Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ann Schein in Harrisburg, Part 2: Master Class and Recital

If you hadn't heard Ann Schein's performance with the Harrisburg Symphony this past weekend – or heard the buzz about it: check this link to read three reviews – you missed an incredible performance and an amazing collaboration between soloist, conductor, orchestra and composer.

Malina & Schein after Chopin
And if you stayed for the “talk-back” after the concerts, you probably heard her talk about the importance of teaching, not only in her own teachers but also in how she teaches her students.

So, here's something to consider: you can hear Ann Schein play some more right here in Harrisburg this coming weekend with Market Square Concerts at 8pm Saturday at Whitaker Center, where she'll be playing more Chopin (his 3rd Sonata) as well as Beethoven (his famous Les Adieux Sonata) and works by Liszt, Debussy and Ravel.

And you can also, in a manner of speaking, hear her teach.

On Friday afternoon, she'll be offering a Master Class at Messiah College's new performing arts center in Grantham – it begins at 5:00 but it's free and open to the public. Students from around the mid-state will be playing for Ms. Schein and she'll listen and give advice. It's a chance for the young pianist to have a “mini-lesson” with a master and sometimes you can impart an amazingly significant bit of information in such a short amount of time than can affect how you approach that piece or this technical detail or the way you practice in general. It can be very inspiring and, for these young artists, I'm sure it will be a great memory.

This is an event sponsored by both the Harrisburg Symphony and Market Square Concerts, part of a “mini-residency” with Ann Schein in Harrisburg.

And the common denominator in these two organizations is Peter Sirotin, artistic director of Market Square Concerts and also the concertmaster of the orchestra. His wife, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, executive director of Market Square Concerts, had been a student of Ann Schein's when they were both attending Peabody. Sirotin refers to Ann Schein as an important mentor in his own life, not just as a musician.

Schein, her husband, and Rubinstein
So when Peter and Ya-Ting had the idea of bringing Ms. Schein to Harrisburg for a concert, was there something else you could do? I mean, she's not only a famous teacher and but she's also studied with some of the great pianists of a tradition now nearly forgotten, like Arthur Rubinstein and Mieczysław Munz as well as Dame Myra Hess. (These links will take you to video clips of some of their performances of Chopin and I highly recommend them.)

And if you've heard the Chopin concerto she played, you heard how wonderfully transcendent that tradition can sound, compared to the way a lot of pianists today perform this very intimate music. For a diametrically opposed concept of Chopin, check out this video which is from a video and CD recording that will be seen and heard by more people than have heard of Ann Schein, who will think this is the way classical music (or at least Chopin) should be played.

Here is a new article about the recital from Mike Argento of the York Daily Record over at flipsidepa with a lot of wonderful background about Ms. Schein's family. (Do you remember Dick van Dyke's side-kick, comedian Morey Amsterdam? A cousin - who played the cello!)

Let me quote from two articles that appeared last week to promote the symphony's concert, “Schein on Chopin,” which also mention the master class and recital coming up this week:

Ellen Hughes wrote in the Patriot-News
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"She's a musician with equal comfort as a soloist, chamber musician and concerto performer," HSO concertmaster and Market Square Concerts' artistic director Peter Sirotin said of Schein. "It's hard to find a musician who can cover this range."

She's articulate, sophisticated and unpretentious," he continued. "Besides being a great musician, she's one of the nicest human beings I've ever met."

When he and his wife, pianist Ya-Ting Chang, were students at Peabody Conservatory, Shein taught Chang and coached them both in chamber music. Sirotin and Chang, executive director of Market Square Concerts, still consider Schein a mentor, and its through that relationship that this mini-residency came to be.

"She's had a life in music. She brings a richness of experience through the multiple facets of a mature artist." Echoing Malina, Sirotin said, "She continues the great transition from Rubinstein to the present day."

"A half-century of playing this music means that her interpretations are a profoundly moving musical experience. Her timing and use of color create the feeling that the music has just been composed on the spot," he added.

Sirotin strongly urged me, and anyone else for that matter, to attend Schein's master class. "She uses a higher order of thinking to help students solve technical challenges," he said. "It's rare to experience such an intelligent guide. Attending the master class will open doors to music that are not possible to open while attending a concert," he said.

"I love this program," Schein said about her Market Square Concerts recital, when I spoke to her last week. "I've been doing it on and off for several seasons. Each work has a mini-story. I love all of them for reasons that become obvious."
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David Dunkle, in his article for the Carlisle Sentinel, included this personal anecdote:
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Why is Schein suddenly shining her talents on the greater Harrisburg area?

Part of the answer is HSO concertmaster Peter Sirotin, a violinist who nonetheless considers Schein one of his most important musical influences.

“She was one of my mentors at Peabody,” Sirotin said. “She’s very dear to me personally. She’s also one of my favorite musicians.”

Peter Sirotin & Ya-Ting Chang
Sirotin, along with his pianist wife, Ya-Ting Chang — another Peabody graduate and a Schein protege — are co-directors of Market Square Concerts.

And to complete the loop, Sirotin and Chang, along with HSO principal cellist Fiona Thompson, comprise the Mendelssohn Piano Trio, the ensemble-in-residence at Messiah.

“Yes, there is a link there,” Schein said of her friendship with Sirotin and the Taiwan-born Chang. “Ya-Ting was one of the finest pupils I ever had. One day, she told me she had met a young violin student. With her parents back in Taiwan, I was her surrogate mother. Unless I approved, she wouldn’t go out with him.”
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So you see, a teacher can have a big impact on a person – not just in the way they play the music!

The master class is being held in the High Foundation Recital Hall of Messiah College's new performing center. For directions, click here. For a campus map, click here  (the High Center is #5 on the map). The recital hall is toward the back of the building.

The recital on Saturday – at Whitaker Center in downtown Harrisburg at 8pm – will include Ravel's Sonatine, Debussy's L'isle joyeuse, and the Tarantella from Franz Liszt's musical holiday in Italy, Venezia i Napoli. The program opens with Beethoven's Les adieux Sonata and closes with Chopin's 3rd Piano Sonata.

If you've heard the symphony's concert, then you can still hear more great music making from this artist. It's an opportunity we don't often have in our community, something to take advantage of and treasure.

Please note: the Master Class is free to everyone and anyone may attend to observe; for students, the tickets for Saturday's Whitaker Center recital are $5 for college students with ID and FREE for students K-12 (an accompanying parent or relative or a teacher can purchase a ticket for $5 for bringing a K-12 student).

- Dick Strawser

photo credits: the 1st photo was taken at Saturday night's HSO concert by marketing director Kim Isenhour; the other photos can be found at Ann Schein's website.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ann Schein Visits Harrisburg: Concerto, Recital and Master Class

Let's begin with a critic's comment about Ann Schien playing Chopin:
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Ann Schein: An Artistry Rarely Heard
“In 1980 she played all the major works of Chopin at Lincoln Center in a series of six concerts that affirmed her status as one of the composer’s most thoughtful and musical interpreters… Chopin’s set of Preludes, Op.28, closed the program. ...There were many beauties… a radiantly autumnal No. 17… a performance of No. 23 that was as delicate and as intricately woven as spun sugar.”
Tim Page, Washington Post, 2002
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Central Pennsylvania audiences have a chance to hear her on three occasions:

(1.) a performance with the Harrisburg Symphony at the Forum (Saturday ay 8pm, Sunday at 3pm) playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor

(2.) a master class held at Messiah College on Friday, March 28th at 5pm in the new fine arts center's High Foundation Recital Hall (free and open to the public) 

(3.) a solo recital with Market Square Concerts at Whitaker Center (Saturday, March 29th at 8pm, with a program of Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata, Chopin's Sonata No. 3 in B Minor and, in between, works by Ravel, Debussy and Liszt.

Here is Ann Schein performing Frederick Chopin's Ballade No. 4 in F Minor from a faculty recital at the Aspen Music Center when she was teaching there in 2012.
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You can read more about her visit in Ellen Hughes' column for the Patriot-News here, and David Dunkle's article for the Carlisle Sentinel here - and more about the Harrisburg Symphony concert in my earlier post at the symphony blog, here – which also includes an audio-clip excerpt from her recording of the Chopin 2nd Concerto's 1st movement (recorded when she was 19) as well as the complete concerto performed by one of her teachers, Arthur Rubinstein (recorded in 1975 when he was 88).

Growing up in Washington DC and starting piano lessons at the age of 5, she went to Peabody to study with Miecyzsław Munz, made her first recordings in 1959 (when she was 18 and 19 years old), then began studying with Rubinstein in 1961. The following year, she made her Carnegie Hall debut as an artist represented by the legendary Sol Hurok, then playing at the White House in 1963 for President and Mrs. Kennedy (see photograph with Vice-President's wife, Lady Bird Johnson).

Though she may not be as familiar a name on the performing circuit as others in today's limelight, Ms. Schein has performed frequently in recitals and concerts around the world. For instance, she has given over 100 performances of Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano Concerto since the beginning of her career. Though now retired from Peabody where she began teaching in 1980, she continues to be an inspiring teacher – for instance at the Aspen Music Festival since 1984 – and is a much sought-after adjudicator across the country.

This radio interview, coinciding with her teaching and performing at Aspen in 2012, may be a bit long in today's world of the sound byte but it is well worth the time as she talks about her life as a “quartet wife” with violinist Earl Carlyss and his colleagues of the Juilliard Quartet, to her early career and what it was like studying with Munz and Rubinstein (and how it differs from teaching students today).

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(please ignore the video stamp for the Apsen [sic] Music Festival...)
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Since I posted the first movement of the Chopin F Minor Concerto on the Harrisburg Symphony Blog's post, here is the third movement – again released in 1960 on the Kapp label, recorded when she was 19 with Sir Eugene Goosens conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.
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Recording w/Goosens
Again, the sound of transferring an old LP to a digital audio file on YouTube is not ideal, but it gives you an idea of the performance.

More recently, Tim Page, then music critic with the Washington Post, wrote this about a 2005 performance which included two great works by Frederic Chopin:

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“…It was one of Chopin’s late masterpieces, the ‘Polonaise-Fantaisie’ Op. 61, that began Sunday’s program. The celebrated opening …chords followed by ethereal, harp-like ascending passages that reach the highest register of the piano…could not have been more luscious and poetic…the dance passages, with their strict rhythms, had all the worldly pomp one could have asked for. The program closed with Chopin’s Sonata in b minor, Op.58. I was especially taken with the tiny, gossamer Scherzo and the way Schein made its middle section almost Grieg-like in its songful sentiment. Time stood wonderfully still in the great Largo; one had the sense that Chopin and Schein were going to spin out this rapturous melody forever, which made the transition into the disconsolate finale all the more tragic and arresting.”
(Tim Page, Washington Post, 2005)
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She will be playing Chopin's 3rd Sonata at her Market Square Concerts' performance on Saturday the 29th at Whitaker Center.

This performance of Chopin's Nocturne, Op.55/2, is one of the most beautiful I've heard in a long time and can also give you an idea what Tim Page is writing about, trying to describe her sound in words:
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That was recorded at Aspen in 2012. Here is her early recording (again from 1959) of Chopin's Etude in C-sharp Minor, Op.10/4, for those who measure virtuosity in the number of notes per second:
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(again, the disclaimer about sound quality and digital transfer applies...)
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One of the thing she stresses in her playing and teaching is the approach to sound, in particular capturing the identifiable sound of a great artist like Rubinstein or Myra Hess (with whom she also studied) and the opportunity of hearing these great artists playing live. But these days, there are only their students left to carry on the legacy and in that sense, Ms. Schein is an important link carrying this tradition from one Golden Age into the next, making the transition to her own students with this on-going continuity of and sensitivity for great playing.

Her teacher, Miecyzsław Munz – listen to her Aspen radio interview (above) as she tells the sad story of this great pianist and teacher – recorded six of Chopin's Op.28 Preludes in the 1920s on piano rolls:
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While all of us (as young people now or once upon a time) like to think we need a new way to approach everything (and that our way is better than that old-fashioned way), we eventually discover it is not always necessary to reinvent the wheel.

It would be important for any student who's going to be playing for Ms. Schein at Friday's Master Class at Messiah College to keep in mind not only is he or she listening to a teacher standing there with advice and lots of experience to back it up, but also that this is a pianist who studied with a man who had been 4 years old when Joseph Joachim heard him play in 1891 – the same violinist for whom Johannes Brahms wrote his violin concerto – and thought if he worked hard, “this boy” (Arthur Rubinstein) “may become a very great musician—he certainly has the talent for it.”

So the legacy is long – and the continuity, important.

Now, Ann Schein does perform music by composers other than Chopin: here is the Ravel Sonatine which she recorded at Aspen in 2012 and which will be included on the Market Square Concerts program:
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And because I love Elliott Carter's Piano Sonata from the mid-1940s and always tell any pianist who plays Franz Liszt's B Minor Sonata they should look at this because in a way they're not all that different (they even both have fugues!), here is a clip from the 1st movement of Carter's sonata recorded at that same 2012 Aspen recital.

Listen, again, to how she brings a sense of color and sound to the different lines and chords that make up this often complex work and makes it sound less fearsome than it is often assumed to be:
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The New York World Telegram wrote of Ann Schein in 1962: “Among the season’s most artistic memories will be the Carnegie Hall debut of Ann Schein… [it was] a revelation! Poetic feeling that made every phrase a joy to hear.”

...and the New York Times continued, “After the intermission she turned to Chopin. Here, too, one admired her grasp of style, her technical fluency, her ability to make a melody sing out clearly above (the) ornamentation, and the independence of her hands.”

A reviewer, quoting a student after Ann Schein's performance at North Carolina's Elon University in 2008, wrote "I have never been to a performance at Elon that moved and inspired me more than Ann Schein's performance in Whitley tonight," then continued, "Schein's performance received three total standing ovations: one before intermission, another at the end and another after her encore."

Now, who would want to miss any of that?

- Dick Strawser