I had two different homecomings during the month of April. The first was playing with the New Mexico Philharmonic in Albuquerque where I lived for 12 years. The group is resurrected from the New Mexico Symphony and sounded great. I had the pleasure of playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 with Uriel Segal with whom I collaborated some years ago in Chautauqua. The concert was sold out and was a rousing success, if I may say so myself!
A few days later I was in Sao Paolo, Brazil, playing with the official string quartet of the city of Sao Paolo. Can you imagine such a thing? They are paid by the city to play string quartets. The group, Quarteto de Cordas da Cidade de São Paulo, has been in existence for decades. The violist Marcelo Jaffe was my colleague when I started at the University of Illinois, and his mother, Daisy de Luca Jaffe was my piano teacher for two years. I invited him some years ago to the Next Generation Festival when I was artistic director but it had been a long time that we hadn’t made music together.
I lived in Brasil for a year when I was 6, and since then had played with various orchestras in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo over the years, but Marcelo and I had never met up during my times in Brasil. This time was incredible. This quartet has made a decision to play beautifully…all the time…nothing forced, no unnecessary roughness etc. We played the Brahms Piano Quintet in the most powerfully intimate fashion, smiles all around all the time. It was an incredible experience. Imagine being on stage at 48 with someone you met at 16! That doesn’t happen every day!
Another surprise pleasure was the quartet’s joy in learning that my son’s name is Ayrton. Ayrton Senna, the late racing driver and winner of three Formula One world championships, is a national hero in Brasil and is the person for whom my son is named.
I was due then to go to Ukraine to judge the Horowitz Piano Competition, but as one might imagine, that competition was postponed. Cross fingers for peace next year.
My next trip then was to Israel, where for 3 weeks I was a judge for the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition. I have judged previously the Cleveland, Minnesota, and UNISA competitions as far as major competitions go, but this competition consistently represents the hightest level. I wish all the best to the winner, Andrei Baryshevsky. Of course, we were lucky to get the competition finished before the 2014 round of fighting there.
After a quick week at home, I joined old friends and met new ones at the Sitka Summer Music Festival, in Sitka, Alaska. Besides having great meals and wine with select friends…Don McLean…”carpe diem dragons…” and the folks at Dove Island, I played my first Kakadu Variations of Beethoven with my friends, Ben Breen and the Artistic Director of the festival Zuill Bailey. I also played the Bach F minor Concerto with the Catalyst Quartet, who have made an absolutely fantastic and mesmerizing transcription of the Goldberg Variations, and then played another lovely version of the Brahms Piano Quintet, with other festival artists.
Thereafter followed my personal 3 weeks of PIANOCINCY. I’m the Artistic Director of the World Piano Competition. On June 22, 24 pianists and 5 judges descended on Cincinnati. The judges were Frederic Chiu, Yoshi Nagai, Ursula Oppens, Andrei Pisarev from the Tschaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, and Hee Sung Joo from Seoul National University in Korea. My acquaintance with the judges ranges from Ursula whom I met when she was a judge when I won Naumburg in 1992, to Andrei whom I met judging together at UNISA in South Africa in 2012. My idea of having new music etudes, fleshed out together with Ursula, bore beautiful
fruit…wonderful performances full of great energy. The finals were a success again, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, fabulously conducted by William Eddins, and we wish the winner, Moye Chen, the very best.
Starting at the end of the competition and then continuing for two weeks was the Art of the Piano at CCM. Again 24 students descended, and 8 faculty. Andrei, Hee Sung and Yoshi from the jury participated as faculty along with Ning An, Enrico Elisi, Myong Joo Lee, Gabriel Kwok, and me. Among the highlights was a concert I split with Dennis Thurmond. I met Dennis last year at the Colburn Festival where he gave a talk on 400 years of improvisation from pre-Bach through Chopin and Monk to Jarrett! He wrote a piece for us, for two pianos, bass and percussion, called VII Structures. Great piece…a ton of improvisation…and wonderful collaborators in colleague Rusty Burge on vibes/perc and Drew Mehraban on bass.
This year we had students from Eastman, Rice, NEC, San Franciso Conservatory, and students from Hong Kong, China, and France. The level of the teaching and playing was fantastic, best yet. Looking forward to year 5!!!!
In other related news, I signed this year with Yamaha Pianos. The Yamaha CFX is a beautiful instrument. Each one has its own beauty…some more forward than others, each with gorgeous palette and power at the ready. Easy ppp‘s to easy fff‘s…and everything in between. I look forward to our partnership and also exploiting the capacities of the DCFX, a digital CFX which is just a technological marvel.
Catch up with me somewhere in 2014-15.