Joshua and I had a nice weekend.
Saturday was our big day, as we attended a basketball game Saturday afternoon and a recital Saturday night.
Josh and I took my Dad to the Minnesota/Iowa game Saturday afternoon, and it was good to see the Gophers win one at home after three consecutive home losses, all of which we attended. We were starting to think that we were jinxing the Golden Gophers with our presence in Williams Arena.
Saturday night, Josh and I took my Mom and Dad to Saint Paul to hear a recital by Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk.
The recital was sort of disappointing. I have never been very impressed with Joshua Bell, and this is probably because he is a throwback to the early-20th-Century style of violin playing: his style of play is very romantic and, to my taste, a bit schmaltzy. He also “emotes” to an extreme degree, making all sorts of facial gestures and facial contortions to demonstrate to audience members that he is “feeling” the music. I find these facial gestures and contortions off-putting, if not irritating, especially since the emotions he is telegraphing to the audience are not necessarily duplicated in his playing, which often is simply not very interesting.
The program was an odd one. The recital began with Tartini’s “Devil’s Trill” Sonata. Violinists must love to play this piece, but it is not a very gratifying piece of music for audiences.
Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 ended the first half of the recital, and it was in this work that Bell’s overtly-romantic approach most negated the composer. There was too little bite in the playing, too little sarcasm, too little point, too little fire, too little resignation, to make the work come alive. In fact, in Bell’s hands the sonata did not even sound like Prokofiev—it sounded like a strange melding of Cesar Franck and Serge Rachmaninoff.
The second half of the recital began with Dvorak’s Four Romantic Pieces For Violin And Piano, and this was probably the most successful item on the program, because it was best suited to Bell’s style of playing. These are charming pieces, but not necessarily great pieces, and I thought that Bell was OK—but he would have been even more successful had he demonstrated some “toughness” in his playing to go along with the all-purpose “dreaminess” he has patented and which he is so fond of displaying at every opportunity.
The concert ended with Saint-Saens Sonata No. 1 For Violin And Piano. This is a brilliant piece, and Bell played it very, very well. However, there was no Gallic flavor to the performance, and for this shortcoming much of the blame must be shared with the pianist, Jeremy Denk, whose part is equally important in this work. Denk’s playing in the Saint-Saens was Germanic, lacking grace, lightness, elegance and flair, and it sounded out of place.
Denk is an odd pianist. He is really not much of a virtuoso, at least not in the sense of a Kissin or a Pletnev, and he is really not much of a “serious” pianist, either, although that is how he cultivates his public image. Neither fish nor fowl, he has, understandably, had trouble building a career, especially outside the United States, and he will probably end up teaching at a university.
A little more than three months ago, we had all attended a recital by Jonathan Biss, another American pianist who lacks the highest degree of virtuosity and who also is not destined to become a “serious” pianist.
Since the emergence of Stephen Kovacevich and Murray Perahia in the early 1970’s, no American pianist of note has appeared on the international scene. Why is America not producing pianists of the highest quality? Joshua attempted to answer this question on his blog on October 28. I have no thoughts on the matter.
My father does have thoughts on the matter. Simply put, he says that American music instructors, for whatever reason, are able to identify students with talent but are unable to identify which talented students possess great reserves of intellect and personality, the two qualities without which no pianist can sustain a major long-term career.
Today, my parents’ dog demonstrated great reserves of intellect and personality. All afternoon and evening, he had four adult human beings waiting on him hand and foot, constantly playing with him and giving him lots of attention and affection—and a nonstop assortment of treats. He played us all like the great virtuoso he is. We were mere tools in his paws.
Alas, next weekend, the dog will be without us, because we are going to New York to spend the long weekend with my older brother and his family. The dog will be staying with a friend from church during our absence, and we will miss him very much while we are gone. However, he will be very well cared for by a very generous and gracious lady who loves him very much. Since she lives alone, she values his companionship a few times a year—and he is a very, very good companion.
It works out well for both of them.