There are big cities, there are small cities, there are tiny little cities, and then there is Tiffin Ohio. This American city brought about yet another big smiling question mark on the face of Laurence, my relative from New York. Other than telling me with his witty touch of cynicism "it is my favorite city", or "been there many times...", he seemed to be at a loss in terms of its geographical whereabouts. He would not even admit that it is within the continental United States.
So there was no surprise when after asking the journalist that interviewed me from the local newspaper about Tiffin's tourist destinations or places to eat... all I heard was laughter. To be more accurate: regarding places to eat, I was advised to drive out of town, and in terms of places to see... well, it seemed that the biggest attraction within a 50 miles radius was the interstate that takes you North or South of here! But I like traveling, especially when no expectations are involved. This trip to Ohio included three solo recitals - Tiffin, Dayton and Cincinnati.
After landing in Cincinnati airport and getting my rental car, I looked at the map and saw that to get to Tiffin, one only needed to go North on the interstate and turn East at one point. That's all. My hard working manager - Jennifer - equipped me with directions from Yahoo map, to be on the "safe" side. These directions, however, showed a much more "contrapuntal" way to reach Tiffin - one that when placed next to the most complex of Bach's fugues, would probably prove superior in its intricacy, and its use of deceptive cadences. In other words there were quite a few dead-ends! I saved it for posterity.
For the love of traveling I went for excitement and took the road less traveled. What followed, though, reminded me of Frost's famous poem "The road not taken". But I will have to rename it to "The road not existed!" Battling with countless of country roads, byways, bicycle trails, foot paths, sidewalks as well as all sorts of non-grooved ways, I finally reached my destination... three hours or so late. I used "the Schwartz".
After settling in my hotel, I went to look for the hall. At this point I have lost my sense of adventure... and asked in the lobby for the directions!
Initially, when learning about this engagement. I was expecting to play in a small shabby looking barn or something like that. I understood that this presenter wanted to introduce classical music to his community and so forth. I was happy to come.
How surprised I was to find out that this was not a small barn, but rather a stunning-looking theatre from the 1920s that hosts a series of serious productions each year. Between the Broadway productions, and other big events, there was me and my solo piano recital going on tomorrow night...
Every now and then when I travel in the US, I come across a theatre from the earlier part of the twentieth century, which ends up being truly a jewel - a real beauty that has been preserved, renovated and cherished by special people in the community, that would not let it turn into a parking lot, or just deteriorate. A few of such theatres which I had the opportunity to perform at include the Coronado theatre in Rockford Illinois; the Ohio theatre in Columbus Ohio; the Old opera house in Franklin New Hampshire; Powers auditorium in Youngstown Ohio and the "Ritz Theatre" here in Tiffin Ohio.
Most of these halls, as is the case with this one, started as movie theatres. For me, just to be in such places, looking at the intricate plaster work, absorbing the inspirations for the interior design - Italian Renaissance or Greek - observing the atmospheric lighting, embracing the warmth, all this is very memorable. It is tangible!
My recital included works by Bach, Janacek, Debussy, Schubert, and my friend Avner Dorman. Each piece in this recital program seemed to have drawn its inspiration from a different source - whether religious as in the arrangements from the Bach Cantatas; current events, which inspired the Janacek sonata; a picture from the French Rococo period influencing Debussy; nature scenes and German poetry coming to life in Schubert's Impromptus and an individual (the legendary Jazz pianist Art Tatum) which inspired Avner Dorman's 2nd sonata.
I started with the Bach, in order to get the audience (and myself) "into the zone", into the state of concentration from which all else can then unfold.
The Janacek is a favourite piece of mine. One of the reasons is that I don't think it is "music for the piano". I will explain: unlike composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt or Chopin, who understood the piano intimately, Janacek's expressive (at times explosive) piano sonata seems to have written without the instrument in mind. This tragic score rather than written FOR the piano, it is music first and foremost! played AT the piano.
One of the advantages of playing a piece like the 2nd sonata by Israeli composer Avner Dorman is that after it ends, you feel that the audience is in a "shock". They did not expect something like that - that a contemporary work by a composer they haven't yet heard of, will bring them to such enthusiastic response. The sonata's colorful, poetic / somewhat melancholic opening movement is coupled with an outburst of immense energy and rhythmic power in the closing second movement. This is a tremendous showcase of creativity and imagination.
Following intermission I played Debussy's "Island of joy". Dated September 1904, Debussy wrote gaily about it “Heavens! How difficult it is to play… This piece seems to embrace every possible manner of treating the piano, combining as it does strength and grace…if I may presume to say so.” Indeed this is a world that unites joy and pathos, humor and love. In Debussy’s score, rhythmic control and suppleness exist side by side, and intoxicating dance rhythms mix with surging melody.
Schubert's sublime first set of Impromptus culminated the program. These pieces have a depth of feeling and Romantic intensity from true happiness to the most profound longing. Childlike innocence mixes with spiritual darkness. Optimism and hope confronts a reality of solitude and poverty. The composer of more than 600 songs is writing here four extremely poetic masterpieces. The range of emotions expressed in these exquisitely beautiful pieces is overwhelming. Schubert, who died at age 31, was able to reconcile the so called Classical style with the Romantic spirit of freedom and emotional extremity. The song-like quality of these jewels comes across also in the more agitated second and forth impromptus which are fast but lyrical without any intention of sheer virtuosic display. The picturesque characteristics found in Schubert’s songs are an essential part of this music – nature, the rippling brook, the un-attained love, the loneliness of the wanderer, the feeling of being a stranger in any land, breathlessness of hope as well as resignation and despair, and many more.
At the end of the recital I felt grateful at the opportunity to play in this hall, and for this audience who most likely experienced this music just now for the first time.
The next morning, as I was heading to Dayton I decided (if you don't mind) to take "The road existed"...