Playing from Memory: Tommasini

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maestrob
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Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by maestrob » Tue Jan 01, 2013 12:02 pm

Over the years I have observed that the rigid protocol in classical music whereby solo performers, especially pianists, are expected to play from memory seems finally, thank goodness, to be loosening its hold. What matters, or should matter, is the quality of the music making, not the means by which an artist renders a fine performance.

Increasingly, major pianists like Peter Serkin and Olli Mustonen have sometimes chosen to play a solo work using the printed score. The pianist Gilbert Kalish, best known as an exemplary chamber music performer and champion of contemporary music, has long played all repertory, including solo pieces (Haydn sonatas, Brahms intermezzos), using scores. As a faculty member of the excellent music department at Stony Brook University, Mr. Kalish spearheaded a change in the degree requirements in the 1980s, so that student pianists could play any work in their official recitals, from memory or not, whichever resulted in the best, most confident performance.

Yet there is still widespread and, to me, surprising, adherence in the field to the protocol of playing solo repertory from memory. This season Mr. Tharaud took a little flak for performing recitals in New York using printed scores.

In October at the Greenwich Village music club Le Poisson Rouge he played excerpts from his delightful new Virgin Classics recording “Le Boeuf sur le Toit,” taken from the name of the club that became a haven for Parisian cabaret during the Jazz Age. The next night Mr. Tharaud played a standard program at Weill Recital Hall with works by Scarlatti, Ravel, Chopin and Liszt. At each concert, rather than performing from memory, he used scores, something that Steve Smith, who reviewed Mr. Tharaud’s Weill recital for The New York Times, did not even mention. It was not worth commenting on. The news, as Mr. Smith made clear, was Mr. Tharaud’s absorbing and mercurial performances.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/arts/ ... 1&ref=arts

Ricordanza
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Jan 01, 2013 12:32 pm

Over the years I have observed that the rigid protocol in classical music whereby solo performers, especially pianists, are expected to play from memory seems finally, thank goodness, to be loosening its hold. What matters, or should matter, is the quality of the music making, not the means by which an artist renders a fine performance.
I wholeheartedly agree with Tommasini's observation. Playing from memory is still the norm at the piano recitals I attend, but there is certainly no deficiency in the quality of performance when the pianist uses the score.

Interestingly, over the years, I see more conductors leading an orchestra without a score. How a conductor can commit to memory a Mahler symphony, for example, is beyond my comprehension.

Seán
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Seán » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:03 pm

Ricordanza wrote:
Over the years I have observed that the rigid protocol in classical music whereby solo performers, especially pianists, are expected to play from memory seems finally, thank goodness, to be loosening its hold. What matters, or should matter, is the quality of the music making, not the means by which an artist renders a fine performance.
I wholeheartedly agree with Tommasini's observation. Playing from memory is still the norm at the piano recitals I attend, but there is certainly no deficiency in the quality of performance when the pianist uses the score.

Interestingly, over the years, I see more conductors leading an orchestra without a score. How a conductor can commit to memory a Mahler symphony, for example, is beyond my comprehension.
Mine too, but Abbado does, beautifully too I might add.
Seán

"To appreciate the greatness of the Masters is to keep faith in the greatness of humanity." - Wilhelm Furtwängler

John F
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by John F » Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:09 pm

Artur Schnabel always played from the score, and in his later years so did Sviatoslav Richter. He said it was absurd to spend all the time needed to memorize a Haydn sonata when he might be playing four of them from the music. He had a point.

As for conductors, most use a score when conducting concertos, not to mention operas, but relatively few in purely orchestral music. Klemperer did, and so did Stravinsky; doubtless there are many more. But I guess conductors would rather be keeping an eye on the players.
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Donald Isler
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Donald Isler » Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:39 pm

I do not believe that Schnabel usually played from the score. My father heard him play a Mozart concerto at Carnegie Hall in 1946 at which he had a terrible memory lapse in the last movement, and everything ground to a halt until he looked over the score with the conductor and they agreed from where they should start over.
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Donald Isler » Tue Jan 01, 2013 4:47 pm

Separate from my previous comment: I agree with Tomassini's point. It's the music making that matters, not whether or not the pianist usues the score. As someone who used to play from memory and now uses the music most of the time I know there are advantages to both. Many well-known pianists (ie Hess, Masselos, Richter, my teacher Constance Keene and others) eventually decided they preferred to use the music rather than continue to play from memory.

But I wish Mr. Tomassini's memory were better. He wrote a review for a concert marking the 25th anniversary of the New York Virtuoso Singers at Merkin Hall in October. In addition to their performances, mostly of premieres of new works, two solo pianists performed, also playing 20th and 21th century music. He wrote about the ensembles but nothing about the two pianists, or the works they performed. (I was one of the pianists. Ahem!)
Donald Isler

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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by karlhenning » Wed Jan 02, 2013 8:04 am

Ricordanza wrote:Interestingly, over the years, I see more conductors leading an orchestra without a score. How a conductor can commit to memory a Mahler symphony, for example, is beyond my comprehension.
Nothing new nor radical: study and familiarity.

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Auntie Lynn
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Auntie Lynn » Wed Jan 02, 2013 9:14 am

Just about everything I have ever heard is still in my head. On my job, you have to have instant recall - can't be fumbling around through ten mile high stacks of music. Trust me, it's a highly marketable skill...

maestrob
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by maestrob » Wed Jan 02, 2013 11:34 am

Memorizing takes extra time and study: if you're a good reader why not use the score? I often prefer using music to remind me where bar lines are in complex pieces.......

There's a story that Zubin Mehta was conducting Turandot at the MET with Birgit Nilsson in the title role: Mehta wanted to conduct from memory, but Nilsson refused to go on until a score was put in front of the conductor. A score was dutifully placed on the stand, but I have no information whether Mehta actually turned the pages! :lol:

jbuck919
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jan 02, 2013 4:05 pm

Donald Isler wrote:I do not believe that Schnabel usually played from the score. My father heard him play a Mozart concerto at Carnegie Hall in 1946 at which he had a terrible memory lapse in the last movement, and everything ground to a halt until he looked over the score with the conductor and they agreed from where they should start over.
To begin with an aside, I heard the same happen with Lili Kraus on two separate occasions late in her career (I have a knack for rarely hearing a famous performer live but hearing the ones I do more than once).

Memorization is one of a set of skills involved in performing. As with sight reading and everything involving technique, some performers are more talented at it than others. I can't memorize keyboard scores to save my life, which caused me the greatest stress and embarrassment in group recitals for dear old Mrs. Troidle, who insisted on it. (You know: "Memorize that piece that you can play perfectly," not knowing she was talking to an idiot-savant with regard to disparate skills.) At the other end are performers who memorize very quickly, irrespective of their other skills, and sometimes the problem for them is sight reading, something I'm pretty good at. I'm sure there is every possibility in between, including geniuses who can just do it all. On top of that, there are performers who do know every note of a score but still prefer to use it because it facilitates fluent playing as opposed to finding the notes out of their head.

Where in that mix any individual concert performer finds him or herself is anybody's guess unless they are or know the individual. All I can say is that there is a prejudice that a solo performer who uses the score is presumed by many in the audience not to have done the homework, and that if this is a problem that is keeping us from hearing fine performances, there is some audience education to be done.

(Joan Sutherland was once called out at a recital from the audience for using the score. She actually responded to the heckler that she had no memory. What an admission, considering how much easier it is for most people to remember vocal lines and the extent of her accomplishment on the opera stage!)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Heck148
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Heck148 » Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:30 am

I've not played a solo recital in a while - but when I did - I made a deal with myself:

I'd use music, but only if I had the piece memorized. A memory slip, for me, is a really stupid and preventable cause for a mistake. Having the piece memorized puts it firmly in one's mind - you can really get into the flow of what you are playing....and not having to worry about memory slips takes that pressure off.

of course, much of my performing is with orchestra - so it's pretty basic to have the most famous solos and excerpts memorized - even tho you do have the music present. Memorizing in this case enables you to communicate with the conductor or soloist pretty directly - esp in solos where plenty of espressivo, or rubato is involved.

One of my former teachers - Chris Weait [Toronto SO, Phila ChOrch, Ohio St U.] had an interesting tip for those who have difficulty memorizing - learn the end of the work first - be really comfortable with it, and work your way backwards - in this way, as the work progresses in performance, you will be always heading into "familiar territory" - the parts of the work with which you are most comfortable.
I've not had too much trouble memorizing, but I tried this and it worked well for me.

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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Lance » Sat Jan 05, 2013 7:54 pm

I have no problem with soloists using music. Usually, when I have observed this, performers seem to know the music because they rarely look at it. They do continue to turn pages at the appropriate time. I suppose it is creature-comfort for an artist to have the music right there, "just in case." My own memory is nothing what it was even five years ago. Once, for Rachmaninoff's Paganini Variations with orchestra, the pianist used a score AND a page turner. I was surprised by this, but the performance was nonetheless exquisite.
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Teresa B
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Teresa B » Tue Jan 08, 2013 11:37 am

I have no problems with artists using sheet music in performance. I mean really, chamber players are expected to have their parts in front of them--what's the big deal over a soloist using a score (or part)? As a sometime pianist, I had trouble from day one due to stage fright. I could memorize reasonably well, but just let me get in front of an audience, and...well, anyone who's ever performed something would have an inkling. Even a piece you know like the back of your hand can suddenly go awry, as you perhaps bobble a note and then choke, realizing you were on automatic--and now you have no idea what you're doing. :shock: If you've prepared for such eventualities, and you have some experience, you bring back your attention, pick it up and go on.

Nowadays, nerves notwithstanding, my memory just ain't what it used to be (I so get what you mean, John), but I refuse to stop playing for people if they want me to--so I play with sheets! *
:)
Teresa

*Not to mention, I have now gotten very involved in chamber music, so that just removes the whole issue!
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Beckmesser
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Beckmesser » Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:37 pm

As the Times article mentions, Andras Schiff recently played both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier from memory in Carnegie Hall. I consider that a remarkable feat. I have been playing some of the much simpler two-part inventions for nearly 60 years and I still couldn't reliably play them from memory if my life depended on it.

Teresa B
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Re: Playing from Memory: Tommasini

Post by Teresa B » Thu Jan 10, 2013 5:58 pm

Beckmesser wrote:As the Times article mentions, Andras Schiff recently played both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier from memory in Carnegie Hall. I consider that a remarkable feat. I have been playing some of the much simpler two-part inventions for nearly 60 years and I still couldn't reliably play them from memory if my life depended on it.

I totally get this--in fact, in sympathy for your plight, let me post a true story I actually wrote as part of a book I'm working on, with one of those very Inventions at its center. Read it at your leisure!
:D
Teresa


https://www.createspace.com/Preview/1104615
"We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." ~ The Cheshire Cat

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