I turn 30 next week, and I was lucky enough to close off my 20s by performing my all-Beethoven solo recital at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, surrounded by great friends from my Eastman days (incidentally, meeting these friends at Eastman kicked off my 20s, so I'm really going back full circle here).
I struggle and obsess all the time to form coherent thoughts about why classical music matters in 2017. I decided that this last concert as a 20-something was the time to make myself address this question in front of an audience. And so despite how nervous it made me feel, I did. I'm on the fence about giving such a soliloquy in the middle of a recital - I half feel that it's too self-indulgent, and unnecessary if the music performance can/should speak for itself, but anyway, I'm proud I did it. Here's a rough transcript of the speech, which I gave after I performed the first piece of the program:
Being a professional classical pianist in 2017 is a peculiar choice. So many things in the world seem to be crumbling around us, especially this year, and every day I ask myself what good I'm doing in the world by being a pianist. I have to clarify - I don't doubt the positive effect of playing concerts - I think that the power of classical music is self-evident in live performances. But you have to remember that out of all the hours I spend at the piano, only 5%, maybe even less, of that time is spent actually performing for people in public. You can imagine that leaves countless hours where it's just me and my piano at home, with occasionally my poor roommate as witness.
[the first thing you learn in the ship world is that folks get upset if you call their beautiful vessel a "boat" instead of a "ship"]
Almost exactly a year ago, I embarked the MS Eurodam, a 2000-passenger cruise ship of Holland America Line. It was definitely not in my plans to ever work on a ship - I am generally distrustful/afraid of the ocean, nor do I like the water. But I guess the only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability, and so there I was, walking on the gangway in Fort Lauderdale Port as the pianist of the inaugural piano quintet of Lincoln Center Stage, a brand new partnership between Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and HAL.
HAL's level of commitment to present high quality classical music through Lincoln Center Stage is unprecedented to my knowledge, and it is a blessing for classical music. They bought brand new Steinways for their ships, commissioned dozens of emerging and established composers/arrangers to write fabulous arrangements for the quintet, and treated us very well. The program continues to expand and thrive.
I spend a lot of time running; 4-6 times/week, with about one long run per week that's upwards of 15+ miles long. Below are shots of some amazing places around the world I've gotten to run through this year: (Hover over the photo for captions)
I log 100+ miles a month, which is an unusually high mileage for the average classical musician (classical musicians aren't exactly stereotyped as the body sculpting, active type...). But here's a secret: running is easy. [disclaimer: I am not a fast runner, by any measure]
I spend a lot of time with any piece of music I am preparing, as do all musicians. If I’m learning, say, a Beethoven sonata, you can bet that I will be spending many more hours with it in a week than with any single human being. These hours are solitary, introspective, emotional, intimate. Therefore, a piece of music that I commit to becomes the object of an ever-evolving and fluid, sometimes mercurial, relationship. I’m often amused by how much these relationships are like romantic relationships.
Sometimes, I sight read through a piece of music and think, “Wow, I never want to see THAT ever again.” [akin to swiping left on Tinder]...