jueves, 18 de agosto de 2011


Hace un par de semanas escribí que esperaba --estando nosotros en el Año Liszt-- que no sólo pianistas sino también cantantes estuvieran ensayando Liszt. Porque sus lieder son entre las más hermosas canciones de todo el catálogo decimonónico. Comenté, no del todo bromeando, que sería poco probable porque hay quizás cuatro o cinco pianistas sobre la faz de la tierra capaces de hacerle justicia a esa música.

Bueno, exageré, pero no mucho. El hecho es que las partes del piano de esos lieder de Liszt son, según yo, más difíciles de lo que se puede pensar, porque aquí el pianista no puede salirse con la suya, o sea con puro griterío, porque hay que acoplarse con la voz. Así que pese a su densidad, esta escritura tiene que tocarse con la máxima sutileza y control. Lo cual es cierto de TODA la música de Liszt, sólo que algunos pianistas se dejan llevar por la cantidad de notas que escribió el Maestro.

Pues no llores más Cervantes ... porque acabo de regresar a casa de un concierto que interpretaron la soprano Lourdes Ambriz con Alberto Cruzprieto al piano, ambos excelsos intérpretes mexicanos ... de Debussy ¡Y LISZT! Fue extraordinario. Ambos compositores visionarios y para ambos instrumentos. Titularon al programa "C'est l'Extase", y fue un nombre muy adecuado: yo salí flotando sobre una nube en el paraíso, en la écstasis total.

De Debussy, cuatro canciones misceláneas empezando con "Beau Soir" -muy temprana- y terminando con "Noël des enfants qui n'ont plus de maisons" -muy tardía, con un texto del propio Debussy lamentando los niños que quedaron abandonados y sin techo después de la Primera Guerra Mundial: urgente, chocante, terriblemente triste. Falleció poco después, entre otras razones porque no aguantó lo terrible que fue esa guerra. (Sólo hay que escuchar "En Blanc et Noir" para darse cuenta.) Luego "Ariettes Oubliées" sobre esos poemas inolvidables de Verlaine.

La segunda parte fue puro Liszt: constaba de dos lieder "sueltos" y luego los "Tre Sonetti de Petrarca". Aquí sí que entramos en un lugar muy hermoso y especial, como un terreno reservado para los benditos -- así lo sentía yo. Yo conozco estas canciones pero confieso que mejor en las versiones para piano solo que hizo el propio Liszt: he leído las canciones pero nunca las he interpretado. Lourdes me hizo oír lo ITALIANO de sus líneas vocales, emparejándose con la poesía de Petrarca. ¡Cómo serpean esas líneas, cómo vuelan, cómo su figuración hace respuesta a la poesía y la realzan!

Y Alberto al piano, Alberto que sabe como pocos cómo hacerlo ... hace del piano otra voz, un coro, una orquesta, quizás alguna vez un oboe plañidero, un violonchelo ... Lourdes ha de contarse muy afortunada de tener tamaño colaborador. Los dos nos hicieron escuchar lo medular de esta música que es, en algún sentido lo medular de estos dos compositores, una dosis concentrada de su alma musical. ¡¡BRAVI!!

viernes, 5 de agosto de 2011





Well, this is the Liszt Year, so I suppose everyone is thinking about Liszt, or at least an awful lot of pianists are practicing Liszt. I do hope they are also thinking about Liszt, because he is indeed a marvel. I hope some singers are programming Liszt –I see one or two here in México- supposing they can find a pianist collaborator who can deal with those scores, because Liszt’s lieder (German for "songs", pronounced like "leader" in English) are extraordinary, and extraordinarily underplayed.

For various reasons I’ll go into later, I myself recently re-entered the Lisztian Universe. And I am enchanted.

I came late to Liszt. I’ve been thinking a bit about why and suppose it’s because right when I was physically almost ready for his music, I changed teachers for the first real time in my life: I left the teacher I’d had since I was about eight years old –the one I had after my mother— to go away to university where I had another teacher.

I want to write about Liszt and my late-blooming relationship with him, so this may go on for several entries.

I was aware that Liszt was important, but I think that in my twenties I simply wasn’t ready to understand why. Part of this was fear, of course: part of the Received Wisdom about Liszt is that his music is horrendously difficult. It is. But at that time in my musical development I was completely unequipped to understand the how and the why of its difficulty – which are quite different from the Received Wisdom.
A couple of years ago, coming out of Solo Rumores, I began to get the itch to explore Liszt. There is no way to explain this, as there is no way to explain why, at more than 40 years of age, I got a dog for the first time and now cannot imagine living without one. Or rather, the explanations would be long, complex, and interior: and thus of little interest to anyone but myself and a close friend or two over a bottle of wine.

It was similar to what happened when I was irresistibly drawn –sometime in 2000, I believe it was-- to learn Arturo Márquez’ Días de Mar y Río, a work which I have played countless times and which, I suppose, has become something of a signature piece for me. I had the very clear sense that it was the moment for me to play a big, muscular, virtuosic piece and I very much wanted the challenge –musical, physical, mental— of doing that.

And there are other similarities. What I found with Márquez, over the long haul, is that for that piece to work well I have to think of … Mozart. Clarity, delicacy, how close Mozart is to CPE Bach and his lightning changes of Affekt. Galvanic strength when the moment is right, but the rest is Mozart; even, in certain spots, the woody, intimate sound of a fortepiano.

There is so much stereotyping of Liszt, particularly around the idea that virtuoso playing has to do with a lot of pounding, a lot of sound and fury. Oh dear. I make my way into Liszt, these last few years, finally ready –I feel— to understand him, and I realize how close Liszt is to CPE Bach. Affekt …

Liszt’s abiding love of song, and of words. Schumann, Schubert, Petrarch.

Here, with Liszt, the piano becomes a new kind of extension of the voice, and of all the emotions the voice can communicate –something CPE Bach sought eternally in his music. The carefully calculated arpeggios, which are sometimes anacruses (upbeats) and sometimes portamenti (impossible to translate, like when the voice slides up or down to a note and somehow sings a bunch of the notes in between); the voicing of chords, all are ways of summoning up the resonances, the harmonic series with which a great singer infuses his or her tones.

It’s so easy, as a pianist, to become drunk with the amount of sound you can make -- just pure sound. Much has been written about how Liszt was the first real R&R hero: how women tore off their clothes and hurled those garments at him on stage. I think a lot of this has to do with that enormous passion which his vision enabled him to communicate, and with the sound that he summoned up to bring it to his listeners.

What we sometimes forget is that that sound must often have been as delicate and tenuous as angels’ wings brushing our temples, as warm and tender as a lover’s arm around us after making love … much more that than thundering octaves. We forget that the power of our sound has as much to do with one single line, parlando (as though spoken), heartbreakingly eloquent, as it does with those thundering octaves and chords. I always remember Ysayë (as quoted by Gingold) saying that true virtuosity is to be able to play a scale and draw tears from your listener.

miércoles, 3 de agosto de 2011


2011-08-03 (3 August) I PROMISE TO BLOG! / ¡PROMETO BLOGUEAR!

I am blogging again for two reasons:
Roosevelt NJ and what happened there; and
Amanda F. Palmer

THE ROOSEVELT NJ PART … On what has now become my Annual Fly-By to Roosevelt, NJ where I lived and made music for quite some time, I decided to play some of this new Monarca music for some very dear old friends there, people who are like family for me. One of them –in those times my almost-next-door neighbor had said during last year’s Fly-By, “I miss my soundtrack”. Back then many of these people were my guinea-pigs, I would tie them to the couch, bribe them with wine, and make them listen to what I was working on at the time. They were, in effect, part of my musical as well as my personal life (same difference), some of my dearest friends, my most intimate audience.

I thought of that this year and decided to share with them most of the concert I’d played a couple of weeks before, here in Guanajuato. It was the whole program, in fact, except Wallach and McNeff, just because I couldn’t schlep scores with me. So I played Scarlatti and CPE; Liszt’s riveting versions (covers you could say) of Schubert’s Gute Nacht and Schumann’s Widmung; and I played the two Monarca pieces I have memorized: Silvia Cabrera Berg’s El Sueño … el vuelo and Paul Barker’s La Malinche. Explaining a little as I always do, about each piece before I played it – here a little more because not everyone in the US knows about Kahlo’s Casa Azul or who Malintzín was. At the end we were all pretty welled up.

I mentioned to R*** something about her soundtrack remark last year and we both started crying. It made me realize something really, deeply important: These are My People. As Jamie Shaler (one of the finest singer-songwriters I know altho’ he is not a Household Name) writes in one of his songs, “The people we love are what we believe in”. That was when I realized: these people have never once scolded me, they have always been completely loving and compassionate about my disappearances … but –I say this without narcissism because I felt it so intensely at that moment— they were missing that sense of being part of what I do.

I simply can’t get so deep into my cavern, concentrating on what I do, that I shut these people OUT of it. And the best way to keep them in touch, that’s feasible for me with all the almost-overwhelming amount of Stuff I have to attend to, is to BLOG. So it’s not a chore anymore, it’s like a phone call or two, like R*** coming over for wine after I’ve finished practicing and I play her a tune or two, or just some bits and pieces.

I promise not to disappear, I promise to include you, dear friends.

THE AMANDA F. PALMER PART … a little while back Thomas Cott on his clipping service sent around three Commencement addresses. One from Mark Morris, one from I can’t remember who at this moment, and one from Amanda Palmer. They were all just splendid, compelling and coherent -- as well as REALLY funny at certain moments – but the one that grabbed me in the most immediate way was Amanda Palmer’s. http://www.theshadowbox.net/forum/index.php?topic=18041.0

Now I knew Amanda’s name but must confess that –due to the afore-mentioned cavern stuff— I didn’t know much about her or about her music. Well, that has certainly changed. Haven’t listened to the Dresden Dolls stuff yet but what I hear of her solo music I like hugely. There is something enormously fragile, open, vulnerable here, which is of course what makes it so strong.

And I have become a Regular Reader of her blog. It is funny, moving, passionate. I feel a kinship with this woman, however weird it may seem to those who believe in the labels I so heartily detest: it seems to me we have in common a belief in “No Plan B”, a lack of interest in faking it, a sense of the absolute necessity of direct connection with the people who listen to our music. Apart from the business of being a self-represented artist who doesn’t fit into anyone else’s manufactured labels and has no desire to anyway.

So I see Amanda Palmer busy, running around like me, having amazing and amusing and epiphany sorts of experiences like me … and still managing to STAY IN TOUCH WITH HER PEOPLE …via her blog. OK, I said, if she can do it so can I.

So thank you, Amanda F. Palmer. I hope we can be in touch. I hope we can trade CDs. I hope the music I make will touch you as yours touches me.

2011-08-03 (3 agosto)

Vuelvo a “bloguear” por dos razones:

Roosevelt, Nueva Jersey (EU) y lo que sucedió ahí;
Amanda F. Palmer

LA PARTE DE ROOSEVELT, NJ … Hace un par de semanas, en lo que ya se conoce como el Annual Fly-By (La visita anual de volada) a Roosevelt, NJ (EU) donde viví y hice mucha música durante un buen, decidí tocar algo de esta nueva música Monarca para unos amigos amiguísimos, gente que es como familia para mí. Una de estas personas –en aquel entonces mi vecina—me había dicho en la visita del año pasado, “Extraño mi banda sonora”. En aquel entonces, muchas de esas personas fueron mis conejillos de la India, mis “guinea-pigs” como yo las llamaba: les amarraba al sillón, les daba mordidas de vino, les obligaba a escuchar a la música en que estaba trabajando a la sazón. En efecto, fueron parte tanto de mi vida musical como de la personal (da igual), mis más queridos amigos, mi más íntimo público.

Pensé en esto, este año, y decidí compartir con ellos gran parte del recital que había tocado aquí en Guanajuato dos semanas antes. De hecho, fue toda esa música, salvo Wallach y McNeff, sólo porque no tenía ganas de arrastrar partituras conmigo. Con que toqué Scarlatti y CPE; las formidables versiones de Liszt de Gute Nacht de Schubert y Widmung de Schumann; y las piezas Monarca que tengo memorizadas: El sueño … el vuelo de Silvia Cabrera Berg y La Malinche de Paul Barker. Explicando tantito antes de tocar como siempre hago, aquí un poco más porque no todo mundo en EU sabe de la Casa Azul de Kahlo y de quién es Malíntzín/Malinche. Cuado terminé estábamos todos bastante emocionados.

Mencioné a R*** algo acerca de lo de “mi banda sonora” y las dos empezábamos a llorar. Me hizo darme cuenta de algo importantísimo: Estas personas son Mi Gente. Como dice Jamie Shaler (uno de los más grandes cantautores que conozco aunque no sea famoso) en una de sus canciones, “The people we love are what we believe in”. Fue en ese momento que me cayó el veinte. Esos amigos siempre han comprendido mis ausencias y nunca me han regañado … pero mi di cuenta –y lo digo sin narcisismo, porque lo sentí tan intensamente en ese momento— que extrañaban profundamente la sensación de formar parte de lo que hago.

Simplemente, no puedo adentrarme tanto en mi caverna que les dejo fuera de lo que hago. Y la mejor manera de mantenerles incluidos, que es factible para mí con toda la cantidad casi abrumadora de Cosas a que Tengo Que Atender … es a través del blog.
Así que ya no es obligación, ya no es tarea, es como echar un telefonazo, como cuando R*** venía a tomar una copa en la noche después de mis ensayos y yo le tocaba unos fragmentitos de lo que estaba estudiando.

Prometo no desaparecer, prometo incluirles, mis queridos.

LA PARTE DE AMANDA F. PALMER … hace ratito en su servicio de recortes Thomas Cott giró los vínculos para tres discursos de graduación en escuelas de arte. Uno de Mark Morris, otro de no recuerdo quien, y uno de Amanda Palmer. Todos espléndidos, contundentes y coherentes –además de MUY chistosos en ciertos momentos— pero lo que me agarró con total inmediatez fue lo de Amanda Palmer. http://www.theshadowbox.net/forum/index.php?topic=18041.0

Ahora bien, conocía el nombre pero confieso que –debido al arriba-mencionada enfrascadura en mi caverna— poco sabía de ella o de su música. Bien, todo eso ha cambiado. No he escuchado todavía la música de los Dresden Dolls pero lo que escucho de su trabajo solo me gusta un chorro. He aquí algo enormemente frágil, abierto, vulnerable, que es por supuesto lo que lo hace tan fuerte.

Y me he hecho parroquiana de su blog. Es hilarante a veces, conmovedor, apasionado. Siento cierto parentesco con esta mujer, por raro que parezca a aquellos que creen en esas etiquetas que yo tan cordialmente detesto: creo que tenemos en común la creencia en el “No Plan B”, una total falta de interés en mentiras acerca de lo que nos importa medularmente, un sentido de la absoluta necesidad de una conexión directa con la gente que escucha la música que hacemos. Dejando al lado lo de ser artista auto-representada que no quepa en las etiquetas manufacturadas y que de todas maneras no desea tener ahí cabida.

Con que veo a Amanda Palmer súper-ocupada, corriendo como yo, experimentando momentos asombrosos, divertidos e incluso tipo epifanía como yo … y aún así logrando estar en contacto con su gente … por medio de su blog. Vale, dije, si ella puede yo también.

Así que gracias, Amanda Palmer. Espero que podamos estar en contacto. Espero que podamos trocar discos y que a ti te hable, de alguna manera, la música que hago yo como la tuya me habla a mí.



A couple of these never-until-now-posted entries seem rather laughable in the light of the recently “resolved” debt crisis in the US … but oh well.

2011 17 abr

Part of the reason it is good to learn a new piece of music every once in a while is that it serves to remember HOW to learn a piece of music. Particularly a rather difficult one, by a composer whose music one hasn’t played much.

Wael Ghonim at the IMF roundtable, 15 April 2011:
“We wanted our dignity back. And dignity does have an economic aspect.” He was talking about the Tahrir Square events, the “Arab Spring”. This is why economists should not only study history but also listen to music, read –and maybe even write!-- poetry. It’s the only chance they have of understanding such realities, given their largely insular formation.

2011-5 APR
Speaker of the House John Boehner claims that the “poor and lazy” caused the current economic crisis during an interview with Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone


As I think about this it occurs to me that is Mr. Boehner himself who is both poor and lazy. He shows himself to be spiritually impoverished --which is what really counts in this world and in the next, supposing it exists; and intellectually lazy, by which I mean his apparently total refusal to undertake the work of overcoming his ignorance.

This would all be pretty small potatoes if we were just talking about the local dogcatcher or something; but Mr. Boehner is in a position to do real harm to the people he deems "poor and lazy", through his own poverty and laziness.

2011_19 abr

NYT today: “How far can a presidential candidate get with fame and money, but with no knowledge of policy or governing?” … speaking of Donald Trump. Well, given many of the people who won in the midterm elections it seems the answer might be “Quite far”. Those “tea-baggers” as people have started to call them, appear not only to have no knowledge of policy or governing, but also no respect for same; and are proud of their ignorance. Thus, I suppose, their anti-education stance.