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off-stage: writings on music | blog | teaching | wedding music | non-music interests

 

Piano concert at UVM Music Building March 12 postponed due to snowstorm -- new concert date Tuesday, March 25 at 7:30 pm

Click here to read a nice review in the Washington Post of a concert I gave recently at the National Gallery of Art

 

Welcome from Michael Arnowitt

This is the official web-site for news and information about my music performance activities as a classical and jazz pianist. I began this site in 1997, and it was redesigned in 2009. Thanks for visiting my web-site – I appreciate your interest in my music.

Navigating this site

Select a category from the four lines of links in the header at the top of any page. If you can’t find what you’re looking for directly from the banner, click on the “site map” link near the end of the first line of the header to see a simple list in outline form of every web-page on this site. You can also just ask us by phone or e-mail: our office’s contact information is available by clicking on the “contact” link in the header above.

On this page: quick links

Greetings (recommended for first-time visitors to this site)
Social media links: Twitter, Facebook, and “Sweet Spontaneous” blog
New web-pages and updates
Testimonial of Louis Moyse
The Latest – What’s New (news about my musical activities)
More about this web-site
Would you like to help?
New web-pages about my personal (non-music) interests

You can browse this particular page by simply scrolling down its contents, or, you can skip down it faster using one of the above quick links. After reading the particular portion you jumped to, you should be able to return to this point on the page by pressing the “back” button on your web browser. If this doesn’t work, scroll back up to the top of the page to get back to this index of quick links.

 

Greetings – introduction to the site

Welcome to my web-site. The main portion of this site is devoted to a description of my activities as a pianist. I perform widely as a classical concert pianist, and I also play jazz piano engagements, both in concerts and in informal settings.

You can also find here various essays and articles I have written over the years on music topics; I hope you will find these pieces thought-provoking, and I post the more interesting comments I receive from readers in response to these articles. For shorter writings and thoughts I have begun using Twitter, and will soon be starting a blog called “Sweet Spontaneous” (this name is part of a line of poetry by e.e. cummings). In these tweets and blog posts, I recount interesting stories from the concert trail and offer insights on composers, music I’m currently working on or listening to, and aspects of piano playing. I hope these writings will give readers an enjoyable behind-the-scenes, “fly on the wall” view of my daily life as a concert pianist. Links to my social media sites are in the next section below.

Also on this site is a section with material about a few of my personal interests.

Social media links

My blog “Sweet Spontaneous”
My general Twitter music page Piano_MA
     I’ll be tweeting about my thoughts about music I’m preparing to perform; I also plan to use Twitter
     for pre- and post-concert chats with the public, interviews, and piano audio clips from my home
A second Twitter music page MAPianoVt
     Exactly the same tweets as above, plus additional tweets specific to performances I give in central and northern Vermont
Twitter account foodsong for my non-music personal interests
Facebook page “Friends of Michael Arnowitt”
Facebook group page “Michael Arnowitt”
     These are endorsed unofficial pages administered and written by Karen Maxon. I am not on Facebook myself.
      If you like receiving information via Facebook, sign up there.


New web-pages and updates

New web-pages:
Link to Michael Arnowitt 50th Birthday Gala Concert
Review in the Washington Post of Michael’s special concert “1913” at the National Gallery of Art
Description of lecture-demonstration “Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and the Music of 1911”
Description of lecture-demonstration “The Music of Poetry” (updated March 2013)
Description of lecture-performance “The Life and Music of George Gershwin”
A new “What’s New” (news about my most recent musical activities)
Link to Michael Arnowitt 50th Birthday Gala Concert
Description of new program “From East to West”
Current classical piano program offerings (updated March, 2013)
    Short and medium-length descriptions of all current concert programs, including
    Beethoven & Arnowitt VII, From East to West,
    1913, the multi-media program Water Music,
    some new recital programs including an all-Russian program and an all-Bach program,
    Ligeti and his Influences, a piano duet program with Jeffrey Chappell, and more
Pdf version of color brochure of classical programs (downloadable to your computer)
“If Music Be the Food of Love...” (a multi-sensory event combining music and food)
Selected list of pieces performed in the last few years (updated 2012)
Discography of Michael Arnowitt (first-time ever discography page, with listings of what selections are on each recording)
Created a Photos and Press Materials main page
Private Teaching information page

Updates to existent web-pages:
Contact Information (updated March, 2013)
Calendar of engagements (updated March 12, 2014)
List of jazz tunes I play (updated March 2012)
Descriptions of original jazz tunes
Descriptions of Jazz and other Improvisational Music Performance Programs
Classical and jazz mp3 sound samples (1 classical mp3 added, 7 jazz mp3s added)
Lecture-Demonstrations Information Page (updated March, 2013)
Site Map (complete list of all web-pages on this site) – updated May, 2012


Testimonial of Louis Moyse

(internationally-renowned flutist and composer – this statement written when Moyse was in his 90’s)

“During my long musical career, I have met few really great artists in the various disciplines of the field and I am very pleased to name Michael Arnowitt, pianist and musician as one of them.

“Michael combines all the necessary qualifications and qualities to express his art on the highest level. I have great respect for his technical skill, his interpretation and his way to communicate to any audience his feelings through his love for music.”


The Latest – What’s New

(written May 2012)

about playing Mozart’s Concerto no. 25, thinking about the crowd noise music in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, discovering the early 20th century composer Arthur Lourié, an all-Bach concert, writing some jazz lyrics, and preparing for a big celebration for a round-numbered birthday of mine

 

My 2011-2012 season included two performances of a Mozart piano concerto, which would automatically make it a good year, but especially so as it was my favorite Mozart concerto, his no. 25 in C major, K. 503. It would be easy to say this is a beautiful piece of music, but perhaps saying that alone is not enough. In today’s world, where beauty is sold and presented as something to greedily possess, Mozart gives us beauty of a different sort. This is beauty you cannot “have.”

The piano entrance (after the orchestral introduction) is one of the most non-dramatic ever in a concerto – the orchestra finishes strongly, and the piano starts modestly with a short phrase of gentle, soft music high in the instrument; the strings alone then respond at medium loudness, to which the piano replies a little more bravely; the strings then do a graceful soft bowing-out gesture, and the piano takes it from there on its own, building gradually from soft strands to full soloist strength. The entrance as a whole is this amazing, beautiful cinematic dissolve, the orchestra gradually fading out as the piano soloist fades in and grows from nothingness to full life.

In one of the early soloist passages, the piano enters playing shimmering sixteenth notes that begin in the highest part of the piano, then descend bit by bit. In the middle of this downward cascading, the notes subtly shift from major to minor figurations. The basic note shape reminds me of a baroque Vivaldi violin bowing pattern, but the sound itself has a Chopin imagination, and the two ideas put together create something very striking.

As I have done with my past performances of other Mozart piano concertos, I improvised my soloist’s cadenza near the end of the first movement. Perhaps half-improvised would be more accurate, as I had some preconceived notions of how I might get from here to there, but left many of the smaller note details open to be different at each performance. I’ve always felt these cadenzas should remain in the style of Mozart; it seems disruptive to me when a concerto soloist suddenly brings you into the land of Liszt or Rachmaninov, then back to Mozart again when the cadenza is done. That’s never made any sense to me.

In the slow second movement, I found many fascinating moments: some of the large melody leaps and occasional big, open spaces between the left and right hands reminded me of the similarly innovative textures in Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata which I performed last year.

I also noticed that a long, captivating descending line in the first violins in the introduction to the movement becomes an even longer line when done in the piano later. Each string instrument has a limited range, but the piano here is like a violin, viola, and cello combined into one super-instrument, and the descending line goes lower and lower, deep into the bass, so much so that Mozart brilliantly drops out the cellos for a moment and has my left hand be the fourth member of a string quartet, playing intense harmonies with the violas, second violins, and first violins alone.

These are just some of the beauties of this remarkable piece, so often overshadowed by the more famous earlier Concerto no. 21 in the same key. When I begin to play this piece, I feel the magic of connecting with one who lived over two hundred years ago. It is as if Mozart is in the room with all of us – the audience, the orchestra, the piano – the music is so astounding and so alive. When the last note has rung out into the hall, you feel a better person for having touched this little bit of Mozart – this piece cannot help but leave you with a smile on your face.

In early April I performed Stravinsky’s “Three Scenes from Petrouchka” as part of a larger concert of Slavic music. In the ballet, we have an inanimate object, Petrouchka, a rickety wooden puppet, magically coming to life and becoming imbued with human traits. The deeper theme of Petrouchka is, I think, the relationship between mechanical things and humans. One hundred years ago, when Stravinsky wrote this music, scientists were unveiling to the world one landmark technological invention after another, but how was this going to affect people?

Petrouchka himself is a sad clown-hero of Russian tradition, a symbol of unpredictability and irrationality, qualities hailed by the Surrealist and Expressionist artists of that time who felt this was at the heart of what makes us human. Others of that era felt there was something admirable in these new machines, that we should not regard them as repulsive. A century after Stravinsky composed Petrouchka, we are in another period of major scientific invention. One of the central questions facing today’s generation may well be grappling with the nature of technology and deciding what divisions there should be between machines and humans.

The concert’s theme attracted quite a few Russians to the audience and I was extremely pleased when some of them complimented me after my performance. One of them was moved to tears and another said it was a very soulful experience for her. Stravinsky’s music has a reputation for being dry and mechanical, or at best, people will say pieces such as Petrouchka are brilliant and energetic. But souldful and moving? Perhaps my thinking about the humanism of the Petrouchka figure had produced this sort of interpretation that really resonated with the Russians in the audience.

I have played this piece at various points in my life, but the cliché is true that one keeps discovering new things when revisiting a great piece of music. For example, I noticed for the first time that the chords that evoke the accordion’s in-and-out wheezing are, transformed, the same ones Stravinsky uses to impressionistically depict the background crowd noise at the country fair where the action takes place.

Back in March, I did an all-Bach concert – 4 partitas (nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5) and some of my favorite selections from the Well-Tempered Clavier, books 1 and 2. I suppose this is a bit technical, but the fluidity and flexibility of Bach’s phrase lengths and textures continues to be a lifelong pleasure for me. I am hoping in the not too distant future to learn the remaining two partitas (no. 4 and 6) so I can perform, and/or possibly record, the complete set.

Asking people in the audience afterwards which partita was their favorite made me realize this would be a great personality test – no. 1, friendly; no. 2, intense; no. 3, eccentric; no. 5, extroverted/humorous.

I’ve also been performing in 2011-2012 my new program “From East to West,” a concert of Western classical music influenced by points East: Turkey, Iran, China, Indonesia, and the Far East. The composers represented on the program were Debussy, Mozart, Mahler, Scriabin, Peter Feuchtwanger, Fazil Say, Toru Takemitsu, and Nikolai Kapustin.

I’ve had a lifelong personal interest in Asian cultures, partly as my mom grew up in Korea (surviving two wars), but also the more delicate sensitivity of Asian art and music have just always resonated with me. On a trip I made to Korea in the 1970’s when I was young, I found out that my mother’s uncle was a well-known pianist, conductor, and composer in Korea in the mid-20th century. I even have an unofficial Korean name, which I think my mother told me means “Happiness from the East.” Of course my daily life is spent playing for many hours every day this very Western instrument, the piano. I think of myself as some mixture of East and West. I hope to have some additional opportunities to perform this intriguing program, perhaps through multi-cultural efforts at colleges and elsewhere.

In recent months I completed constructing a program “1913,” seven pieces of music all written in that single year a century ago. The early part of the twentieth century is my favorite period of both arts and world history, and I think this program of expressionist, mystical, post-impressionist, futurist, and pre-surrealist music should be quite fascinating.

1913 was a true crossroads time between the old and the new. The first decade of the twentieth century witnessed an unparalleled creative explosion in all the arts. The world situation was equally rich in change, with the end of aristocracy, the birth of new technologies such as the car, the airplane, and electricity, and mass social unrest over the issues of rights for women and factory workers. Tensions were further heightened by a series of diplomatic and military crises that ultimately led to the outbreak of World War I the following year. In 1913, the world was truly a world on edge.

The major pieces I’ve selected for this program are Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata no. 9 (“Black Mass”), a powerful exploration of the supernatural, Sergei Rachmaninov’s lush and nostalgic Sonata no. 2 in B-flat, and my piano transcription of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Adoration of the Earth,” the first half of his Rite of Spring which so famously (or infamously) premiered in Paris in 1913.

Shorter pieces on the program will be Charles Ives’ “The Alcotts” from his Concord Sonata, “Dwarfs at Dawn” and “Suicide in an Airplane” by Leo Ornstein, the most controversial and important figure in American music in the 1910’s, Claude Debussy’s “Ondine” and “Mists,” and Erik Satie’s “Embryons desséchés,” modestly comic and gently whimsical pieces about sea cucumbers and crustaceans.

Well, readying all this music for performance should definitely keep me off the streets, and I am very much looking forward to learning the pieces on this program which are new to me. For some pianists, nothing makes them feel better than to return to a piece or composer they’ve played many times in the past; on the contrary, nothing stimulates me more than trying to learn a new piece, particularly by a composer I’ve never played before.

I’ll be performing this program in 2013, naturally, for the centennial effect, but perhaps even beyond that year as well. I think this “1913” program will offer a window into the past, a musical chronicle of that vibrant, intense time. Looking back a century later, it is so striking how this extraordinary music foreshadowed the hundred years of music to come.

In connection with that research, I recently discovered for the first time the compositions of Arthur Lourié and have been fascinated by his music. He wrote many piano pieces I am trying to track down and I’m excited by the prospects of adding his music to my different concert programs in the future. It’s amazing that you can play piano for so long and still discover an amazing composer for piano you had not even heard of before. One thing about Lourié’s music I liked right away was that each piece is different; this shows he really was driven to create something new each time instead of simply repeating a past good idea. Lourié also plays with the subtle boundary between tonal and atonal music, which was an idea I’ve thought from as far back as my teenage years would be fertile ground for composition. In my own adolescent efforts, I was never able to pull this idea off well, but Lourié sounds like he has created some music going artfully back and forth through that dividing line, from the familiar world of tonality to alternate worlds and back again.

My jazz activities have included working on creating some lyrics to two of my tunes, The Crying Candle and Street Strut. The Crying Candle is a ballad, and I think I have a good idea for a twist on the model of the jazz standards. It seems many of the older tunes are set in the present, with the mournful narrator nostalgically thinking back to the past when the romantic relationship had been going so well. For my song, I will be shifting the time frame and have the narrator be in the future, a happy and easy-going time, looking back on a past difficult world (the current present) full of conflict. So this song could end up being an antidote to the dystopias in vogue today. I am also working on an instrumental progressive jazz version of the Tennessee Waltz in 4/4 time. Some of the lines in this song just seem be-boppy to me and I think I’ve come up with some good ideas for my arrangement.

I’ve also been busy giving my lecture-demonstration presentations on the subjects of “Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and the Music of 1911,” “The Life and Music of George Gershwin,” “Beethoven’s Sketchbooks,” and “The Music of Poetry,” a new talk looking at the musical aspects – the sound and time elements – of poetry, song lyrics, and literature. I think I found some interesting parallels between the creations of great writers and the music of classical composers and jazz and pop songwriters.

My big future project will be a gala concert of piano and orchestra music to celebrate my 50th birthday. I remember reading in Arthur Rubinstein’s autobiography how he would sometimes play more than one concerto with orchestra on a single evening’s program; this has inspired me to throw caution to the winds and try to do the same, performing an entire concert of piano and orchestra music. (Well, I’ll be more able to do this at age 50 than 60 or 70.) I will not be revealing all the details to the general public quite yet, but encourage you to click on the mailing list sign-up link at the top right of the header to keep in touch and be on the inside track for receiving information about this exciting concert. I’ll probably need to fundraise about $18,000 to pull off this musical fantasy, but feel reasonably confident (on most days) I can do this.

I can reveal now that the date of the gala will be Sunday, January 6, 2013 and that the concert location will be the Barre Opera House, in Barre, Vermont. The orchestra will be a professional one conducted by my good friend Scott Speck. The program will have music by Brahms, Prokofiev, Bach, and ... Arnowitt.

Help will be needed in all aspects of mounting this gala concert; please do let us know if you’d like to help out in any way.

As an outgrowth of my interest in Ligeti’s piano music, I have been thinking about making a music video of his Étude no. 2, “Cordes vides” (Open strings). Ligeti wrote, “a Chopinesque melodic twist or accompaniment figure is not just heard; it is also felt as a tactile shape.” In this beautiful étude, Ligeti weaves together long lines of chained open fifths, each line entering on a new note like a differently colored yarn in an evolving tapestry. I would like to create some atmospheric story-line perhaps and literally use strands of yarn in the visuals of the video. I think this particular piece of Ligeti’s would be a perfect choice for a music video, but naturally I have no idea if the publisher would give me permission to do such a project: different copyright owners hold quite different positions on these matters, and I feel I should put a little more thought into the concept before making the request.

A future performance idea that is also in the works is something I am calling “The Dream Project.” My plan is to perform piano solo improvisations while an actor reads accounts of my dreams. I have been occasionally writing down my dreams upon waking up for the last few years and need to get to work on turning them into something more poetic and finished. If you know of any professional actor willing to tour who has some musical sensitivity, feel free to let me know their name. As the actor would essentially be representing my internal voice, I would prefer a male in the 35 to 55 age range, but would consider any actor. I wouldn’t perform this in my own area (one’s dreams are just too revealing), but I think it would be relatively easy to organize a tour of this sort of a performance. I’ve been told my dreams are very beautiful; they are surprisingly pictoral, a little unexpected given my visual disability.

Finally, I am still interested in trying to do a tour of Asia. This keeps getting pushed back, but it still is something I would love to do. I have only been to the Far East once, to Korea, to visit some of my mother’s relatives when I was a teenager. There are so many Asian countries I would love to travel to, particularly in eastern Asia. At the moment, I am just trying to write down a list of potential connections so if I ever get critical mass for a tour I may have a better chance to make things happen. So, if you have any friends or contacts in Asia who might be willing to help me in any way, please let me know.

I’ve begun doing Twitter, tweeting some thoughts about music, frequently related to the pieces I’m currently practicing for performance. You only get about two sentences so it is a little bit like writing mini-prose poems, but I hope some of you will find my tweets thought-provoking.

You can see a sample of the tweets I’ve done so far on these pages.

My general Twitter music page Piano_MA
A second Twitter music page MAPianoVt
     The same tweets as on my general page, plus additional tweets specific to performances I give in central and northern Vermont

I also plan to use Twitter in some different ways, for pre- and post-concert chats with the public, interviews, and piano audio clips from my home (after learning some more of the technology).

 
 

What’s New - all past entries
Fall 2009
musings on playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 in A, K. 488, understanding two pieces by Olivier Messiaen through listening to the song of the wood-thrush here where I live in Vermont and considering how things grow in Nature, the premiere of a new collaboration improvising on the piano simultaneous with the creation live on stage of visual art, and some thoughts about the similarities between painting and music, and why perfect fifths have become my favorite interval these days
2008
a chronicle of a tour I made to Europe with a jazz quartet, a story from a past tour of Russia, a little bit about getting to play with Pete Seeger, and some thoughts on my experience being the subject of a documentary film


More about this web-site

I have posted on this web-site a number of music essays and articles I have written over the years. I encourage you to respond to any of these essays with your comments; I include below each article excerpts from the most interesting replies I receive. I am sure people would be interested to know the town and country you are from, so, if you’re willing, perhaps you could mention that when you e-mail me your thoughts.

There is a link on this site to the Ursa Minor Records web-page; this company carries most of my recordings. In addition to what is available by mail-order from Ursa Minor, there’s about 40 minutes of excerpts from various live piano performances on the audio track of the documentary film about me, “Beyond 88 Keys,” now available on VHS or DVD. Click on the film link at the top of the page for more information.

The film is the first release available of any of my live performances: all my other recordings are not from live concerts, although they have all been recorded in real halls rather than studios and none of my discs have any reverb added. My disc on the Musical Heritage Society label, “Classical/Jazz,” unfortunately, may be out of print – at least, it was when I last asked about five years ago.

Over the years, I have appeared on a variety of other musicians’ recordings, playing individual pieces here and there. I can’t totally endorse these albums as good examples of what I am trying to create artistically, as they are generally released without my being consulted about which takes to use or how to edit segments together. (Yes, I know, welcome to the real world ...) So, to get the best impression of what my music-making is like, stick to my solo piano recordings.

Your feedback about this site is valued. Unlike live performance, the internet is a medium where it can be hard to know how things are going over. So, we welcome your reactions – let us know what you particularly like on this site, or any suggestions you may have for improvements. Go to the “contact” link at the top of any page to find our contact information and phone, regular mail, or e-mail us as you prefer.

If you would like to stay in touch with me, we encourage you to join our mailing list. Click on the “mailing list sign-up” link in the header of any page, follow the instructions there, and you will receive the occasional flyer or e-mail about live performances near where you live, or new recordings as they are released.


Would you like to help?

If you have an idea for where I might be able to perform a classical concert or play a jazz engagement, please let us know. In addition to the obvious places where performances happen, such as concert series, festivals, schools of various sorts, and nightspots, I have also performed in places such as libraries, museums and art galleries, churches and synagogues, theaters, and town halls. Please let us know of any leads for where I might perform, especially if you know anyone connected to the organization and can put in a good word on my behalf to help get the ball rolling.

Also helpful are friends you might have in either Canada or Europe as I organize tours to those areas every couple of years. Even if the person you know there isn’t directly involved with a concert organization, any person who lives in a locality I may be touring to could be potentially helpful in providing information or leading us to someone who is more directly involved with the music scene. Hospitality and logistical help is also always appreciated when touring in a foreign country.

I would also be extremely interested to create a tour to eastern Asia. I have not yet performed in Asia but my mother was born in Korea and I have always been interested in the cultures of the Far East and Southeast Asia in particular.

I am occasionally also in need of a travel assistant for my tours, so if that would be of interest to you, please contact us and let me know what financial arrangements you would or would not require.

Also, if you have a suggestion as to where the documentary film about me might be shown, we’re trying to get more screenings and broadcasts of the film. There seems to be good interest from arts groups in showing the film, optionally in conjunction with some sort of live piano performance or question and answer period with me after the film is viewed.

The filmmakers have made an attractive brochure oriented towards organizations that might consider showing the film. If you have a connection to an arts organization, theater, school, library, or film festival that you think might be interested in hosting a film screening, let me know and I’ll send you one of these brochures and a DVD copy of the documentary.


New web-pages about my personal (non-music) interests

My favorite quotations
Tips for the visually impaired

 


Last updated: March 12, 2014  © 1997-2014 by Michael Arnowitt