Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Musings - Simple Complexity

I am enjoying the rare privilege today of spending a Sunday at home in my studio. On those days when most of the world tends to gear down, I am either heading out to play a concert or pack my artwork to present at a show or market. Today, though, I can sit in my bird's nest apartment and watch a pair of jays chasing each other from branch to branch of the plum tree in front of my window. Squirrel has dedicated his day to digging up each and every nasturtium seed I have so carefully planted in the windowboxes. But, somehow I don't even mind.

Although today is a concert-less day, it certainly doesn't mean that there is no music. I've chosen Schubert and Alfred Brendel to accompany me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?=0WDQL_X7Euk The "Moment Musicaux" are lovely, short piano pieces that, although they lack the structural development of a sonata or symphony, contain a myriad of colors and moods. (The third piece is one most of you will recognize from those childhood piano lessons.) Today they remind me of the April sky - the simple complexity of an everchanging mix of clouds and blue with periodic interruptions by passing birds.

My paintbrushes have not been idle during this window gazing. Here are a few of my "Moment Musicaux" - small and colorful pieces of April fun.

Moment Musicaux 1&2
Moment Musicaux 3


 I've mixed watercolors, ink and collage - a simple complexity - open to individual interpretation. . . What shapes do you see in the clouds?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Keep Experimenting, Keep Growing

Now that spring is really underway, we see growth and reawakening all around us. I am using all the renewal and energy that the season brings with it as inspiration for my artwork. It is time to bring on the new colors and techniques - different subject matter and materials. Using new paints on a different ground automatically stimulates the imagination and leads to new and interesting discoveries. Fun! 

Painting, Writing, Composing 
This one was a real challenge, being much larger than my usual watercolor papers and definitely outside my comfort zone -  mixed media on a sheet of heavy, brown paper, 70x100 cm.  The first layer is a collage of old sheet music (please forgive me for tearing music apart, but it all is for the sake of art) and India ink; succeeding layers are acrylic; brushed, printed and sprayed; graphite, acrylic ink and a bit more India ink applied with a bamboo pen.

Then, while the paint was still figuratively wet on this piece, I started a series of very small, postcard sized works to challenge my imagination in the other direction. These are mostly oil paints monoprinted onto washi paper (a very thin, tissue-like oriental paper traditionally used for sumi-e and calligraphy). Of the 17 pieces that I made, here are a few of my favorites - some with a few extra brushstrokes and bits of collage to round out the compositions.
Japanese Dreams
Paper Dreams

Crazy Fiddle
Crazy Sax
My musical accompaniment for all this color chaos has also been equally mixed. While I was working on the large format (we were a group of eight exploring the theme of "Workplace - between action and standstill"), there was tango music as inspiration. Here is a small tidbit, performed by friends of mine here in the Philharmonie, Berlin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHfkYgh4PS0 .
To complete the week of contrasting experimentation, my musical choice here at home has been Mozart (again). Last weekend I was part of a performance of the G minor Symphony, Nr. 40. No matter how many times I have played this piece of music over the years, it's charm and genius haven't lessened. I love being surrounded by those sounds. We had a Viennese conductor, so the interpretation was definitely different than one expects here in Berlin. Appropriately, though, I wasn't surprised to find that this older Harnoncourt version was very much like ours. 

My thought for the day came from a lovely print I found in a gift shop at the Detroit airport, where I was trying my best to stay awake and constructively use my waiting time . . . 

"Most people don't know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don't get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Trees and Tulips

At long last I've found my way back to  blogging. The past month has been a rollercoaster of events that just has not leant me the necessary peace of mind I need to write. Instead of elaborating on February's high and low points, I turn my thoughts to the sunshine pouring through my window and the advent of Spring. Birds and squirrels know what to do; I have sighted the first formations of northbound geese and signs of fresh nests. Trees start budding and we feel like opening windows to sniff the fresh air. (It really does smell different in springtime.) Furlined boots are relegated to the rear of the closet and a bunch of fresh tulips adorns my dining table.

Spring's Arrival
Without revealing my age or making any of you think about your own life span, I want to point out how we, each year, get so excited about this turn of season. No matter how many times we experience it, spring is new each and every year. Like children at Christmas, we examine the crocuses popping up through the bare ground and are amazed at forsythia blossoms defying the still very crisp temperatures.

I've been practicing my Mozart with renewed vigor and have updated the colors in my watercolor palette; ochre and Payne's Grey have given way to sap green and mountain blue.

Spring Trees
My audio choice this week was a difficult one, but only because there are so many possibilities.  I have managed to narrow the field down to two - hope they are good ones! I have long been a fan of Robert Frost (will never forget his reading at the Kennedy inauguration ) and have chosen here his renditon of "Nothing Gold can Stay." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SMwr_B4J-I

And just a small tribute to Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who revolutionized performance practice and interpretation of Baroque music - an inspiration for me since university days in Kansas!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9ClXA0b7K8


Nature's first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf's a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 
                                                  Robert Frost

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Movements

These last days have been filled with movements and motion. First, I flew from the USA back to Europe. On the first leg of the tour over western NY State I was lucky enough to have a window seat and enjoy the fantastic winter landscape below. With a cloudless sky and practically no snow, I was treated to a panorama view of the Finger Lakes and all the villages and byways I have known for so many years. The patchwork of many fields and woods - so many shades of gold, ocker, brown and green -  will certainly be a subject for future paintings.

Back in Berlin, I have been moving a lot of paint around - on paper, that is. The lack of snow has not hindered me from trying to capture a bit of winter atmosphere with ink and watercolor. Admittedly, there is no motion in this painting, simply the expectation of action that could follow. Perhaps a bird will fly or a lone hiker will appear from behind a tree; the decision is individual.
Winter Magic

Of the half dozen pictures I have started this week, my favorite (at the moment) is another ink and watercolor - pure motion.
Wind in the Sails

There is definitely wind in these sails - maybe a harbinger of spring. Aside from my play on Kandinsky, there is nothing more than imagination here.  The checkerboard, though, is a recollection of my flight over New York; the winter fields have become decoration for a sail.

Musically, I am in the midst of learning a new Mozart opera - new for me, of course. "La finta Giardiniera" is an early work, but full of tidbits that Mozart reused and developed in his later music. (There will be more on this next week!) It is stimulating to learn something new and interesting to experience the musical beginnings of a young Mozart. I will leave you with a bit of something different -  Bach's first solo sonata for violin - simply perfect. Each movement is a masterpiece of its own; I couldn't pick a favorite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etB8MAjNaz0

February Fantasy

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Home

I have just looked at the date on my last post and realized that it has been exactly a month since I last wrote. The long break was certainly unintentional - more likely a sign of my state of transit and, at least partially, a lack of internet during my weeks in China. Since my last tour of China had been 10 years ago, I was most interested in making comparisons - noting progress and changes - for better or for worse. The streets that were once filled with bicycles and pedal vehicles of all sorts are now as congested with cars as any western city. Bikes have been updated with motors and the food vendors on the streets are now electrified - I didn't see a single open fire. Rice cookers and electric steamers have replaced open coals.

Our audiences in China seemed genuinely enthusiastic; it did appear that there were more middle class listeners ( though I can't be sure) than 10 years ago. The concert halls were full, the audiences appreciated our light programs, but applauded most for our renditions of Chinese folk songs. It was a good tour.

After ten days of Chinese culture, it was very comforting to arrive in Berlin again - home . . . familiar surroundings and friends and my own empty refridgerator! The euphoria of being in Berlin didn't last long, though, as I very quickly decided to make a trip to my childhood home in western New York State. I have been here for a week now - here I have the exquisite privilege of coming home to the village and the house I grew up in. I can sit in the living room with my father and brother, sleep in the same bed I knew as a child and immerse myself in the surroundings I have known for my whole life. This is home. This is fantastic.

And, as much of the east coast of the USA digs out from a large snowstorm, we, in western NY, bathed in sunshine today and witnessed a spectacular sunset. (This may very likely be my next subject for a watercolor . . .)
Winter Sunset in Wellsville
Musically the past weeks have been dominated by the programs we presented in China - lots of "Blue Danube" and Strauss polkas . . . but also Beethoven 8. This symphony undoubtedly doesn't have the weight of the 3rd, 5th or 9th, but is still charming, full of contrast and lots of fun to play. I'm convinced that Beethoven must have chuckled while composing it. I have chosen another recording with Bernstein (he is definitely my favorite) this time with Vienna. I really enjoy watching Bernstein's expressions while conducting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cITK6WgZj4M  It may also be worth noting that this orchestra was one of the last to retain its "all male" status.
There isn't a female to be seen in the whole orchestra. Things have changed since 1970!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

24 December 2015

The stockings are hung by the chimney, the gifts are all wrapped and the sun is setting already on this spring-like Christmas Eve in Berlin. The weather has been so lovely this month, it is more like April than December. I'm wondering if the southern hemisphere is also experiencing such crazy aberrances in the seasons. Santa will be putting some roller blades on his sleigh tonight!

We will have our Christmas celebration this evening - our small family here in Berlin - and, via Skype, those in New York, too. The wonder of internet certainly has made contact over the miles so much easier. I am thankful for that. We will take time out from our otherwise constant state of "hurriedness" and "business" to enjoy the day, the year and each other before we all bustle off to our next duties. These times are so rare and so special.

Speaking of which, this message will also serve as my New Year's wishes to you all, since I will be spending the next two weeks on tour. I'll be entertaining  Chinese audiences with Beethoven 8 and other classics instead of concerning myself with ways to serve leftover turkey. (There is never any leftover stuffing, is there?) My holiday dinner will be whatever the airline serves. . . . hmmmmm.

No matter how you are spending this weekend - celebrating Christmas or otherwise - I send warmest greetings from our house to yours and wishes for a peacful, healthy and creative New Year.

I will leave this year with one last musical offering. The third symphony of Camille Saint-Saens is not particularly Christmas music, but does still have all the ingredients for being such. On top of a full orchestra there is also piano 4-hands and organ contributing to the joyous noise. Here is a recording of the last movement (actually the whole symphony is worth a listen, too)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmo30e15Bzg
And, here is another link solely from the perspective of the organist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzCN83XLZco   An audience rarely gets to appreciate the fact that the organ console is somewhere other than in the midst of the orchestra. The organist seldom has eye contact with the conductor and has to rely on other tricks to stay synchronized. . . in this case, he has a video camera and one can see how he counts! Fascinating.

"Music gives a soul to the universe,
wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination
and life to everything."

PLATO

Merry Christmas to all!


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent

Now that Advent is upon us, the first snowflakes have fallen and my first Christmas market is history, I have dug out my musical favorite for the season. As soon as I hear drums and trumpets announcing the first measures of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, I know that the holiday season is officially opened. My own recording of all six cantatas is a rather old rendition by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, but for simplicity's sake, I have chosen a newer rendition that is a bit leaner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggm0SZCWKZo   It is interesting to hear how our ideas of musical interpretation have changed over the  years. (Don't worry, I won't get into the music theory of it all!) Do have a listen and enjoy Bach's masterpiece. No matter which interpretation, it is a timeless treasure.

Here are also a few impressions of last weekend's Advent market at the Liebenberg castle.


 


 It was a good weekend  - for the visitors and vendors, too.  This coming Sunday, I'll be standing outdoors at another market here in Berlin (Mexikoplatz). It can be a chilly event, but, having grown up in New York State, I learned the benefits of heavy boots and long underwear at an early age. And I do enjoy the interaction with all the visitors, customers and friends at these markets.

I send my wishes to all for a joyous and blessed Advent.