Of all of Bernstein’s vocal works, the one I love most is “Songfest.” It was originally intended to premiere during the Bicentennial year, but Bernstein was not able to finish it in time. As a result he had to relinquish the commission. Yet he felt strongly impelled to finish the work—the idea had taken root within him. “Songfest” finally had its first full performance in 1977, and it was worth waiting for.Read More
I’ve become friends with my British colleague Julius Drake. John Brancy introduced us a few years ago, and I am always touched that Julius makes sure to see me when he’s in town. I admire him very much as an artist, and have taken to sending him occasional emails when I am practicing. The mere idea of his presence—my inner Julius, I guess you’d call it—calms me and guides me at the piano.Read More
As I deal with the current dystopia I encounter every morning on NPR, I keep thinking about the song “Slap That Bass” by the Gershwin brothers. “Dictators would be better off if they zoom-zoomed now and then,” they write. I couldn’t agree more. “Zoom zoom, zoom zoom, the world is in a mess”—but for a few minutes George and Ira make the world safe again.Read More
It just rained in New York for about 48 hours and I stayed inside for the duration. I got lots done, and my students seemed happy to have their lessons here (where they get tea, more time, a better piano, and juicier stories). But today is sunny and beautiful and I finally have to leave my aerie. To celebrate, a clip from one of my favorite modern artists, Lypsinka.Read More
Of all of today’s jaw-dropping political insanities, the fact-free, capricious dismissal of climate change strikes me as the most destructive and short-sighted. We can’t lose time, we can’t blame it on China, we can’t just tweet it away. I’ve been thinking obsessively about this Joni Mitchell classic for the past few days—“Big Yellow Taxi,” a cheerful tune with a sharp, still-timely environmental message.Read More
One tiny step for mankind: I finally finished the program for NYFOS’s Tchaikovsky concert next January. It had been about 82% done for several months, and I kept swearing I just needed a weekend to polish it off. But the longer I looked at the playlist, and the more I listened to the songs Antonina Chehovska and Alexey Lavrov and my colleague-slash-student Nikolay Verevkin had suggested, the more I waffled.Read More
I gave the recording a spin the next night. It’s called Beyond the Sky, and that it exactly where it sent me. I was bowled over by Rob’s musical prowess. People use the word “humbled” a bit too often for my taste, but that is what I felt: humbled. Rob is a master of the 88s—and a fine composer—and a modern jazz wizard (some of the tracks sound like Alban Berg with a backbeat)—and he can even play a theremin in perfect tune. “Oh, he’s a better pianist than either of us,” Michael Barrett said breezily the next day. My hackles quietly went up, of course. My motto is “Never compare, never compete,” and it has served me well. But I had taken the measure of my new colleague, and I was in awe. A breathtaking musician, and a man of warmth and generosity.Read More
There are two histories of the Rodgers family that run parallel to one another. The first celebrates the dazzling musical gifts that propelled three generations of artists, giving birth to a century of groundbreaking musicals and hundreds of indispensable songs. The second is the shadow history of three composers triumphing over tremendous adversities, some from without, many from within. Tonight we celebrate that triumph with a selection of their songs, some of them chestnuts, many of them rarities…. Notes on the Program by Steven Blier for Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel, November 1 & 3, 2016 at Merkin Concert HallRead More
The garden is mourning,
the rain sinks coolly into the flowers.
as it meets its end.
Today is definitively the first day of autumn. I cannot ignore the fact that the days are shorter, that deadlines are growing tighter, and that I never seem to have enough time to get everything done. My mood must have something to do with this endless election, which is like a 29-month pregnancy—at the end of which you might be giving birth to a monster. On days like this I need a re-set button. Bill Evans and Tony Bennett come to the rescue with a song I find very reassuring at this time of year: “You Must Believe in Spring.”Read More