On silver cobwebs

[POI: conducting a beets&noodz interview, where Sein, our interviewee, spent four minutes gushing about her idol, violinist Janine Jansen]

“I became obsessed with her playing, her strange posture, the clothes she wore…” Sein’s voice trailed off, like fog dissipating at dawn, as I drifted into the small well reserved in my mind for pianist Martha Argerich.

Argerich is peculiar. The only thing the world knows for sure is that we know nothing about her. She eschews time-space; tracking her down for even a five-minute phone interview is a herculean task; expecting her to follow through with engagements is almost comical–Argerich cancelled as many concerts as she played last year. Her physical persona, too, creates an aura of being shrouded in mystery: a cobweb mane of silver hair, once an inky, fathomless black; dark skirts that billow like fumes when she walks, or when she thunders away at the keys. She is perhaps the only figure in the world that is so notoriously beloved yet so notoriously inscrutable. (When former President Obama conferred her Kennedy Center Honor last winter, he pronounced her name wrong. Twice.)

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On current piano teachers

[POI: waking up to a “sorry, Cindy, I accidentally took the keys to the car in the garage” text, leaving me no choice but to cancel my morning with my piano teacher.]

Today, I’m missing my piano teacher–let’s call her “E.”–more than usual. It was supposed to be very straightforward: greet the doorman. Tap E.’s doorbell (just once). Place a customary can of jasmine tea leaves in her palm. Attempt to play piano for her. Afterwards, crunch on salad (her) and inhale some pastries (me) at Kafe Leopold. Instead, a key mishap left me at home, one hand clutching Prokofiev scores, the other angrily schmearing avocado on toast.

I met E. by accident. After a previous piano teacher (not this one, rest assured) decided it was worth my mother’s money to yell instructions from her kitchen, fifteen feet behind me, I quit. In a snotty voicemail, the woman blurted out a name in a teary garble, saying, “I think she would be great for her.” My mother shepherded me from house to house, suspicious woman to suspicious woman, trying to figure out who was supposedly so spectacular for me. Some appointments ended in disaster (potential teacher: “Okay, dear, now you can ask any question you’d like.” Me: “How old are you?” Mother [stammering]: “We’re leaving, thank you, goodbye”). Others, like anything J. Crew, simply didn’t fit.

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On Prokofiev’s Toccata

this post is part of the hackneyed devices series that chronicles my fall 2017 solo Prokofiev tour. enjoy!

Playing with form–or, in the case of the Toccata, perverting it altogether–assumes great importance in this piece. The toccatas (from Italian tocare, meaning literally “to touch”) of Bach’s and Scarlatti’s time were strictly studies of keyboard technique, pieces that could only be played on keyboard instruments. Bach’s infamous organ Toccata and Fugue in d minor, for example, also epitomizes the original purpose of toccatas as improvisatory, cadenza-esque pieces, something to whip out as the equivalent of an encore. Though unmistakably showy and technique-driven, toccatas symbolized a freedom at the keyboard not afforded to other forms.

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On Prokofiev’s second sonata

this is the first post in the hackneyed devices series that chronicles my fall 2017 solo Prokofiev tour. hope you enjoy!

“Prokofiev follows sonata form like a train schedule.”

Like any train schedule, however, unforeseen delays and detours may interrupt it, and Prokofiev’s take on sonata form in the Second Sonata is no exception. Indeed, “interruption” is the main counternarrative running through the work, as argued by YSM Prokofiev scholar Rebecca Perry–brusquely unfamiliar material interrupting main themes, seemingly inconsequentially, that assume great significance as the piece progresses.

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On mimi

[POI: bitching about most everything at BeOne in Baltimore, scarfing down scrumptious Korean favorites]

Our server rattles off menu recommendations in Japanese to Mimi, who sits across from me, her pixie cut streaked with blonde strands the color of hay. Six years ago, when we first met, her hair grazed her shoulders and she worked nothing short of black magic at the piano. That, and her sarcastic cackle, remain ever the same.

“What did she say?” I ask.
“That we’re cute, but good luck finishing what we just ordered,” Mimi translates.

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On previous piano teachers

[POI: discussing performances at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage]

My little brother performed at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage a week ago. My father decided to play his quintet’s (gorgeous) rendition of Schumann’s E-flat to accompany our après-dinner scoops of Talenti blood orange. The performance was livestreamed–in impeccable HD, as my mother noted no less than four times–and archived here, for three whole years.

Three years have also passed since a piano teacher of mine–let’s call him Dr. M–died. I remember the evening precisely. I was sitting in my freshman dorm room, procrastinating on Instagram (old habits are born early, it seems). I scrolled past an old nemesis’ photograph of herself, at the piano, the lighting a muted, comforting amber. She and I both studied under Dr. M–she exclusively, I partly. The caption was strange, almost eerie–half-obituary, half-flowery, cliché-d gushing about x inspirational person of the day. Only after a few screenshots and some virtual scoffing to a mutual friend did I abruptly realize it was 100% obituary, for Dr. M. Continue reading “On previous piano teachers”