Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra – unlikely answers to questions of youth

It’s a common predicament that causes hugely divided opinion.

What to do with the youth of today?

Crime’s on the rise, the penal system doesn’t seem to be making a blind bit of difference, drug abuse among the young is up, poverty is causing unimaginable hardships on the city streets and, perhaps worst of all, there are very few opportunities for young people to thrive, grow and succeed.

So, what’s the answer? What do you do?

In 1975, this type of problem could be seen in countries all over the world. But in Venezuela a new solution to these issues arose:

Classical music.

The creation of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra was a brave, unprecedented gamble. 30 years later, by 2005, the orchestra had turned half a million young Venezuelans into working classical musicians – 90% from the poorest sections of local society.

To say that the orchestra is a source of immense national pride is only telling half of the story. Many of the musicians produced within ‘the system’ have gone on to achieve, not only collective international fame, but also individual recognition – among these stories is that of the double bassist Edicson Ruiz who joined the Berlin Philharmonic at just 20 years of age.

Placido Domnigo cried when he saw the youth orchestra perform and Simon Rattle proclaimed that they were doing the most important work in classical music anywhere in the world. Yet, the impact of the orchestra has been a far-reaching inspiration that transcends the confines of, even the most famous, classical performers in the world.

Take this for a statistic:

By 2005, 23 countries across the hemisphere had created musical education programmes that mirrored the ethos and methods of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra’s system. The country of Venezuela now has a different symphony orchestra in every state, when in 1975 there were two in the entire country.

Suddenly the question of whether classical music can change lives doesn’t seem so controversial.

What the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra did (and continues to do) was to instill a sense of pride among these young people, while producing musicians of the highest international caliber. Young people who, in many cases, had been through the penal system, failed to excel at school, struggled with drug addiction or been involved in crime.

The sort of people that so many would be happy to turn their backs on, swear that they could never be rehabilitated or lock the prison door and throw away the key.

Final thoughts

Since 2011 the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is no longer able to call itself a youth orchestra. It is now simply the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. Well, what do you do – throw out all of the world-class musicians you have developed because they got too old?

However, even with this change, the impact the orchestra has had on the nation, the continent and indeed the world has been astounding. The system this orchestra produced has become a blueprint, not only for the development of great musicians, but for the ways in which classical music can change lives, bring hope and help to transform societies.

To leave you with today, here’s a video from the BBC Proms 2007, with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra playing the first movement of Shostakóvich Symphony No.10.

Enjoy!

P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera posts on the Falstaff Music Blog http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/

P.P.S. – check out this new article on the inspiration the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is having on children in Iraq: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/08/01/229761.html

 

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Sunday Supplement – Rachmaninoff plays Rachmaninoff

*Each Sunday, instead of writing a full blog piece, we will be posting a video or audio recording of a classical music performance, with just a couple of lines of supporting text. If you have a few minutes, it’s a great opportunity to simply watch or listen to the music, without the usual distractions of words.

A recurring theme in this blog has been the role of the performer in interpreting the musical creations of the composers. Of course, prior to the invention of recorded sound, these composers never had the opportunity to record their own pieces, so multiple schools of thought abound with regards to a particular composer’s intentions for a piece and the way it should be interpreted.

By the time we arrive at Rachmaninoff we can have little to no doubt as to how he saw his compositions being played (even though performers have still have a broad space for interpretation). As one of the preeminent pianists of the 20th century, we have been left with many memories of Rachmaninoff the performer, as opposed to simply Rachmaninoff the composer. So, for today’s video, we present to you the great Sergei Rachmaninoff with a 1939 recording of his own Piano Concerto No.3.

Enjoy!

P.S. – Make sure you don’t miss out on the latest excellent opera articles on the Falstaff Music Blog

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Mihaela Ursuleasa – a short tribute

Today the classical music world woke to some sad news, with the passing of the award-winning Romanian concert pianist, Mihaela Ursuleasa at age 33.

Ursuleasa began her playing career at the age of five, but made the brave decision to leave a life of child stardom behind in order to perfect her art. When you burst onto the music scene as a child, the temptation must be strong to continue on the path of popularity that prodigious talent often brings. It takes real character and personal conviction to step back and realize that study is essential for growth and development in music.  

Five years later (at age 16), Ursuleasa won the Clara Haskil Competition and went on to perform with some of the most celebrated orchestras in the world, including the London Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Radio Symphony Orchestra of Berlin. She released her debut solo album, Piano Forte, in 2010, winning the ECHO Klasik award for Solo Recording of the Year. In 2011, her second album was released, Romanian Rhapsody.

In an interview with tokafi.com, Ursuleasa had some highly interesting thoughts to share on her life as a musician and today’s classical music scene in general.

On the subject of the perception that there is a crisis in the current classical music scene, Ursuleasa had this to say, which in many ways reflects some of my own views:

“I think there is a general crisis in the world at the moment. We all have too much of everything, we all have to be fast, perfect, according to a scheme that someone has set up… nonetheless, somehow music belongs to human nature, and even if there is a crisis, I believe it is only a period of passing from one era to the other. Music will never die out.”

When asked her thoughts on whether an artist should convey their own personal emotions in the music that they play, Ursuleasa’s response was this:

“The main reason why music is being written, performed, attended etc, is emotion, or the desire for that emotion. We all try to understand music or to understand what the composer meant. But unless we feel it, like Celibidache said, we will never understand.”

Final thoughts

There is no instant comfort to be taken when you hear about a loss like this – someone so young and talented, and with so much to offer the classical music world at this time. What music does allow us to do is celebrate a life, leaving us with beautiful memories that transcend the human test of time – memories that contain the true emotions of the performer and offer their own small insight into their life.

So, with that in mind, here is a video of Mihaela Ursuleasa doing what she loved most, performing the Franz Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Major:

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Introducing Falstaff Music Blog

Yesterday I made a friend on the Internet. No, we didn’t meet on match.com, we aren’t questing together on Diablo or building a wall on Minecraft. This was someone who saw our blog and recognized a kindred spirit. Someone who loves opera as I love classical music but who wants to share his passion in a simple manner that doesn’t require an academic education in music to understand. His name is Lloyd Masel and he runs an excellent blog that can be found at http://falstaffmusicblog.wordpress.com/.

Funnily enough (and he doesn’t know this yet), I had known of Lloyd before he made contact with me. He had written an excellent piece on the music label Edelweiss Emission (www.edelweissemission.com) that outlined the importance of ‘a boutique label’ in bringing exemplary musical performances to the world, while maintaining the principle of ‘quality over quantity’. In a society such as ours, it’s hard to get past the idea of mass sales and bulk distribution, but his article made it clear that these independent labels hold a vital place in both classical and opera music.

Over the past few months, Lloyd has been busy writing articles for another blog, working in close cooperation with Co-Opera Co to offer readers a back-stage look at the singers and musicians who are Associate Members of the training opera company. From the comments of the Artistic Director, Kate Flowers, these efforts have been greatly appreciated and made a real, valuable contribution to their site (www.co-opera-co.org).

Now Lloyd’s back in full swing, creating blog posts on his own site. In the future, at the end of our blog posts, you will see a short P.S. where I will link to the latest posts from the Falstaff Music Blog, so you will have easy access to new, exciting updates from the opera world.

While Classical Music Blogspot will examine opera music (including in a planned upcoming interview with the great, Grammy-winning singer Mark S. Doss and a personal recollection of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau from the renowned Argentine pianist Daniel Levy – don’t miss those!), Lloyd’s site is a highly recommendable, go-to space to learn about and discuss opera in a straightforward and engaging manner.

So, to leave you with today, here is a performance of La Boheme, performed in 2010 by the singers and musicians of Co-Opera Co.

Enjoy!

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Ravi Shankar – Raga

“To be received like this in a foreign land is overwhelming. I have never felt so much warmth and openness, so much love for our music. It inspires me so. But, I wonder how much they can understand and where all this will lead to. There’s so much in our music that goes back thousands of years. The prayers in our temples, the pain and struggle of life, the sound of the rivers, the timeless chants. So many things that are within me, whenever I play, whatever I do.”

So begins Ravi Shankar’s 1971 documentary Raga, a deeply enjoyable film that details a short time in his life, beginning in India and moving on to his rise to fame in the United States.

There are two central themes in the movie, the first being an examination of Eastern culture meeting Western culture during the time of the late-60s to early-70s. The second theme is that of the teacher, or guru, and his importance in the development and preservation of Indian classical music.

These two core themes dovetail throughout the movie as the comparison is made between the importance of Shankar’s experience as a student and his later experience as a teacher. While he never sets himself out to be a guru, Shankar is a natural teacher. He teaches in almost every musical scene, from his practice sessions with Yehudi Menuhin, through to his time with George Harrison, his lessons with his students and his dealings with his own regular musical collaborators.

He constantly strives to pass on the traditions of the past, fearful that they are being all-too-quickly forgotten in the exhausting pace of the modern world.

Doubt and fear

For a musician of such stature, it is humbling to hear two words that re-occur over and again when he is describing his life and playing in the film: doubt and fear.

He is fearful every time he steps up to play, doubtful and fearful when he ventures out to advance the reach of Indian music in the West and, finally, fearful and doubtful of the final impact his actions have made upon his art-form.

While Indian music is riding a wave of popularity, Shankar is acutely aware of the speed that tastes change in the West, the way in which his art has been engulfed within the superficial-mysticism of the counter culture and, in particular, the impatience of his new Western students, with their unwillingness to comprehend the hard work that is required to actually learn.

The teacher and the student

When we view Shankar’s life and upbringing, it is easy to understand his frustration and disappointment at this impatience. In the beginning of the film, we accompany him on his first visit back to see his guru in many, many years. Seven years was the length of time his own initial studies took to complete, sat at the guru’s feet in a tiny room, learning to understand and express the hidden depths of the raga.

Many of Shankar’s students are impatient to play an entire raga after only a few weeks of study – an idea that must be frankly astounding to him. Learning his craft has taken decades of practice and – even after all this time – he is fully aware that perfecting the playing of a raga will never be possible.

The visit to the guru is perhaps the most touching segment of the film. This is a man he calls a ‘tyrant’, yet openly admits to owing everything to. This is a man with a zealous lust for music, so strong that he left, not one, but two beautiful brides on their wedding nights, as a result of his comprehensive devotion to his art. This is a man who slept two hours a night and tied his long hair into a chord above his head so that he could yank himself awake at the first sign of human frailty.

The guru-student tradition goes back thousands of years in India. It is not a path to be taken lightly and requires complete self-sacrifice, immense patience and a total commitment to learning.

The sadness of the raga

Finally, after all this study, what you are left with is incredibly beautiful music. It is also a music that fills Shankar with a deep sadness.

I was immediately reminded of Chopin when Shankar said that he approached every performance with a feeling of sadness. But, while Chopin’s melodies are filled with faint smiles that, at the moment they are about to break into broad grins, seem to wilt in the face of life’s underlying realities, Shankar’s sadness is felt by him before every raga he plays. It is the result of striving daily to reach perfection and realizing it cannot be touched, just as perfect beauty can never be attained.

Without a doubt, it is this feeling of sadness that drives him forward every day. Each performance is an attempt to get just one inch closer to perfection.

Final thoughts

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. You sometimes wonder whether Shankar would have been so willing to take his music to a Western audience if he had known the ways in which it would be used and manipulated within the realm of popular culture. At times in the documentary he looks perplexed at this culture that he found himself to be so idolized within.

But, in the notes to the DVD of this movie (written in 2010) Shankar finally seems to have escaped the doubt and fear that accompanied his initial Western adventure, satisfied that a ‘core love and attraction for Indian classical music has held fast – an essence that lives today in musicians and listeners who are genuinely moved by Indian music and have brought a serious love of that music into their lives’.

To leave you with today, here is a video of Ravi playing Raga Anandi Kalyan with his daughter Anoushka. If you fancy watching it, you can also buy the DVD of the film ‘Raga’ by clicking on the photograph at the bottom of the article.

Enjoy!

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George Bridgetower – the Abyssinian Prince

One of the most fascinating things about the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was the racial diversity on display. Not only during the section where the teams march around the stadium (which, by the way, confirmed my status as a geography dunce) but all the way throughout Danny Boyle’s wild, eclectic showcase.

As a Londoner, I loved this. Cultural and racial diversity are, for me, so much of what makes this city great.

Being of mixed Caribbean/English descent myself, a small footnote to the awe-inspiring and slightly bonkers opening ceremony made me smile. Most people wouldn’t have noticed it. It was a tiny scene of Caribbean travellers entering the stadium, signalling a new chapter in modern British life.

Since the 1950s the presence of people from all over the Commonwealth in London has changed the landscape of the city immensely. However, it would be naive to think that these were the first instances of people of Caribbean descent entering the country.

Who was George Bridgetower?

For a Londoner, the story of George Bridgetower spans some of the most well-known areas of the capital, including his final resting place in a small street in Peckham. Yet there is no blue plaque in memory of his life, there are no statues and no streets named after him.

So, who was this man and why is he worthy of our attention?

Bridgetower was born in Baila, Poland in 1780. His father was a multi-lingual valet who worked in the Austro-Hungarian court, who is thought to have escaped slavery in the Caribbean before making his way to the dazzling heights of Royal continental Europe. His mother was from Eastern Europe, probably Poland. Now, that must have raised some eyebrows back in the day.

A gifted prodigy

What Bridgetower had was a gift. More precisely, what Bridgetower had was a prodigious gift for music. At age nine, Bridgetower gave his debut solo violin performance at London’s famous Drury Lane Theatre. Soon afterwards, the British Royalty took notice and invited him to play at various regal functions, including a performance in the gloriously named ‘Pump Rooms’ in Bath that was attended by George III.

The pedigree of his musical education was also first-rate, including stints studying under Haydn and the Royal Opera concertmaster Francois-Hippolyte Barthélémon. His concerts took place in a what’s-what of British venues, including Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle and Brighton Pavilion, to name but a few.

Not bad at all for the son of a former slave, who must have stood out like a sore thumb in 18th-century London.

The Beethoven Connection

But what really grabs our attention when it comes to George Bridgetower is his relationship with Beethoven, with whom he gave the première performance of the composer’s Violin Sonata No.9 (Op.47). In a moment of enthusiasm (with more than a small hint of bravado) Bridgetower decided to improvise a short passage from the 2nd movement of the sonata, causing the great composer to stride over to the violinist and exclaim “Noch einmal, mein lieber Bursch!” (“Once more my dear fellow”).

Now there’s a situation that could have gone horribly wrong.

So Beethoven was a convert, drawn in by the virtuosity, musicality and eccentricity of this phenomenal performer. The concert led to Beethoven dedicating the sonata to Bridgetower, with the light-hearted inscription ‘Sonata per un mulattico lunatico’ (‘Sonata for a mulatto lunatic’).

A relationship sours

But, as some of you wise people will have already noted, Beethoven’s 9th sonata goes by quite a different name altogether nowadays, the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. Unfortunately, Bridgetower’s undoing in this instance seems to have been more about his mouth than the hands that caused such astonishment as they flashed around his violin. Apparently, a rude put-down of one of Beethoven’s female friends led to Bridgetower’s name being forever erased from the pages of the sonata, probably also playing a part in his eventual near-disappearance from the annals of history.

Final thoughts

London today would be unrecognizable to the people who lived in and frequented the city in the 18th century. Yet, this story proves the old adage that music knows no colour. Along with sport, it has been one of the most important mediums for breaking down stereotypes and barriers in our society. So, what better way to celebrate the Olympic spirit than by looking back at the life of this musical pioneer, George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower.

To finish with today, here’s a video of the second movement of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 (Op.47), played by Martha Argerich and Gidon Kramer.

Enjoy!

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Sunday Supplement – Jacqueline du Pré plays Elgar

*Each Sunday, instead of writing a full blog piece, we will be posting a video or audio recording of a classical music performance, with just a couple of lines of supporting text. If you have a few minutes, it’s a great opportunity to simply watch or listen to the music, without the usual distractions of words.

With the Olympics launching off this past Friday, our video today is of the great English cellist Jacqueline du Pré and her legendary performance of the British composer Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor, conducted by the Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.

Barenboim was married to du Pré and the couple shared a fascinating life together in England, becoming tabloid favourites as much for their relationship as their musical performances. Du Pré’s death in 1987 robbed classical music of, not only one of its greatest cellists, but one of its greatest ever interpreters.

During the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, Barenboim was honoured as one of the flag carriers, following on from the highly important work he has done with the Western-Eastern Divan, a youth orchestra consisting of musicians from countries in the Middle East, of Egyptian, Iranian, Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian and Spanish background.

So, with no further ado, here is du Pré’s remarkable, unforgettable performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor.

Enjoy!

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Daniel Levy, Václav Hudeček and Bulgarian peaches

I don’t like fish. Every time I say this to someone who does like fish they spend the next half an hour explaining to me how subtle and wonderful some fish tastes, how beneficial it is for your health and how many different, exciting ways it can be cooked.

They almost have me convinced. So, each year – once – I sit down and try fish again. Turns out, I really don’t like fish.

I do, however, like peaches. But, one day in Bulgaria, we bought peaches the size of grapefruits from a road-side vendor and ate them with the sweet juices splashing down our chins. They were incredible. Sometimes, I feel that every peach since has been spoiled, just a little, by those sweet Bulgarian peaches.

In my experience with classical music there hasn’t been too much fish, but there have been quite a few Bulgarian peaches. Recordings that I have loved and listened to so much that – no matter which way you spin it and how valid your points are – you could never convince me there were any better.

It’s a personal thing, for sure. Each note, each phrase, each melody becomes so much a part of you that any difference or deviation causes any other recording to pale in comparison.

And, that doesn’t mean that the other versions of the piece are bad, or in any way worse. It’s just that you’ve found your love and you’re not looking for another. For you, no other can compare.

For me, one such CD is Václav Hudeček’s version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor, featured on his album Tchaikovsky and Sibelius: Violin Concertos. In an earlier post, I pleaded with readers to shop around and search out a diverse array of recordings of the same piece to get a broad understanding of the musical interpretations of different artists. I promise you that, in this case, I have. But, for me and me alone, nothing comes close to Hudeček’s performance on this disc.

Another of the recordings to which I am eternally betrothed is the pianist Daniel Levy’s version of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor and particularly the third movement – the famous Funeral March. Levy’s playing on this record made me see the piece in a completely different light and the final flurry that greets the last impassioned passage of the sonata is simply mesmerizing.

Final thoughts

If my life had a soundtrack (and sometimes it feels like it does), these recordings of Levy and Hudeček would at times be on constant repeat. I like to think of myself as quite reasonable, open to suggestion and able to see two sides of a coin. But sometimes in life you have fish, sometimes you have your regular meals and sometimes – just sometimes – you have Bulgarian peaches.

I have added links where you can buy both of these recordings, simply by clicking on the photos at the bottom of the article. Today’s video is of the Maestro Daniel Levy playing Chopin: Nocturne in C minor op. posth.

 

 

 

 

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Twitter’s down – how did the great composers keep in contact?

Clara & Robert Schumann

Today Twitter went down for the second time in as many months, leaving people all over the world scratching their heads and trying to figure out how on earth they ever lived without it. Of course, there’s always Facebook, email, mobile, WhatsApp or any of the other thousands of communication tools we have at our disposal today.

But way back when, things were different, with letters taking days and even weeks to arrive at their target destination. Fortunately for us, these same letters left us with a lasting legacy of the words, thoughts and feelings of many of the greatest composers of all times.

With this in mind, I thought today would be an ideal opportunity to look at some of these letters in a little bit more detail: those of love, those of humour and those of lasting insight.

Let’s begin with love.

A letter from Robert Schumann is a great starting point. It is estimated that he and Clara Schumann wrote around 20,000 letters over the years, demonstrating the same type of commitment to communication as they did to composing.

Here’s an extract from a letter Robert Schumann sent to Josef Fischhof in 1837, detailing the importance that Schumann placed on Clara, even before they became man and wife:

“Clara Wieck will probably be with you just now. You will see her, admire her and love her… She is sure to play you some of my compositions, so you will hear them at their very source.”

It’s clear to see from this letter that Schumann was not only completely enamoured with Clara, he also viewed her as the single most important inspiration for his compositions. She is the ‘source’ of his affections and the ‘source’ of his music, partnering him in his creative efforts and acting as the Muse by which he was inspired. He is as confident being represented by her as he would be in playing himself. Clara and his music have become intertwined and she is the spring from which his artistry bursts forth.

Beethoven the romantic

Let’s move onto the words of Beethoven, another composer who expressed his love, not only through music, but through words.

When the great composer died in 1827, two documents were found in his desk. One of these documents contained letters to an unknown source, pronouncing his love with a deep, romantic passion. Here’s an extract from the third and final letter:

“Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us – I can live only wholly with you or not at all… “

Beethoven was clearly taken with this fair maiden and showed his love in gushing romantic terms. The letters have since achieved mythical status, more recently forming the basis of the film ‘Immortal Beloved’, starring Gary Oldman and Isabella Rossellini.

A playful Mozart

Moving along again, let’s have a quick look at the young Mozart, writing to his sister as a thirteen year old in Italy, where he was travelling with his father and demonstrating his prodigious talents to the Italian public. The year is 1770 and Mozart is in a cheeky mood as he takes his sister through a step-by-step guide to an opera he has just seen:

“Bradamenta, Oronte’s daughter (is) taken by a poor baroness who’s had some great misfortune, though I don’t know what it is. She sings (under an assumed name, but I don’t know what it is) with a reasonable voice, and she’d have a good presence, except that her singing is devilishly out of tune.”

Later Mozart highlights what is, to this day, one of the most common gripes a musician or composer can suffer:

“Leone… has a most beautiful voice, but there’s so much whispering in the theatre that you can’t hear anything.”

It’s nice to see that not much has changed over the centuries, then.

Returning to Schumann

Finally, let’s return to the prolific letter writer Robert Schumann for some real insight into the broader inspiration behind his art. In autumn 1838, Schumann wrote this letter to his future wife Clara:

“I am affected by everything that goes on in the world, politics, literature and people, and then I long to express my feelings and find an outlet for them in music. That is why my compositions are sometimes difficult to understand, because they are connected with different interests; and impels me to express it in music.”

By his own admission, Schumann’s music channels deep and complex feelings that cover the entire breadth of his personal experience. While he had an obvious love for writing letters, it is music that is the ideal outlet for his thoughts, passions and emotions. We have no hope of understanding his compositions unless we take a broader view of his persona – they are a pure expression of his life and a mirror of the complex feelings the wider world has stirred within him.

Final thoughts

To leave you with today, I am linking to a piece of music by Clara Schumann, the apple of Robert Schumann’s eye, the primary source of his inspiration and also an exceptional composer in her own right. In this video Hélène Grimaud & Anne Sofie von Otter perform Clara Schumann’s lieder “Warum willst du and’re fragen ?” Op. 12 No. 3.

Enjoy!

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Horowitz and Tatum – when jazz met classical

Classical music and jazz may seem to have little to do with each other at first glance, but that hasn’t stopped there being a great respect between many of the artists working in both genres. Great musicians appreciate great musicianship and this seems to have been the basis of an unlikely friendship between the classical piano legend Vladimir Horowitz and the jazz virtuoso Art Tatum.

A tale of two pianists

It may be one of the stranger tales in musical lore, but it’s highly interesting nonetheless. The story goes that the legendary classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz often visited the jazz clubs of New York to listen to the improvisation sessions that played such a great part in the night-time scenery of early-to-mid-20th century America.

On this occasion, Horowitz had in hand something that he was quite proud of. Over the past months he had been busy transcribing the jazz standard ‘Tea for Two’ and was eager to show Art Tatum the fruits of his efforts. He sat down at the piano and carefully picked out the notes of his version of the classic composition for Tatum to listen to. Once he had finished, Tatum (now virtually blind) sat down at the piano and played his own version of the piece.

It’s said that Horowitz was amazed by Tatum’s interpretation and implored him to tell him where he could find the score he had used, to which Tatum replied: ‘Oh, I was just improvising’. Horowitz later said in an interview that he never played ‘Tea for Two’ in public again.

On another occasion, when asked who the greatest pianist in the world was, Horowitz replied without hesitation, ‘Art Tatum’. Horowitz also said in an interview that ‘If Art Tatum took up classical music seriously, I’d quit my job the next day’.

Here’s a short video clip of Horowitz playing a tiny portion of ‘Tea for Two’:

Blurring the boundaries

Classical music obviously had a great influence on jazz and the same could be said of jazz’s influence on a portion of 20th century classical music. Many great jazz artists began their careers studying classical music and the connection goes beyond mere influence at some points.

To give you just a couple of examples of the blurred lines between the two art forms, the famed jazz singer and pianist Nina Simone studied classical piano at Julliard and, one of her most famous pieces, ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’, contains a piano solo that has the music of Bach written into every note. There are also musicians like the French jazz artist Jacques Loussier, who base all of their improvisations on classical themes.

On the other side of the coin, the French composer Maurice Ravel had a deep affection for jazz music, having grown up in and around the cafes of jazz-crazed post-war Paris and gone on to visit George Gershwin in New York and the jazz centre of America, New Orleans.

Rachmaninoff was also a great fan of jazz. He was present at the premiere of the Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue in 1924, a piece that is said to have been a strong influence on his own Piano Concerto No 4. He and Arthur Rubinstein were known to be, not only fans of jazz, but of Art Tatum’s musicianship in particular.

Final thoughts

To leave you with today, here’s a tape recorded version of Art Tatum playing Chopin’s Waltz in C# minor Op. 64, No. 2. Perhaps it may not be for the purists but – before you judge – think of Horowitz.

Enjoy!

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