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Working at Crittenden Summer Opera 2013
Mar 6th, 2013 by Andrew Kraus

This summer will be my fourth on staff as a coach at Richard Crittenden’s – Crittenden Summer Opera Workshop. More importantly, it is Richard’s twenty-sixth year doing these workshops!  And they are VERY GOOD workshops, indeed.

If you are a singer who is serious about becoming an opera singer, and you have not yet attended one of these workshops, it’s not too late to come to one this summer.  Program Director, Richard Crittenden and Associate Director, Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios have blocked and directed SCORES of opera scenes together over the years – and working with them, you will learn how to sing and act at the same time, and, as Richard says, “…to make the music happen”.

I could go on about the Directing Staff, and the other collaborative pianists and coaches – but I won’t, except to say, I am privileged to work with them and that everybody is good at what they do and will do their level best to bring out YOUR best when you choose to attend a workshop.

For more information on this summer’s programs, download the 2013 brochure here: Crittenden Summer Opera 2013 Brochure. Read even more on the Crittenden Summer Opera website here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crittenden Summer Opera 2013 Brochure

Pieces from the Golden Age of the Piano CD – The Journey, The Outcome
Aug 25th, 2011 by Andrew Kraus

Why Am I Doing This?

In 1970 when I graduated from Boston University with a number of prizes and awards for my abilities as a pianist, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a private student of David Saperton in the last year of his life.

Good as my playing was at the time, I knew, at a deep level, that there was more music in me than what I could express through my playing, and it was hugely frustrating to me.  But I did not know how to improve.  I came to find out that it was a matter of technique. Doing things in a better, more efficient way, was the answer – but where to learn, who could teach me, those were questions for which I had no answer, until…

…Anne Steinhardt, a former editor of the American Heritage Dictionary, and sister of Mary B. Davenport, one of my teacher friends in whose voice studio I did a lot of accompanying, recommended that I study with her former teacher, David Saperton, in New York. “You see, dear boy”, I remember them saying, “it’s time for you to learn to play the piano [ouch!!!] better”.

I had never heard of Saperton, nor heard his playing, though I had heard many of the greats of the time of my own coming of age, from Rubenstein to Serkin and Gillels, even a rare Horowitz performance, and even rarer one by Michelangelli.  But, of Saperton, I knew nothing.

What I can say today, is that meeting David Saperton, and working with him, was extraordinary from the initial intake audition to the detailed lessons on technique he gave me, and perhaps as important as anything else, the opportunity to hear the man play the piano in the very last months of his life.  It was luminously beautiful, and even though Mr. Saperton was near death, wrote in a handwriting that was shaky looking, walked slowly with a cane, when he played the piano, it was the playing of a younger, healthier man, infused with vitality, heart and spirit.

Listening to Saperton play was, for me, an initiation into a way of making music, and in some cases a type of music, that I had never experienced previously.  In a flash, I was transported back to the salons of the late 1920′s and early 1930′s in NYC (and Paris and other similar cities) where the Greats would gather, smoke their cigars, play the piano for each other, talk about the music. Very heady stuff for a young man such as I was at the time. Truth be told, it’s STILL very heady stuff for me.

The pieces are rarely programmed, they are usually short (3 to 5 minutes), and can be extremely difficult to play.  They take full advantage of the sonority of what we know as the modern piano. And, to meet the “cut”, they must be beautiful and “touch the heart”.  Wherever I have played them for people, the reactions have been extremely positive.  Even pianists in my audiences have come up to me after concerts, spoken well of my playing and saying things like, “I never heard that piece before. Where did you find it?”

Now, some forty years later, after much work, much study, much living, I believe that I can play the piano well enough to bring some of this sort of playing and repertoire forward from the original Golden Age of the Piano into the 21st Century, and it is, in fact, my Mission to do so.

Here is an example of a video recording of one of the pieces that will be on the CD. It was done in my studio. The pianist you can see in the picture near the top left is Leopold Godowsky, one of the greatest pianists of the Twentieth Century, and coincidentally, David Saperton’s Father-in-Law. Please note the interesting effect in the last few seconds of the piece where after I play a left hand arpeggio up the keyboard, I then move down to place my hands silently on a smaller chord, and, according to the composer’s direction, release the pedal so only that final silently played chord is heard.

What I’ll be Covering in this Series

Aside from the issue of generating the funding (roughly $6500 of which I will not get to keep a penny), to make the first CD, of what I plan to be a number of releases over the next five years,  there are a number of other things involved that I think readers will find of interest. Here are some of the topics that I’ll cover, though not necessarily in the order shown in this post.

  • Finding the right piano
  • Finding the right venue
  • Finding the right recording technician
  • Learning what’s involved in producing a CD for sale
  • Finding the right graphic artist
  • Generating the required funding
  • …and more

I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment here.

You can also find me on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Kraus-Pianist/237771946260815, and through Twitter as @IAmAPianist.

 

 

 

 

View from the Other Side of the Table:
My Experience as a Piano Competition Judge
Jan 28th, 2011 by Andrew Kraus

Although I’ve sat on many piano juries over the years as well as accompanying numerous competitors in competitions ranging from local student to emerging professional national, Sunday, January 23, 2011, was the day when I first got to sit on the other side of the table and be a judge. Katerina Zaitseva, (Russian concert pianist from Moscow now working in Rockville, MD, hailed by Fanfare Magazine “for her imaginative and colorful interpretive approach…”), served with me as the other of two judges for the “Intermediate Level” competitors in the 2011  MSMTA Gertrude S. Brown Memorial Piano Competition.  ”MSMTA” is the abbreviation for [the] Maryland State Music Teachers Association

Over the course of a full day, we heard  fifteen students play the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in G, K. 453. Fourteen performed the 2nd movement,  and eight the 3rd.  Beverly Babcock, “Resident Accompanist” at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, did the heavy lifting and accompanied all 37 performances.

Not one competitor failed to make it through to the end of their piece. Several had a memory slip, and to their credit, were able to recover and finish.  Several were over powered by adrenalin surges and had fingers that ran away or shook visibly in slow passages.  I was very impressed by the level of commitment, the intensity of purpose, that I saw in these young musicians.

Of course – not everybody was a “winner”, though all won by having the experience of perfecting their performance and playing it for a jury.

Much has been written about competition results being “fixed”, poorly run competitions, the influences of nepotism and politics on judging.

I am happy to report that I saw none of that in evidence for this competition. Hyun Park, pianist and piano teacher from Potomac, is to be congratulated for the success of her efforts as MSMTA Concerto Competition Chair.  Aside from the logistics involved with booking a facility with the right number of rooms and pianos, scheduling all the competitors, finding judges and getting their commitments, I’m pleased to report that she made sure the judges were properly caffeinated and fed.  She was also responsible for the “Adjudication Guidelines” which I cite immediately below.

1)  There are two judges working independently.  Each judge will make an independent decision on the rankings [1 to 6] on the sheet provided.

2)  Do NOT discuss among the judges your rankings.  Each judge will deliver the results to the assigned monitor who in turn will deliver them to the Chair who will compute the final rankings.

3)  If you taught a contestant either as a teacher or in a master class, please complete the critique sheet only.  Then write “Excused” on the student’s ranking sheet without assigning a ranking.  No other actions are necessary such as discussing this issue with the other judge or the monitor”.

I can report that, at least in the case of Katerina Zaitseva and myself, those guidelines were followed exactly.  Whatever the results were, though innately subjective despite the fact that we had certain specifics to consider, e.g., technique, pedaling, memory,  they were obtained fairly.

What was extremely interesting to me was this fact: for all three movements, Katerina and I named the same person as 1st Place Winner, and we did this without, in any way, communicating our preferences to each other. Further, I believe that my 2nd place choices were her 3rd place choices!

In summary, I can say with certainty, that the MSMTA Gertrude S. Brown Memorial Piano Competition is run fairly.   I have every reason to believe that those who did the judging were qualified to do so and were constructive in their written critiques.  The winners will perform with an orchestra on February 12. As Hyun Park says, “This is a special honor and experience for young students”. I agree whole heartedly. I would encourage those teachers who have students ready for the challenge of competition to seriously consider bringing this competition to the attention of those students.  Win, or lose, they will all benefit from the experience.

Tough Times in Detroit
Aug 30th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Sigh.

GM may be doing well again, but the good times are definitely not rolling for the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In fact, things are so bad that despite offering to cut their salaries by 22% the first year with additional cuts during the second and third years of their proposed contract, management has rejected the musicians’ counter offer and is playing serious hard ball.

According to the details in an email sent by “the Detroit Symphony Musicians” to interested parties:

The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra today voted to reject management’s “Final Offers.” The “Final Offers” were actually in the form of two proposals, Proposal “A” and “B.” Management stated that if Proposal “A” was not accepted by midnight August 28, it would be withdrawn and the only offer would then be Proposal “B.” Proposal “B” is more onerous than Proposal “A.”

Proposal “A” would cut the wages of the musicians by 29 percent the first year, 28 percent the second year and 24 percent the third year. In addition, there are major reductions in pension, health insurance and working conditions.

Proposal “B” would cut the wages of the current musicians 33 percent the first year, 31 percent the second year and 30 percent the third year. It would further reduce the starting salary of new hires to 42 percent less than the current minimum.

“Such a salary would make hiring the best musicians to fill vacancies even less likely.” DSO cellist Haden McKay, speaking for the musicians, said.

Wages for extra and substitute musicians would also be slashed, he said.

Both proposals eliminate current procedures which require that only the best guest conductors be engaged.

The musicians have not ignored the current economic crisis in Detroit. Their counterproposal contains cuts in salary of 22 percent the first year, with further cuts the second and third years amounting to $9 million in savings to the DSO over three years. In the third year the musicians would be earning substantially less than they earn today.

As a result of management’s failure to file notices required by the National Labor Relations Act, the DSO will now be required to continue the terms and conditions of the expired contract at least until September 23.

In addition to rejecting management’s offers, the musicians voted to authorize the union and the negotiating committee to call a strike when they deem it appropriate. “This would include any management attempt to unilaterally impose Proposal “B”, said Musicians’ spokesperson Haden McKay.

No further meetings are scheduled.

If there’s any good news in this story, at least for me, it’s that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra still exists, this in contrast to the situation in Charleston, SC, which according to the last thing I read, suspended operations(!) on April 17th this year. See my blog post here for that story.

The glass is certainly looking half, no, make that mostly empty and leaking out the bottom, these days – at least for those of us who are passionate in our love for classical music. Smaller groups like Great Noise, to name just one example of a group of very talented musicians who are surviving on a small fraction of the income paid to members of the DSO and who make very good music, indeed, are springing up even as the older, larger groups are dieing, and that’s a good thing. But you can’t play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with less than a dozen people. It might sound just a wee bit thin.

Sign of the times, I’m sure.

Sure hope things turn for the better for all of us, musicians, non-musicians, music lovers, music haters – ALL of us – soon.

And a challenge to any who read this post: If you’ve got good, or at least better news about the state of Classical Music today, use my contact page here to let me know. I’d be more than happy to share the better news!

Laying down the Music Tracks for Riuka’s “Trash the Dress” Video
Apr 19th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Recording the final titles cue at Blue House in Silver Spring
Last week marked the completion of my part in the making of Lithuanian director Tomas Riuka’s Trash the Dress promotional video. Israeli composer Erez Henya is scoring the music; popular Lithuanian singer, Vaida Genyte, is doing the vocals, and yours truly is doing the piano part.

Visuals and dialog for the video were shot on location at various places in Lithuania. Henya composed his score in Israel. The music was recorded in two places: Vaida Genyte’s part was done at a studio in Lithuania; my part at Blue House Productions, a studio in Silver Spring, MD. Final mixing and editing is scheduled to be done by Riuka in Lithuania this week with Henya in attendance virtually through Skype.

Without the internet and related technologies this video could not have happened.

How I Met the Composer
I met Erez Henya online; we became online friends; he invited me to participate in the making of the video. All of this was done without ever seeing each other face to face or even talking together over the telephone, an earlier enabling technology.

How We Prepared the Sheet Music
Erez email me Adobe PDFs of the initial versions of the sheet music. I printed and reviewed the scores, marked suggestions and potential phrasings and slurs on them, scanned and emailed them back to Erez.

The night before we were scheduled to have me go to the recording studio, we found, in reviewing the latest version of the score together, that about four measures of the music for the ending titles cue didn’t work as originally written.  By the end of our session late that night for me and very early in the morning for Erez, the problems had been fixed.

How the problems were fixed involved a fair amount of technology and couldn’t have been done without broadband internet service available to both of us. While Erez and I talked over Skype, I played alternate versions of those measures on my piano while recording them into my digital audio workstation. Those recordings were then uploaded to the other of the two computers in the room (the one with an internet connection)  and posted to a document sharing site on Google Docs. I could even hear Erez playing the clips over his computer through the microphone for Skype.

Dave Gradin at the Digital Audio Workstation at Blue House ProductionsThe Recording Session
The recording session at Blue House went off without a hitch. I listened to the click tracks provided by Erez through the headphones while playing the music from the score. The major difference from a more usual session came from the fact that the composer was “virtually” in attendance over Skype. For me it was a pleasure not to have to hassle any of the technology stuff and focus on the music making. Dave Gradin, one of the Blue House engineers, handled all that with true aplomb. We got about seven minutes of music from two different “cuts” layed down in just about 70 minutes, pretty quick from what I’m told. After I packed up and headed for lunch Dave finished up the mastering and uploaded the finished music files to the Blue House website. Total studio time was 90 minutes.

I’m not sure what the distribution is for the finished video, but I will post a link to a trailer when that becomes available. Stay tuned.

Another Story – Classical Music Sorry State of Affairs
Apr 5th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Bad News!

Another symphony orchestra appears to be heading into oblivion. According to a March 28th article on the Post & Courier web site at www.postandcourier.com, The Charleston, South Carolina, Symphony is suspending operations.

“The remaining Masterworks concert, scheduled for April 17, is canceled. Ticket holders either will be reimbursed or asked to donate the cost of tickets to the organization, [Board President Ted Legasey], said”.

Average salaries hovered around $20,000, evidently too much in today’s economy.

Comments from the local community on the Post & Courier site seem to devolve to discussions about politically conservative approaches to saving the orchestra (make the concerts more relevant, don’t rely on just a few donors, don’t take any government money) to liberal ones which involve government support and a complaint that $2M is going to be spent out of city monies to construct… a skate board park.

Sigh.

Commentary among musicians on Facebook are also polarized with the Young(er) Turks and their sympathizers pointing to orchestras as “museums” and the (presumably) older folks lamenting the loss of the museums.

Sigh.

There’s even criticism of the notion that “pops” concerts are worth anything or matter much. On that one, I beg to differ. Pop concerts where I soloed with the Mantovani Orchestra were extremely well received… in China. When I asked management why there hadn’t been a USA tour in some years, the answer was simple: “We lost money the last time. The economics don’t support it”.

So it appears that this malaise regarding the symphony orchestra might be a local phenomenon, local to the USA. I have personal experience that pops orchestras and concerts are well received in China; the same is true of Germany, and I’m told, other European countries.

So what can we conclude?

I’m not sure. There seems to be a real renaissance of interest among the young (and their proud parents) in playing in and listening to orchestral music. Competition is stiff for admission to local youth orchestras like PVYO and MCYO. This makes me hopeful that the orchestra, as an institution, but more importantly as an instrument of musical expression, will continue to survive.

It’s a complicated issue. As a working musician, I usually can’t afford to attend a concert by a major symphony unless I happen to be playing with them. The costs have gone too high.

Sorry not to have any answers today, just a lament about the continuing pressures on classical music in these difficult economic times.

The Spammers Have Found My Site, Alas
Apr 2nd, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

About a dozen “comments” from spoofed email addresses, ip addresses, fake URLs. I don’t know what I’ve done to attract their attention, but I do hope that what goes around comes around and bites them – hard.

For now, in the interest of keeping obscenities and other trash off my blog, I am forced to have a policy where I approve comments before they are posted.

Apologies to my fans and friends and other truly interested parties for the inconvenience. Any WordPress gurus who have a better way to screen out the crap, please contact me using the contact form on this site, and thanks for your help.

Schools Classical Music Programs: On the Block Again
Feb 2nd, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

Here we go again. According to an article today’s Washington Post, music programs, classical and otherwise, may be trimmed by the budget cutting axe as Fairfax County officials struggle with the impossible task of making ends meet when there just isn’t enough money to go around.

Since this blog is focused on classical music, not politics, per se, I’ll avoid political comment other than to say there’s credit and blame enough to go around – to members of both political parties, and leave it at that.

What concerns me is how often it is that the arts, including the performance arts of music, theater and dance, are considered frills to be cut when times are hard.

Me – I don’t agree.

I believe that when times are hard, aside from those perennial best sellers despite the times, booze and cigarettes, people need the arts more than ever. My Depression Era grandparents spoke fondly of going to the thee-aye-ter to see the glamorous Hollywood movies of the early 30′s. Of all the things they could have talked about with me after long lives, they valued and remembered those movie outings enough to tell me about them. And, I must confess, though far too young to appreciate it, I remember going to Rockefeller Center in NYC with them to see a move at (I think it was), the Roxie and seeing The Rockettes!

But back to classical music.

I think it would be a huge mistake to cut the programs. Surely there are other places in the Fairfax County Public School System where a little nip and tuck could save major money.

“Save the MUSIC!”, that’s what I say.

How about you?

Classical Music: Sorry State of Affairs
Jan 30th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

In an oddly headlined article in the Style section of today’s Washington Post, music critic, Anne Midgette gave all of us working in the classical music business something to think about.

I kind of knew that it was increasingly tough to “make a living” in the business.

I kind of knew that attendance at classical events (at least in the US of A) is just a tiny fraction of what turns out for performances by pop culture (isn’t that really an oxymoron?) icons like Bruce Springsteen.

I kind of knew that CD sales in general were down, and classical cd sales were a miniscule part of that market.

But until I read Midgette’s article, I didn’t know that it was as bad as it is even for classical music stars.

According to Midgette, “In early October, pianist Murray Perahia’s much-praised album of Bach partitas was in its sixth week on the list, holding strong at No. 10. It sold 189 copies. No. 25, the debut of the young violinist Caroline Goulding, in its third week, sold 75 copies”.

Yikes! Murray Perahia’s Bach Partitas sold less than 200 copies! Murrah Perahia? Puh-leez.

It must be said that Midgette focused on albums aka CDs. She didn’t mention and might not have had stats on mp3 downloads, but she’s absolutely right when she says that “If classical music can’t make money, it can’t stay alive…”, and goes on to say that, “…it’s notable that recordings appear to do worse than concert ticket sales. If everyone who attended the National Symphony Orchestra on a given night bought a copy of the same album, that album would leap to the top of the classical charts every week”.

Got a point, she does.

But I need to ask: was anyone selling CDs in the lobbies before, at intermission of, and after these orchestra concerts? Is anyone actively soliciting email addresses at these events? And what about mp3 downloads? Why not push those? Why not do a lot more “live in concert” performances and sell the resulting recordings thereafter?

This is the 21st Century. If the wonderful, magical tradition of Western Classical Music that I love so much is to survive, we, in the community of those that love it, need to find ways to reach more people more ways, to market and sell in new ways.

I believe if we take on that challenge, we have a chance to succeed.

How about you?

Mantovani 2009 China Tour!
Jan 11th, 2010 by Andrew Kraus

I know this is “old news” for now, but some of my friends and fans have asked me to write about my experiences on the tour, post some photos, etc. So, in the tradition of much earlier writers, here starts the serialized story of the tour as experienced by yours truly.

Disclaimer: the opinions and views expressed in this series are my own, and in no way are to be construed as “official” Mantovani content.

I took this photo at Pudong Airport around 2AM Shanghai, China Time, after about 28 hours of air travel, after two days with 6 hours of sleep. We flew from Orlando, then changed planes for the trans-Pacific flight in San Francisco.

After making it through customs and immigration, having my passport checked and all of that hoo-ha, I was finally IN CHINA, at least outside the quarantine area of the airport. Wallking inside the nearly deserted domestic terminal had a certain surreal quality to it – acres of polished terrazzo floors, a very strange ceiling with what appeared to be spikes sticking through it, a walk way stretching to what seemed like infinity.

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