August 12, 2015
A famous musician whom I met only once said to me over lunch, “You have a great gift for admiration.” That proceeded from a discussion that we were having about some important figures that we had both worked with and whom he probably thought as highly of as I did. But I don’t think that I bestow my admiration promiscuously.
There are three men who have been key to whatever education I can lay claim to. One of them died yesterday and, inevitably, he is the one who lives in my daily life even more than the other two, because he was the one who taught me to play music. I know that not every teacher gets through to every pupil (and that is not necessarily the fault of pupil or teacher, but just of a misfit between the one who imparts and the learner). But Paul Jenkins could have been born to teach me. I think I must sometimes have driven him crazy with my earnest questions based on concepts that he had introduced me to. (I’ve always been the type to be partial to systems.) I remember once on a drive, in his signature Mercedes, to a neighboring city for a concert when it became evident even to naîve me that I might be driving the driver a little too hard with my pressing questions about accents in Baroque music. And there were those nights when I’d be working away in a practice room and the door would suddenly be flung open with a demand that I join him and others for a sail. How wonderfully confusing to have the person who is, in some sense, driving you to be practicing late at night, appearing to urge your doing something else entirely! But if he thought that he was going to escape from teaching mode even then, he hadn’t realized the persistence of my questioning mode. I think I must have been a true pest.
But it’s his doing that I never—literally never—play at any length without consciously invoking interpretive or, especially, technical insights that he injected me with. Some of my colleagues may not have needed what he gave me, especially in the technical realm. But he literally taught me how to use my hands. What is more intimate to us instrumentalists than our hands? That’s where he will always reside for me, and with lasting veneration.
I had arrived in his studio as a pretty blank slate. What musical knowledge I had had come from experience with top-flight choral repertory and by basically learning my way around the keyboard via a succession of piano teachers of indifferent quality. He taught me that there was no technical challenge that I couldn’t overcome, because he taught me to turn every technical issue into a musical one. And, as it happens, he was right: a doctrine that I have tested over a long career.
As I have already said on Facebook, I’m not yet ready to face a world that doesn’t have my teacher in it. How little he could have known, even as I sometimes tried to tell him, what he meant to me—and, for that matter, to anybody that I have taught.
July 25, 2015
You naturally expect me to recommend this talk show because of its scintillating content, but I do so mainly because I’ve lost 17 pounds (8 kilos) since my last appearance on the program. (Actually, the discussion isn’t bad,either, because the other guys are substantial conversationalists.)
June 16, 2015
This subject is interesting to me because I have to accept on faith the existence of a malady that I’ve never been prone to. In fact, the closest thing to it that I’ve ever felt is my insistent urge in adulthood to get back to the place that is my current home. People often say to me, “Going so early? Why?” to which I answer, “Because I want to go home.” Which sometimes gets another “Why?” And the answer is: “Because I like my home,” wherever it is.
June 12, 2015
Though he’s very much out of fashion now, I have a special admiration for one of the greatest musicians in history, Camille Saint-Saëns, who died in the same year of my father’s birth. (That may not mean a thing, but I always like to remember it.) This report from the great 1915 Exposition in San Francisco gives a fresh but respectful American view of the great Frenchman who was there to head the Republic’s delegation to the Exposition.
June 4, 2015
Are you on television a lot less than you think you should be? Have you considered moving to another country? In the past three years, I’ve been on Barcelona TV eight times, which would have been very unlikely ever to happen in New York. The nice surprise in today’s show was that, for the first time, there was another person of U.S. origin—from Baltimore specifically— who is speechwriter for the Catalan Minister of Culture. The host gratified me by introducing my new book in the first segment, and we talked about some issues with implications beyond Catalonia.
A college friend asked me, via Facebook, “How did you become a political pundit?”
My answer: “By being a person of foreign origin who keeps himself informed about local issues and tries to be balanced in his consideration of them, maybe? But don’t exaggerate: I’m still but an humble minstrel who also writes about music and stuff!”
Here’s today’s show:
May 28, 2015
My friend Florenci Salesas grabbed some photos of me while I was playing at home last night. I hadn’t thought in years about my peculiar concave curvature of the thumb when it is at rest. It used to worry me, but I reckon that it mustn’t matter very much after all this time of getting along rather well with it! (Even Horowitz professed himself horrified when he saw himself on TV. He said that he couldn’t imagine how a person could play with those hand positions.)
May 22, 2015
In case anybody wants to buy (and even maybe go so far as to read) my latest-issued book, here’s how to get it easily: in North America, the most direct way is via this link. In the rest of the world, you can get it from your country’s Amazon site, if it has one, or anyone anywhere can start from this central link.