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)
And, here is another link solely from the perspective of the organist   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."


Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 3, 2015


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   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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Best Plans. . .

A week ago I was in the midst of rehearsing Dvorák's 7th  Symphony  - a truly  wonderful work full of exuberance and drama. It is my favorite of all the Dvorák symphonies,  unfortunately performed too seldom. So, I was very happy to have the chance after many years to reacquaint myself with this work. With all of Dvorák's beautiful melodies in my mind,  I had also developed a mental outline for a corresponding blogpost full of colors inspired by the rich harmonies and rhythms, especially in the symphony's  third movement. This recording my not be the best of them all, but I chose it because the conductor, Jose Serebrier is married to a distant cousin of mine - a shirttail relative!

And then came Friday evening and the events in Paris. . . . I won't dwell on this subject here; we have heard the news and listened to the editorials and politicians and read the many facebook comments. It is over, but the effects will be with us for a very long time.

My art selection this week isn't something new - I rather wanted to choose a painting that exudes calm peace. I hope the world can find it, too.

Winter Cranes

Monday, November 9, 2015

November in Liebenberg

Schloss Liebenberg
Indian Summer may be an American phenomenon, but we here in Germany are experiencing  a wonderfully mild and extended autumn that is every bit as beautiful as those in New England; it is pure luxury to be able to leave  winter coat and gloves in the closet in November. The geraniums and asters in my window boxes are still producing blossoms and defying the calendar. Until yesterday there were even several half ripe strawberries in my sunniest window garden; I was entertaining thoughts of  homegrown strawberries on Thanksgiving . . . until the local squirrel found them. I hope he enjoyed this unexpected delicacy.

On one of the sunny afternoons this past week I took a drive just north of Berlin to visit Schloss Liebenberg. In one month's time, the courtyard of this little castle will be transformed into a beautiful Advent market with stands offering all sorts traditional decorations, handicrafts, art (yes, KlangArt, too) culinary treats and music.
It was not the typical November afternoon!

The fresh air, mild temperatures and glorious colors have had their effect on my watercolor palette,  too. Where I ought to be concentrating on snowmen, angels and winter scenes for the upcoming Advent market season, I've instead spent my time painting the warm tones of autumn sunsets and foliage.
Autumn in the Air

As I was leafing through an old calendar today, I ran across something I had scribbled on the page - a thought from John Cleese that was important to me then - and no less pertinent today.

"Nothing will stop you from being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake."

Saturday, October 31, 2015

October Glow

I think the forces of nature have had a conference and decided to concentrate all their efforts on this last day of October and make it the most fabulous of autumn events. The bluest of blue skies and sunshine galore have made the last show of colorful leaves a real painter's dream. Even the maples (that theoretically do not turn red here in Europe) have done their best to prove science wrong. Needless to say, my afternoon walk was pure joy. The temperature is even mild enough that I could enjoy browsing through a neighbor's yard sale - I love these little treasure hunts and forays into remnants other worlds. The follow up is, of course, bringing the new acquisitions - a book or a basket or a little dish - home and making them fit into one's own surroundings.
Autumn Aspens
Just a week ago, the tables were turned as I was at the midpoint of Open House weekend in my KlangArt studio - a grand event, made so by the many friends, art lovers and customers who took the time to drop by for a visit. There were many interesting conversations as well as comments on my artwork and my architecturally distinctive apartment. As an artist, the most rewarding moment of such an event comes when someone expresses interest in a specific painting - enough to want to buy it and be able to look at it and rediscover it daily in their home. . .  to make it fit into their own personal world.  My heart smiles.

My closing thought comes as I listen to the daily news on the radio:

       "The job of an artist is to offer a sanctuary of beauty to an otherwise ugly world."
                                                                                                             Jeff Goins
Between Day and Night

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Open House in October

The days really seem to fly by. I know, it is a common plaint that there are never quite enough hours in the day . . . . ahh. . . I'm thinking, though, that just yesterday it was late summer and today the calendar says mid October - and I still haven't had the opportunity to go for a long walk in the woods and shuffle through the fallen leaves. I'm reminded of years of raking, cleaning up the garden, even burning leaves at streetside and kids jumping into leaf piles. Memories are wonderful, aren't they?

Outdoor activities have been kept to a minimum this week in Berlin for a couple of reasons. First, the weather hasn't been cooperative and, more relevant for me, preparations for the upcoming open house in my studio have kept me busy.
OK. . . .This chaos in the studio is merely a sign of the creative process (please don't laugh). By Saturday it will all be orderly. In the meantime, there is a lot of painting, matting and framing to be done. This is my labor of love - not to be traded for anything. I can only hope that my endeavors connect with the visitors in my studio this weekend. Amen.


If you are in Berlin this weekend, you are most welcome to drop by the studio; all are welcome. It will be a grand event.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rubenstein and "Inktober"

Autumn is upon us. During this past week in Berlin we have experienced the full palette of late summer molting into fall. Today the sun shone in its full October beauty, making the colorful leaves - dancing in a light wind - a joy to watch. Somehow, I never tire of gazing out of my window on an autumn day. The neighborhood squirrel is busy gathering walnuts and building a warm nest; the chickadees and jays chase each other and seem to vie for the best places on a special treebranch.

Ah, yes, I have been tending to business, too. There is an upcoming Open House in my KlangArt studio in two weeks, so preparations are in full swing - including everything from painting, matting and organizing to doing some publicity and even a bit of housecleaning! As I tell my students, discipline is the key . . . not always easy. I do have my tricks, though, to make the work flow a bit easier; I could do as the seven dwarfs did for Snow White and "Whistle while you Work"  (no link here), but I've decided instead to listen to some other old favorites - Artur Rubenstein playing Chopin.  I've chosen the Ballade #4, but there are many recordings available, and they are all worthy of a listen. For me, this rendition is comparable to donning those old sneakers that are SO comfortable, even though they may not be the most stylish. Pure music.

I guess I have to relate my personal experience with the master Rubenstein . . . I was privileged to hear him once live in a concert in Rochester, NY. As a very tiny, elderly gentleman walked onto the stage, I was taken aback. Was this really the GREAT Rubenstein? From the moment he sat down at the piano, there was no doubt in my mind. Fantastic. It was a program of Chopin;  undoubtedly also for Rubentstein himself "old sneakers." I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time.  There were more than a few notes that Chopin himself didn't compose in this recital, but the rendition was magic; there was music in every phrase. I'll never forget it.

My painting this week has been concentrated on ink work. There is a friendly challenge for artists to observe "Inktober" by doing an ink drawing per day for the whole month of October. So. . . I have made my liberal interpretation of this project and am happily producing small ink sketches daily. Some of them will undoubtedly also be matted and will find their way to the upcoming Advent markets.


My thought for the week relates (amongst other things) to these small scale, quick sketches.

"There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Good bye, September

I have been thoroughly enjoying those last bits of September sunshine and warmth here in my birds- nest studio. The air is especially clear and fresh - makes my watercolors seem more vibrant than usual. The first tinges of color are coming to the trees; it is a time when I like to close my eyes and remember the fantastic reds and oranges of the sugar maples in western New York - these are shades that can't be duplicated by the European maples.

A squirrel has been visiting my window regularly - burying his treasure of walnuts in my window boxes. He is fascinating to watch.  I've often wondered if the animals really remember where they deposit their food stash. If there is a walnut tree sprouting at my window in the spring, I guess I'll have the answer.

The cat is, of course, also very interested in our visitor. Squirrel seems to know that there is no immediate danger and goes about his business as usual, while Snoopy is both mesmerized by the action and frustrated by the combination of proximity and distance.

With all of the harbingers of autumn at my window, I've been prompted to continue using a palette of similar colors in my paintings - ocher and gold, red and cadmium orange and with crispy, clear ink outlines. There is no attempt on my side  to imitate all that is going on outdoors; it is my personal translation of the September atmosphere. Great stuff!

Barberry and Rose hips

Elements - the colors of September

And, of course, the week would not be complete without a bit of good music. My "discovery" is a group called Time for Three. Granted, they have been around for a number of years, but somehow had escaped me until recently. I'm most impressed by their virtuosity and inspired by their musicality. Here is a clip with Joshua Bell as guest artist -
Have fun listening!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

September Sun

We all like to think of September as being a month predominated by those lovely lingering moments of late summer with warm and sunny afternoons followed by crispy nights. Here in Berlin, we have lately been denied these pleasures; grey skies and daily precipitation have predominated over our weather for the last week. It has really been a bit too cool and grey.

My counter-offensive is two-part. I'll admit that I've spent quite a bit of time sitting at my window and watching the clouds scudding by. It is quite a show, with a full range of clouds from the darkest rain clouds to clear cerulean blue autumn sky in the shortest time span. Great.

When the sky is grey and I'm tempted to dig out a wool sweater to keep my shoulders warm, I tend to turn to the brightest colors in my watercolor palette for some artificial warmth. Sunshine is the topic of choice, so I've been painting sunflowers galore.  The medicine works and here are a couple of the products of my work week.

Pitcher of Sunshine

Golden Greeting

And, of course, there is a thought for the day. . . . from Picasso.

"Art washes the dust of our everyday lives from the soul."

I'd like to extend that thought to music, too . . . . 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Old Friends

I took the day today for a trip from Berlin to Wernigerode. For those of you who might not be up on your German geography, Wernigerode is a 2 1/2 hour drive southwest of Berlin and on the edge of the Harz Mountains. This is a route I have taken many times over the years, though not recently. As I turned off the highway and had the first view of the soft hills in the distance, there was indeed my moment of recognizing an old friend. The colors in the fields and trees and villages change from season to season but the shapes in the landscape are wonderfully familiar - and my car knows each turn in the road. Needless to say, I enjoyed the drive.

While driving I listen to the radio, and was pleasantly surprised to hear another old friend - Mozart. Having a good 40 years of orchestral experience under my belt, the Mozart symphonies are no strangers. Number 28 isn't as well known as the later symphonies but as a seasoned second violinist, I've come to appreciate the last movement of this symphony especially - no boring accompaniment here - lots to play and lots of fun. (The joy of singing along in the car is also not to be underestimated.) In this recording, the presto movement starts just after 19 minutes   Enjoy!

The underlying reason for my trip today was the delivery of paintings to a shop in Wernigerode where I have had my work on display for several years now.The pieces I brought with me are all new works, but portraying subjects that are indeed old friends - sunflowers and poppies.  I have painted these flowers untold times, but each time anew. As in nature, no two flowers are alike - love it! This time I started with patches of color and added contours with India ink. Granted, the technique is not new, but it was a new approach to the subject for me.

But then, isn't that the special quality of an old friend? Something old, something new, a trusted familiarity in a new situation - an old sneaker with a new insole - a new twist to the spaghetti bolognese. And, yes, I also had a couple wonderful conversations today with dear old friends. It has been a lovely day.

"Towering Poppies" and "Sunny Side"

September's Best

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A New Start

There is something daunting about a new start - a new day, a blank piece of paper, the minute before a performance begins or embarking on a totally new project. It is a moment of expectation, maybe trust and quite possibly a bit of magic, too.

And now, in September, we are starting a new concert year, school has just begun and we are experiencing a first taste of autumn. Consider autumn as a beginning instead of the end . . .

Aside from welcoming all my violin students back after the long summer break, I have also had my first new musical experience of the season; I played a very interesting program last week with the Preussiches Kammerorchester - music of Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki, Jean Sibelius and Peteris Vasks. Granted, the names of the composers are not unknown, but there was not a single piece on the program that I had previously played. Exciting! After over 45 years of orchestral experience this is rare.
Here is a link to Sibelius' "Rakastava." Maybe it is something new for you, too.

And here is something new from my watercolor studio

Someone Laid an Egg

One last "new" thought for the day:

"And suddenly you know that it is time to start something new
 and to trust in the magic of a Beginning."
                                                                                                  Eckhardt von Hochheim