Friday, July 17, 2009

All the world's a stage...

And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

-William Shakespeare, As You Like It

So I may be the last of an entire populace to make mention of Michael Jackson's death - not that I could say anything that wasn't said throughout the multi-week blitz of media attention given to his passing. Based on sheer volume, I don't think an original angle on this apparently world-changing event could be presented.

It seems the spectacle of his leaving the planet was as phantasmagoric as the life he led on it.

Admittedly, I paid my respects in the days that followed, spinning through A-B-C-1-2-3, Billie Jean, Thriller, and Bad, to name a few, wondering how so many years had passed since I listened to these on cassette tape. And whether analogue or digital, watching a coming-of-age Michael dance and move in ways that defied entertainment standards of the day (if not also gravity) is as spectacular now as it was then. He was the whole package: voice, movement, musicality, presentation and attitude.

I also choked through some video tributes that exposed less notable musical offerings, such as his whitewashed collaboration with Janet Scream, Remember the Time with Eddie Murphy, and the political statement piece They Don't Care About Us (the melody and message of which bear an uncanny resemblance to Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall).

At the peak of Michael Mourning Madness, I was in Berlin, performing at G-Star Raw's runway shows during Fashion Week, experiencing my own strange taste of the life fantastic.

Wafer-thin beauties and fat free beau hunks intermingled with cigarettes dangling, perfect skin glistening, and libidos charging as they paused between fittings and rehearsals. Whether in the hallway, the kitchen or the rest room, the poise of their flawless genetic structuring silently commanded respect in every space. An unspoken law that everyone obeys.

These boys of barely 23 or 24 years of age spoke with me quite a bit in five days, offering baby congratulations with smoky voices that slipped between sparkling teeth and perfect lips. Smoky enough to make a pregnant woman of thirty-five blush. Throughout the week, these men-children could be spied spending their down time pouring through Vogue, Elle and Detail magazines, picking out each other's latest spreads. Or discussing contract negotiations from the shoot they finished last week in Barcelona. Or, as the hot days got longer and longer, talking about their latest sexual conquests and how many numbers they planned to score before the day was done.

The girls kept mostly to themselves, smoking incessantly and drinking water. Although the boys were admittedly gorgeous specimens, I could hardly keep my eyes off the women...each one of them looking like a china doll carefully on loan from her perch on a pristine glass shelf. Eyelashes and lips at perfect volume. Hair long and smooth. And as they changed backstage, I couldn't help but notice as I walked by that there wasn't an ounce of fat on them. And no visible veins. No bruises. No dimpled skin. Not an imperfection to be found anywhere.

No wonder these people - these specimens - are preoccupied with plans to fornicate with one another.

Of course these aren't the only cast members in this well-oiled theatrical machine of fashion. Far from it. The twenty-some models were heavily outnumbered by a team of creative directors, producers, choreographers, light and sound technicians, hydraulic lift operators, set builders, hair and make-up designers, "dressers" (those who dress and strip the models during the show), canteen operators, security, latrine attendants, assistants, assistants to the assistants, business managers, marketing directors, the CEO of G-Star....and somewhere in the mix, us two musicians.

And yet, the models adhere to a slightly different moral code than the rest of us, and somehow, this gap isn't disturbing. In fact, it was almost pleasing to me to imagine these beautiful people participating in illicit short-term affairs with each other. And if that was all they concerned themselves with beyond making sure they didn't miss a cue on the stage, so be it. That would somehow be okay. Almost an entitled right.

My musical partner / good friend Maartje and I spent much time on this trip discussing this strange caste system that seems to exist in the presence of the beautiful, the famous and the obscenely wealthy. And it is an intuition formed in us by an early age. The cool kids in junior high. High school cheerleaders and the captain of the football team. Beautiful people seem to inherit special privileges. Maybe not always in extremes, like models or pop stars. But there's just something about them that commands different attention and concessions to certain rules of conduct.

People who live their lives on stage carry at least two persona with them at all times: that which is dressed up for the audience, and that which is the inner voice of their intimate self. The bigger the audience, the bigger the fame, the larger the gap between these persona. Or perhaps more accurate, the larger the gap between people's perceptions and genuine understanding of the two. Is who we see who we would get, should we be invited into their private world?

Michael Jackson lived a big life both on and off the stage. We saw him. Listened to him. Watched him grow. Watched him change. We read stories of his strange relations. Heard about allegations. Wondered about his metamorphosing appearance. And now, we have memorialized him in ways bigger than for Nobel Peace Prize winners, past presidents, and important scientists. Through mourning this highly public figure, we have claimed a piece of him.

And yet, all we really know of this man is what he and his entourage offered on the stage and in the studio. The rest is smoke and mirrors, resulting from a combination of our imagination and the very well-paid publicists who told us who he was.

But maybe that's enough. Maybe, as humans, we need to believe in the fantasy of the beautiful, the famous. To watch these specimen, these spectacles as they pass by and allow them the extra room they require be.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Strings and Sketches....

A year ago, I experienced a combination of events that would lead to the next round of new pieces to write and perform. The first was encountering - and subsequently spending much time analyzing - Ravel's Piano Trio in A Minor. The second was a Sheldon family trip to Siena, Italy, where in a beautiful music room in our hotel, I fleshed out a harmonic form that I had been kicking around for some time but hadn't yet completed. And the third was meeting Dutch artist Arjen Dijksma in a chance encounter in the Leidseplein the day after Jenn and Asif moved back to Boston.

After a few postponements due to work in America, pregnancy fatigue and at one point, a mild case of writer's block, I was finally able to hear my Sonata for Piano Trio in E Minor - as well as two other simple forms pieces I had written - realized in performance.

In early June, I hosted our ninth Canvas performance, this time offering two days of performances, as opposed to just one evening. Between the two concerts, over 60 people attended, half of whom were new additions to the Canvas community. Very exciting progress for me.

Also extremely rewarding was the collaboration with Dutch artist Arjen Dijksma, who installed an exhibit of his work for the performance and (most excitingly to me) created an original work inspired by the music I had written and the rehearsals of ours he attended.

Arjen specializes in making prints from etchings...a technique popularized by old Dutch masters such as Hendrick Goltzius and Rembrandt. Through manipulations in etching technique, he creates various depths and texture in his prints that is particularly brilliant in person. You can see in this work (titled "Canvas") a representation of our violinist Emma Breedveld, our cellist Eva van de Poll, and me at the piano (complete with a cubist-inspired maternal belly). Those of you who have been in our house or seen pictures will also recognize our beautiful stained glass windows in the background.

In the foreground, there is a piece of sheet music with "Canvas" inscribed on it.

It's a fantastic piece and I'm honored to be represented by his vision.

(Arjen made a limited number of prints and they are available for purchase. Should any of you be interested, please send me an email or leave a comment on this blog entry.)

I'm including below the introductory notes I wrote for the program:

"About a year ago, I heard a recording of the Beaux Arts Trio performing Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor. Having performed numerous times with violin and cello in separation, I was struck by the expanded realm of possibility of what the three instruments could express together and began exploring the combination. I started listening to and studying some of the great piano trio literature by Beethoven, Brahms, Schumman, and most impactingly, Maurice Ravel.

In deciding to assemble a piano trio for this performance, my primary objectives were 1) to gain aptitude in understanding and writing for this combination of instruments, and 2) to gain enough comfort speaking the language of this combination to be able to express myself genuinely through new pieces.

I was fortunate to find musicians to play with who are not only gifted technicians and intuitive interpreters, but who are also flexible and open-minded. Both of these women have the imagination to see their instruments both inside and outside of the conventional definitions of how a violin and cello should and could sound. They aren’t afraid to see their instruments as not only melodic string instruments, but also as bass, percussion, and even sound effect generators.

I have learned much from Eva and Emma and am honored that they have taken on the task of launching these new pieces.
In addition to my own work, I am happy to present two pieces by Ms. Breedveld in this program. This performance marks the premiere of Wals, and the first time Na den Beginne has been performed with the instrumentation of violin, cello and harmonium.

We will also play two pieces by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) from his Quatro estaciones de Buenos Aires (“Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”), written in 1969.

ABOUT CANVAS – The history of the salon concert is centuries old. Although its origin is porportedly Italian, it was the French who, in the 17th century, brought salon gatherings to a new level of prominence. Composer and pianist Frederick Chopin gave an overwhelming majority of his performances in salons, prefering to offer his works to small groups of people, most of who were friends or acquaintances.

In an ongoing effort to develop as both an artist and a craftsman, I began offering home concerts to friends and neighbors in December 2007. In March 2008, I gave the name Canvas to these programs, suggesting that each performance was a unique opportunity – a blank canvas – on which to place new pieces, new ideas, and new collaborations.

In less than two years, within the boundaries of space and budget, I have enjoyed presenting a wide range of genres and presentation mediums to an audience of over 120 different people, and I’m happy to see that number grow this weekend!

It is a pleasure to have you in our home. I hope you enjoy the opportunity to experience music in such an intimate setting. Please join us again!

Yet another Queen's Day...

By now, you are probably coming to expect at least a brief telling of the annual Queen's Day festivities.

As ever, I kept it to a dull roar - especially since Dave was out of town on business and he's usually the one encouraging me to enjoy the day. But it was never the less a nice day. Beautiful weather. Funny, funny people everywhere. Good greasy food on every corner. And more second-hand stuff to peruse than even the most seasoned of garage sale-ers could shake a re-purposed stick at.

(Zanny, you do know I'm talking about you, right?)

A couple of favorites this year:

1. Our neighbor's kids made a large drawing of the Queen with a gaping hole cut around the mouth. For fifty euro cents, you could get four chances to "make a basket" with water balloons. Very cute.

2. An aspiring young violinist of age seven charged twenty cents for a performance of "Wilhelmus"...the Dutch national anthem.

3. Cleverly finding ways to earn money off of a recently completed science project, a young woman charged a few cents to take a peak into a handmade shadow box with the theme of Prehistoria.

And, of course, there were many ridiculously dressed, orange-clad Nederlanders at every turn. Year after year, I can't help but to take a few photos.