Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eat, Play, Fly...

I made my orchestral debut when I was 18, playing Rachmaninov's 1st piano concerto with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta. Needless to say how exciting that was: the sense of achievement, of fulfillment - reaching for the stars and then touching one. I was completely intoxicated by the whole experience and contemplated pursuing a career playing just one piece... the Rachmaninov 1st. After all, I played it quite well, and also I did not know much else.

Jumping ahead a few years (twenty-three to be exact) and about three dozen concerti, I was reminded of that thought when touring Latin-America with the Israel Chamber Orchestra conducted by Yoav Talmi.

For nearly one month I enjoyed a superb career playing only two pieces - Beethoven's concerto no. 2 and Mendelssohn's concerto no. 1. Sixteen concerts, starting in Tel-Aviv and continuing in Mexico (two concerts), Guatemala, Costa Rica, Columbia, Peru (2), Ecuador (2), Argentina (5), and Uruguay.  All of the concerts were in the major halls of the major cities including Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, Teatro Nacional in San Jose, etc.

Several stretches of this tour turned out to be: playing in Guatemala City, flying the next morning to San Jose (Costa Rica) and playing that night, flying the next morning to Medellin (Columbia) and playing that night, flying the next morning to Lima (Peru). My "job" was to be at my very best sixteen times in order to serve Beethoven or Mendelssohn (as to be at their service), as well as serve to the public Beethoven or Mendelssohn (I am also a waiter in some sort of way). All I did was Eat, Play and Fly. There really was not much sleeping involved. And yet, in many ways it ended up being much easier than the "normal" erratic concert schedule when one plays once or twice each week usually different repertoire.

I had no time (zero, nada, zilch) for anything but what I came here to do - perform B&M. No e-mails, no voice messages, credit card statements, traffic jams (we cruised through traffic with the help of the local police in Medellin and Lima), or any other 21st century improvements/distractions.  The level of concentration was at its highest, constant adrenalin, getting into the rhythm of performing. It was a continuous state of euphoria. This was one of the most rewarding music experiences I have ever had.

Performing sixteen consecutive times with the vibrant and wonderfully supportive Israel chamber orchestra under the commanding hand of the venerable conductor Yoav Talmi allowed for a degree of insight and intimacy that I have rarely felt. The possibility for experimentation and exploration, risk taking and stretching the boundaries was enormous.

* Should I launch onto and bring out the dramatic side of Beethoven right at the opening statements of the concerto, or should I play with a Mozartian elegance and leave the dramatic aspect more to the outrageously daring Cadenza?

* How far can I push the limits of the operatic scene in the second movement of the Beethoven? Perhaps each day I can give the role to a different singer?

* Can I totally change each appearance of the Rondo theme of the third movement, or should I "try to get closer to how my inner-ear would like it to sound" as my legendary teacher Leon Fleisher would have said?

* Can I really joke around in the last movement of the Mendelssohn concerto, while even adding a few ornaments?

* How about giving the First movement of the Mendelssohn a Lisztian flair?

All these questions and countless more were "up for grabs" or rather "up for trying out". What ecstasy!

Feeling at home on the stage, challenging and being challenged by the warmth and wit of Maestro Talmi; Making chamber music with the whole orchestra; And above all, being proven yet again that Music has a power of communication like no other. The music of Beethoven and Mendelssohn have not only transcended time and survived over centuries, it has also transcended place and touched the people of Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador or Columbia, just as profoundly as in any other parts of the world. We all witnessed it, and were privileged to have taken a role of ambassadors - ambassadors for music, for dialogue, for friendship, for multi-culturalism.

At the beginning of the tour I was excited every day we had a concert. As we approached the end. I got excited when we had a day off...

Now, it is time to move on, but I want to linger just a little longer. I want to savor the moments, perhaps even write about them, talk, share, and most of all start dreaming about the next tour.

Alon Goldstein

In front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City with the whole orchestra and Yoav Talmi

Inside the hall warming up just before the concert

My second visit to see Il Sistema in action in Guatemala City, Guatemala

The add for the concert in Teatro Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica

In front of Teatro Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica

This (and the concert) is pretty much what I remember from the 12 hours we spent in Medellin, Columbia

OK... I did not just perform (Lima, Peru)

A sign for our performance in Guayaquil, Ecuador

With Yoav Talmi in a moment of profound concentration

The beautiful hall in Cordoba, Argentina during the second half of our concert

Teatro Colon at night - This is It!

In action - Tearto Colon

I had to add one more

Four hands encore with the multi-faceted maestro

Teatro Solis in Montevideo, Uruguay

One last goodbye together in Montevideo, Uruguay (after the concert)

Sunday, May 6, 2012


One of the most monumental yet enigmatic works of the nineteen-century is the 24 preludes op. 28 of Frederic Chopin. It puzzled as well as fascinated the most celebrated musicians including people like Schumann and Liszt. Is it one work, or are these 24 little miniatures? Should it be played as a whole? Does it have an exposition, a development, any climax, goal, and resolution? 

Chopin's preludes re-examine, re-shape, re-evaluate (and more) common notions or expectations so to speak, as we delve dip into the Romanic era. Sensuality of sound; what constitutes a melody; rhythmic complexities; textural transparency; are all but a little teaser to what this epic work has to offer. It is the culmination of an era and at the same time the foundation of what is to come. 

Here are 24 thoughts – some pre-thoughts, some middle-ones and some after-thoughts - about the 24 Preludes of Chopin:

 1) First of all Chopin liberated the Prelude from the… Fugue! Similarly, he liberated the Etude from being a mere exercise or the Scherzo from being part of a larger work. There were predecessors, but he was by far the most masterful.

 2) These are Preludes then, but to what? Well, the first one is probably a prelude to the second one. The third one is a prelude to the forth one. But is the second one a prelude to the third? Can we also say that the first twelve as a whole are a prelude to the succeeding twelve? I certainly feel that.

 3) Are all the 24 preludes??? No. 23, the penultimate one has the flair of an "after-lude" in my opinion. No. 15, the famous one with the nickname "raindrop" feels very much like a "middle-lude", being the center of gravity in the cycle. Hence the reason that I called this entry "Pre-ludes, Middle-ludes, After-ludes".

 4) Bach's "Goldberg Variations" among MANY things, is also a study of baroque dance genres, as each variation explores a different dance genre of the high baroque era. I would like to make a similar proclamation and say that to a large extent the 24 preludes are also 24 studies of 24 dance genres as well as other nineteen-century salon pieces that were common (more or less) in the Romantic period. We can find a barcarole (no. 13), a Nocturne (no. 15), Fantasy-Impromptu (no. 8), an elegy (no. 4), a funeral march (no. 20), a Polonaise (no. 6) a mazurka (no. 7) and etude (no. 19) etc.

 5) Staying with Bach… when the great master wrote his B minor Mass he was approaching the end of his life. Writing a grand Mass for his legacy was of highest importance for him. Perhaps there was something of a "legacy" also with Chopin's decision to write 24 Preludes in all 24 major and minor scales – a large scale work that will encompass not only the eternity of music but of humanity in a sense. An emotional journey with the widest of range from triumph to despair, great struggle to euphoria, anger to ultimate sweetness etc.

 6) In 1834 Robert Schumann founded the New Journal for Music. His first review was written about a little known polish composer by the name of Frederick Chopin and started with the words "Hats off Gentleman, a genius". Five years later even though Schumann still admired Chopin greatly, he had this to say about the preludes: "The preludes are strange pieces... They are sketches, beginnings of Etudes or so to speak, ruins, eagle wings, a wild motley of pieces... He is and remains the boldest and proudest poetic mind of the time. The collection also contains the morbid, the feverish, and the repellent. May each search what suits him; may only the philistine (dilettante) stay away." be continued with the words of Liszt and others in the next entry.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Questionnaire to Share

I was recently asked to be a featured artist in a publication. I needed to answer the following questions:

1) What or who inspired you to want to be an artist?
2) What was was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?
3) What do you need as an artist today?
4) What creative project are you working on now?
5) Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?
6) What does it mean to you to be an Israeli artist?
7) What does it mean to you to have an organization like AICF available in the art world?

This is what came out:
1) Looking back, trying to re-live those early days when music became an integral part of my life, it was my late grandfather who first opened the door for me into the world of music. I was always drawn to interesting, multi-faceted people. My late grandfather was such a person – a painter, an accomplished violinist as well as a pianist, and a great actor who could impersonate Charlie Chaplin brilliantly. In other words, he was an artist in the true sense of the word. Every minute with him was filled with music and stories. Many of the stories were of survival during World War II. Throughout my life, the people that inspired me where the ones that were multi talented, larger than life, charismatic figures. Another such person was the composer / violinist / author and educator Ben Zion Orgad, to be further elaborated later on.

2) The creative journey that brought me to where I am right now involved on the one hand events, while on the other hand people that I met. When I was 17 years old I heard a concert in which Zubin Mehta conducted young soloists. I was so moved by the whole event. It energized me with tremendous ambition to be the next young soloist that the maestro will invite. That manifested itself in my commitment to practice harder every day. The following year I got my wish.
In the earlier question I mentioned Ben Zion Orgad – together with Leon Fleisher, both figures shaped my musical thinking enormously. When Ben Zion Orgad gave me his newest piano piece, a Toccata, asking me to add all the dynamic and interpretative markings, he elevated my level of awareness of what I do and why, to levels that I did not experience before. And when Leon Fleisher asked me to “direct his ear to what he should listen for”, before I played for him, whether it was Schubert or Chopin, he taught me to teach myself.

3) There are many things that I feel I need as an artist: My family and my friends above all – my support team. I also need time – time to explore, to ask questions, to succeed as well as to fail. I need peace and quiet that allows me to concentrate. I need “Godot” – something that constantly challenges and stimulates me to wake up the next day and run to the piano. I need to see a good play, a good movie, take a beautiful scenic road… and oh, I almost forgot, I also need a glass of red wine with a few lamb chops.

4) One of the creative projects that I am working on right now deals with creating a mega work out of two enigmatic monumental works. One of the most important, yet difficult to understand, solo pieces of the 19-century is the 24 preludes by Chopin. Even Schumann’s review of this work was quite elusive in its praise. I am in the process of inserting into these 24 jewels the 11 miniatures called ‘Musica Ricercata’ by the 20-century composer Gyorgy Ligeti. I strongly believe that music makes infinite number of connections, just like our brain. The juxtaposition of the raw passion of Chopin with the somewhat “scientific” passion of Ligeti fascinates me, and I hope will shed new light on the essence of these wonderful works. I am also working on another project - to record the two Mendelssohn concerti with the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the wonderful conductor Yoav Talmi.

5) During the past year two major trips - one to China and the other to Guatemala - shaken my musical journey to the core. In both cases children where involved. In China, witnessing in each concert I gave the attendance of hundreds of kids was absolutely incredible. In Guatemala I was introduced to the "Il Systema" program, which takes children from poor areas and give them a sense of purpose, a sense of identity and pride through a classical music program ages four till twenty. This daily program (five hours each day) includes singing, building instruments, playing them and ultimately performing in the children’s neighborhoods. I hope that in ten years my career will somehow be linked with these sorts of inspiring experiences, all of which are connected with education through music.

6) An Israeli artist is an ambassador! This is a great responsibility, which I embrace with all my heart. It is a responsibility to show the immense creative power that emerges and is cultivated in the land of Israel. Once, following a concert with the Rhode Island Philharmonic orchestra I was asked to shed light on the possible reasons that despite constant security issues and existential threats Israel is still able to produce so many wonderful artists. My answer was that perhaps this is our way to bring sanity and hope to an otherwise a very sad situation. Maybe it is a retreat. We need that and you need that. Together, with the help of Beethoven and Brahms we will succeed.

7) To have the America Israel Cultural Foundation in the art world means first and foremost to have a family – one that gives you the love and support you need as well as the faith that you can fulfill your potential. The AICF is also a hub for ideas to explore, for friendships to make and for opportunities, which you are given. It is also a place with experience that will always be happy to share an advice. Combining all that together for over seventy years, they have had a central role in the development of some of today’s most beloved and successful artists. I have the privilege to say that I belong to this family.

Alon Goldstein