Monday, October 14, 2013

NMTA Guest Artist and Clinicians: Spend your life with music

Libby Larsen, Dmitri Vorobiev, and Polina Khatsko are the guest artists/presenters for the 2013 NMTA State Conference. Larsen, the commissioned composer, will share “The Art of Composing Music” and will be present for the premiere of her new piece which you can read more about in her interview here. Vorobiev will perform ($15/adult, $10/student) on Thursday, 7:30pm, in O’Donnell Auditorium on the Wesleyan campus. He and Khatsko took the time to share a little about themselves and what they will be bringing to the conference.
Polina Khatsko - guest clinician at the
NMTA 2013 State Conference
Khatsko, guest clinician this week, has a special place in her heart for Nebraska already, having studied at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“Kearney, NE, was my first American home... It’s hard for me to think of another place as ideal as Nebraska to start my journey in the U.S. The sincerity, simplicity, and generosity of Midwestern people is extraordinary, and it’s what stole my heart from the very beginning—what made me feel incredibly welcomed, encouraged me, and helped to overcome any hurdles on the way to assimilating into a new culture.”

Indeed, Khatsko shared, “Kearney, Nebraska, is also the place where I truly learned to smile – a quality that in the 1990’s, wasn’t too common among people of Belarus, where I came from.”

Khatsko will bring her smile back to Nebraska as she and her husband, Vorobiev, will present a Master Class on Friday afternoon for the winners of the MTNA Piano Competition. Khatsko will also be giving two presentations on the Russian School of Piano Playing; she wants her audience to be aware of the importance attached to “the culture of sound, or more precisely, sound production as related to piano playing.

Vorobiev, who will be performing Thursday evening, at 7:30pm, in O’Donnell Auditorium, says that for him, the “culture of sound production” that is so vital to the Russian school of piano playing, is the way that he was taught from an early age.

“I am thankful for that particular way of upbringing that I had. It really gave me so much in depth and dedication to help me get where I am now. Focusing on: how you listen, what you listen for, and how you respond to certain things when you play.”

In addition to the focus on listening, Vorobiev said that he received a “vigorous training in music history and music theory.” Music was certainly in his blood, Vorobiev’s grandpa and mom were both musicians, and he was enrolled in music school, “not just lessons, actual music school—theory, history, and two lessons per week,” from the age of 6. His love for the piano was especially strengthened by going to concerts, and he remembers fondly hearing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto when he was six.

Dmitri Vorobiev - performing
Liszt and Beethoven on
Thursday at 7:30pm in
Wesleyan's O'Donnell Auditorium
Vorobiev went on to explain that he was not only involved in classical music. Around the age of 13 or 14, he got into heavy metal. “It was all part of me. But, something about classical music was always sacred for me, I guess.”

Like any kid, he studied and practiced, but at times, “I was lazy, too.”

Ultimately, about the age of 14, Vorobiev made the decision to become a professional musician—because he really loved piano. Although he had not heard the phrase yet, “One of the best ways to spend your life is to spend it doing something that will outlast it,” Vorobiev says that it sums up what was at the back of his mind with that decision.

Khatsko says that, for her, pursuing music as a career has to do with “the privilege of making an impact on and enriching people's lives, and the privilege of connecting to people on any level, at any time, in any place.”

On Vorobiev’s program for Thursday night, he will be sharing a little bit of himself by playing works of Liszt and Beethoven. A year ago, he recorded a CD of Liszt, and right now, Vorobiev has set himself the goal of performing the complete solo piano works of Beethoven. Therefore, this performance of two composers very close to him will represent “who I am, and what I am doing.”

Both Khatsko and Vorobiev have advice for young musicians.

Khatsko reminds them:

“Aside from all the known benefits of having music in your life, you should realize that music has unique power... power that lets you open up, express the inexpressible, find comfort, unleash worries and tame anger, and most importantly - discover yourself, find sides of yourself that you didn't even know were there.”

And Vorobiev, while relating a story of a young student who couldn’t remember where Middle C was from week to week, reminds parents:

“Inspiration also comes from parents—how much do they do. Take the kids to concerts. Teachers can tell you all these great things, but if the parents do not participate, it just stays on the side and doesn’t become a part of life. I wish that kids would have a little more eagerness to learn classical music.

‘Live your life...’ might not mean much to an 8-year-old, but learn how to practice, learn in piano, or violin, or whatever. It will ensure that you will have a very successful life. A recent Nobel prize winner, a chemist, in his acceptance speech said he owes everything to his music teacher—because that’s where he learned to practice.”

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Libby Larsen brings the 'Ghosts of Old Pianos' to Nebraska

Thanks to the Nebraska Music Teachers’ Association and a grant from the Nebraska Arts Council, composer Libby Larsen has written a piece to be premiered in Lincoln on October 18. The world premier of Ghosts of Old Pianos will be given during the Nebraska Music Teachers’ Association Conference. The performance will be free and open to the public at 9:00am on October 18, the second day of the conference, at Wesleyan’s O’Donnell Auditorium.
Composer Libby Larsen
Photo credit: Ann Marsden

In an interview with LincolnCMN this week, Larsen explained a little about the creation of the piece, Ghosts of Old Pianos. “Valerie Cisler and Nathan Buckner,” the pianists who will perform the commissioned work, “were very trusting,” Larsen smiled. The pianists told her: “Just let your imagination take you where you need to go.” That, Larsen explained, “is a wonderful thing for a creative artist to hear.”

The idea was already in her mind from her many travels through cities and towns throughout the United States. While waiting to go on stage, Larsen has found herself spending a lot of time in “church basements and backstages of concert halls.” Over time, Larsen said, “I collected in my mind, and took photos, of abandoned pianos. Once those pianos had been put to really good use, now in a dark corner, a basement—they are still beautiful, sometimes with decayed keys, and often deeply dust-covered.”

Larsen found herself “very moved” by the old pianos:
“They’re like old servants. I spend time with a piano like this and get a very special feeling—as if tiny little fragments of music from the piano are still there, echoing in the walls or in the wood of the piano.”
Larsen has coined a new term to explain the musical motives in this work, and that is “ghosting.” In the first movement:
“You may know the tune, the piece will suggest it to you, and as you listen, you will finally piece it together. The pianists just play fragments of the melody, until you finally get a hazy image of the whole aria—as it would have been played on the Steinway Grand in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.”
A ghostly, dust covered piano
Photo credit: Steve A Johnson
She chose the 1897 Steinway Grand from the Bethlehem Hotel in Bethlehem, PA because it is claimed to be haunted. It will be heard playing by itself and sometimes the figure of the beautiful but scandalous May Yohe will be seen at it. 

Another movement is entitled “Whole World,” and it presents a “ghosting” of the traditional tune, “He’s Got the Whole World, In His Hands;” that movement is inspired by a 1907 upright in a church basement in Chicago, Illinois. “Whole World” is reworked from one of Larsen’s earlier four hand pieces, and has become the center point for Ghosts of Old Pianos.

Another piano that will be represented in the piece is the square piano from the Jinny Lind Theater, which burned down. Larsen loved this project so much that she hopes to make a series of “ghost piano” works that will include a Hammond B organ from Maine, an upright found in a dumpster in Tennessee, and a spinet discarded in the north woods of Minnesota.
“The poetry of what is in the air around a decaying instrument is quite beautiful.”
One parting word, Larsen shared her advice for young musicians, and indeed, all musicians:
“I would encourage them to think of music as their life-long journey. Encourage them to trust their own ideas when they’re studying music. Learn the technical tools they need, but then use those tools as they to trust their musical instincts when preparing, performing, or talking about a piece of music. 
Music is a life-long companion. You can bring out your emotions on it, or it may bring them out for you. Music challenges you to become better. 
Young musicians: this is not something you conquer and then put in a drawer, it’s a journey. The reward comes from staying with it and staying focused.”