century to the present day, includes music by Franz Schubert and contemporary composers Jason Freeman, Earle Brown, and Jaroslaw Kapuscinski.

The premiere is of Shadows, a new piece written expressly for Chen by Jason Freeman for piano, laptop, and projection. Freeman’s artistic practice focuses on using technology to engage diverse audiences in collaborative, experimental, and accessible musical experiences. MORE

Published November 17, 2015
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