Domenico Scarlatti and trills!

What would our precious Domenico be without his Baroque era adornments, embedded trills, heart-throbbing melodies in gypsy, folkloric framing!

And who can overlook the flamenco guitar, rhythmic castanets and tambourines in full keyboard orchestration under Portuguese and Spanish royal influence.

Yet the very first Scarlatti sonata given to me by my beloved NYC mentor, Lillian Freundlich was in the form of a Pastoral, flooded with trills in peaceful progression.

Without crossed-hand challenges, or excitable virtuosic displays,
the well selected D minor, K. 9, L. 413, demanded an awareness of a well-contoured soprano line interspersed with upper-neighbor generated, wavy repercussions. How many repercussions within a trill rendering, (explored in Ralph Kirkpatrick’s editions and writings) was not my mentor’s priority. She was instead concerned with the “singing tone” and how to make the trills as well-shaped as the underlying melody. From her perspective, “fast melody” was the best way to understand their “wavy” passage with a leaning toward the upper note.

Chopin, like my Scarlatti-adoring mentor, revered the composer’s sonatas or essercizi (550 approx.) in part, as a vehicle to cultivate a beautiful singing line.
The Romantic era pianoforte poet also believed that in faster framings, the keyboard school of virtuosity, on full display with large crossed-hand leaps, trills, and varied combinations of legato/staccato passages, should never mask a well-crafted melodic line. In short, amidst daredevil pyrotechnics in presto or vivace, the soul of the composer must emerge. (Chopin is known to have insisted that his pupils study Scarlatti’s body of works.)


As I humbly revisited my tattered Friskin edited collection, I hearkened back to my very first exposure to the composer’s D minor Pastoral.

With trills in mind, I shared a few epiphanies.


In this particular Sonata in G, Scarlatti enlist trills mostly at cadences while fleshing out his signature echo phrases through streams of rolling triplets.

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)


Delightful “Primary” Level Repertoire for Teachers and Students

A few years ago, I recorded a set of the most charming tableaux from Alexandre Tansman’s Pour Les Enfants, thinking the composer had surely reached a peak of immeasurable poetic expression in his “Very Easy” volume 1.

In truth, the contents could not be described in such Primer-like terms, because each miniature had built-in technical and musical challenges that far surpassed its labeled level. Given my less than rigid pedagogical perspective, I inevitably shy away from such an “easy” classification of music, preferring to examine compositions for their teaching value as applies to a diversity of students with varying needs.

Nonetheless, in my ongoing pursuit of custom-fitting repertoire for my beginning pupils who have at least mastered note-reading skills, and have had some exposure to one octave scales in legato/staccto around the Circle of Fifths, I serendipitously sprang upon Tansman’s Happy Time, “Book 1 Primary.” Its 4-line pieces which are less complex than Pour Les Enfants 1/ (Though there’s crossover value between the two albums) afford a panoply of colors, articulations and moods, with many having Ostinato bass lines (repeated bass patterns), against soulful melodies. The structure of these compositions, readily absorbed as binary and ternary forms, provide an important dimension of learning that enlarges melodic and harmonic contouring.

To summarize, within both early Tansman volumes, there are a repository colorful character pieces that synthesize technical and musical goals. Likewise, composers such as Kabalevsky (Op. 39 Children’s Pieces), and Tchaikovsky (Op. 39 Pieces for Children) had the same aim, but the latter, had tread into more advanced territory than what is contained in Tansman’s early Happy Time and Pour Les Enfants collections.

In short, the Introduction to Happy Time, Primary level, well describes the composer’s intentions.

“..Tansman devoted himself to the idea that learning piano need not be drudgery. It can be interesting, vital, and musically alive while accomplishing a teaching technique in a progressive sequence for the piano student.” (Paraphrase)

About Tansman

Born in Poland, 1897, Alexandre Tansman emigrated to Paris, France in 1920 where he composed most of his works. “From the first song to the last in Happy Time, the composer holds the musical interest of the student with his modern harmonies and dissonances while he brings into play suggestions of modern rhythms.”

In my overview of this “Primary” framed collection, I demonstrate wrist rolls to realize legato groupings of notes through various measures, particularly in sequences. And with my identification of Ostinato bass lines, I amplify their harmonic transit ( Arabia), in their underpinning of a captivating melodic line. In the same vein, I’ve discovered generous opportunities to flesh out forms of counterpoint (in an expressive, lyrical genre) through a process of structural examination (inversion of voices, for example) Finally, sequences (previously mentioned) that are central to the composer’s music with their ascending intensification, or descending relaxation become pivotal to beautiful phrasing and interpretation. In conclusion, all these elements of Tansman’s music afford a deep and pleasurable immersion that lends itself to heightened teaching and learning.

Selections from Happy Time 1 with my commentary

Two additional samples from
Tansman’s Pour Les Enfants (“Very Easy”) Take this labeling with a grain of salt.


from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

A bedazzling Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition 2019!

I’m reluctant to compare the rise of younger and younger athletes to Olympiad performance levels, with pyrotechnic displays of pianistic virtuosity at the Cliburn International Junior Competition, but we’re witnessing an era of precocious technical development in our piano playing universe. Just perusing a set of filmed profiles that are featured lead-in’s to 23 Preliminary Round teen performers between 13 and 17, it’s apparent that most began studies at 3 or 4 years old, forming an essential physical bond to the piano that was furthered by strong “musical” mentoring. As a collective, these adolescent phenoms have CV’s that encompass first place showings in numerous world competitions.

Representing 11 countries including Hong Kong, Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Russia, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Canada, and the USA, (with three dual representations), entrants have displayed individuality in their interpretations of works from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Contemporary eras, even as numerous repetitions of the same compositions are a bi-product of pre-designated Cliburn posted repertoire. (Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante; Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 10, No.3, and Preludes/Fugues from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier have enjoyed diversely expressive renderings.) Of note, all players have demonstrated signature poise, concentration, and total immersion through their performances–a testimony to their remarkable artistic maturity.


According to the official Cliburn website posting, The Junior Competition will consist of four rounds that will take place at Southern Methodist University, Dallas Texas. (May 31, 2019–June 8, 2019)

“A PRELIMINARY ROUND—23 pianists, each performing a 20-minute recital to include a virtuosic étude and one three- or four-voice Bach Prelude and Fugue.

“A QUARTERFINAL ROUND—14 pianists, each performing a 30-minute recital to include the first or last movement of a Classical sonata (some restrictions will apply).

“A SEMIFINAL ROUND—6 pianists, each performing a 40-minute recital (to include one large work of at least 18 minutes in length and a contemporary work) and one concerto movement with piano accompaniment (movement to be selected by the Cliburn).

“FINAL ROUND—3 pianists, each performing one complete concerto with orchestra.

“The first-prize winner will receive a cash award of $15,000; second prize is $10,000; and third prize is $5,000. All three top prizes will also include scholarships, and community residency and mentorship opportunities with the Cliburn. Other special prizes will be announced in 2019.”


At SMU’s acoustically reverberant concert hall, 6 Semifinalists will share their 40 minute recitals BEAMED LIVE on the Web at starting Wednesday, June 5, at 2:20 p.m. (Central Daylight Time)

Finally, as enticement to the upcoming array of performances, I’ve selected two favorite recitals that were presented during the Quarterfinal Round. Not surprisingly, both featured young artists have progressed to the Semifinals.

J J Jun Li Bui Age 14, Canada (A particular treat: Liszt’s Gnomenreigen–at 13:16)

Eva Gevorgyan Age 15, Russia/Armenia

(All recitals are recorded and posted on You Tube for easy access.)

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Seymour Bernstein’s legacy to piano students and teachers

When my blog well runs dry, I have only to draw on a reservoir of wise words from pianist/teacher/author/composer, Seymour Bernstein.

And if replenishment is an overarching need coupled with inspiration, this referenced interview provides both in bucketsful.

Intro: In 2018 Seymour had the honor of being guest artist at the Young Artist World Piano Festival held in St. Paul, Minnesota where Autumn Zander, a faculty member and an editor for the European Piano Teachers Association interviewed him.

In a compelling exchange that preserves some “colloquialisms for spontaneous flow,” Seymour insists that among many publications, “this one comes closer to the person I really am.”

Besides a pervasive, running theme that bonds Bernstein to the joy of making his students “feel better about themselves” through their individual creative journeys, he explores a world of practicing, learning and growing that has a strong philosophical underpinning.

To this end, I’ve extracted a few choice quotes that will surely elicit nods of recognition among piano lovers everywhere.


(Paraphrase) In the arena of “mistakes” that piano students will obsessively focus on, giving authority to “note perfect” you tube performers and recording artists whom they try to “emulate,” Bernstein provides a reasoned reply.

Well, you see, that becomes a thing in itself. “I musn’t make a mistake” and if I make mistakes along the way in saying something, I have to deal with those mistakes–and see to it that they disappear–but not at the sacrifice of saying something. In fact, I’m going to leave in the mistake because what I’m saying is powerful, and too bad, I’m human. (my emphasis)

Seymour’s “human” framing of his creative process filters down to his students in an interaction that promotes emotional well-being and growth. His mentoring fosters the belief that practicing has a direct application to life.

Bernstein: “We have to determine what goes on during productive practicing. It is a process of integrating our emotional, intellectual and physical worlds…Having achieved this integration through the practice of music, we would be foolish to leave it behind when we leave the piano. Our responsibility is to pay attention to how such an integration feels, and project that feeling into every activity of life.

“For example, we learn to listen to our inner voice when we practice and be sure that the instrument is reproducing what we hear internally, so we should speak to people and interpret what they say with the same discrimination and sensitivity.”

Streams of Bernstein’s inspiring words flow throughout his interchange with Autumn Zander.

“Finding your spiritual reservoir and inner voice steers you, and when you leave the practice room, you take that sense of whole integration with you.”

One of my favorite you tube postings by Seymour Bernstein is a treasured fusion of music and words that deepens the meaning of the pianist’s artistry, life’s work, and legacy. It’s the perfect Coda to the pianist’s captivating interview!


from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Piano posture, keyboard transit, floating arms and more

Our Bodies and the Piano might be a Millennial companion to Our Bodies, Ourselves. It can take the subject of our physical relationship to the pianoforte out of closeted neglect.

If we turn back the clock to our earliest lessons, perhaps few of us can recall specific directions or advice about how to sit at the piano; how to “lean” in either direction toward the highest and lowest keyboard range while maintaining “balance;” how to direct our eyes when playing scales in contrary motion. These very basic fundamentals of playing may have been inadvertently overlooked, given short shrift, or blended into a blissfully ignorant environment.

Sadly, we didn’t know what we were missing.

With a congenial neighborhood teacher taking on a stream of beginners, it may have been ample for little Johnny or Jane to climb onto a bench, landing left or right of center, and with bundled energy caper in the direction of notes out of reach at either keyboard extreme. The “dance” along the bench was even considered cute at student recitals, where a fledgling barely escaped a plunge downward as the piece faded off into the highest octave. Yet, in a child-like spotlight, draped in unconditional love, a pupil surviving 3 minutes of playing on a tightrope was to be commended!


Disclaimer: I’m reassured that in most Russian music schools, where very gifted children have been singled out for training in preparation for competitions and concert careers, that a beginner is well indoctrinated from the start with directives related to posture, body movement/alignment, relaxation techniques, floating arms, supple wrists and much more. It’s a tribute to this teaching culture, that a ravishingly produced “singing tone” is a blend of beautiful choreography and attentive listening.

In the USA, many prep schools such as those under the auspices of Juilliard, the New England Conservatory, etc. as well as dual public/private sponsored institutions such as the Special Music School/Kaufman Center in NYC, will likely instruct students at all levels of comportment, placing the very foundation of musical art in the forefront of early pedagogical exposure.

Still, many of us who have progressed from lessons with our neighborhood teacher to more advanced studies with mentors affiliated with local music schools and Conservatories, can attest to a void that followed us for far too long.

Therefore, it was with nudging from a You Tube subscriber in the Comments section, that I felt compelled to fill in gaps during my studies that might assist others with some very basic relationship issues to our beloved instrument. And the advice I was imparting to myself, mirrored to others via the Internet, clarified my own evolution on the very subject of posture, bench setting and sitting, keyboard transit, eye focus, floating arms, supple wrists, and more.

While I set out to disclose what has worked for me in a continued learning and teaching process, I know full well, that pianists of different sizes, with hands and fingers of varying lengths, might adopt varied bench distances from the keyboard, and through their experimentation, come to an individual conclusion about what works best in transit from octave to octave. At least a serious consideration of these matters is a step in the right direction. (no pun intended)

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Famous Father Girl author Jamie Bernstein delights a crowd of Lenny Lovers!

There’s an amusing family story that Leonard Bernstein’s oldest daughter shares with innumerable audiences during her book tours, and it tumbles out with perfect timing, like a fresh and spontaneous wave of a baton. (Why not? She was exposed to decades of baton plastique, a seamless legato flow of singing pulses that carried Mahler Symphonies to new heights.) Just take a listen to “LB’s” conducting archive on You Tube!

Jamie’s opener unwinds to a bustling crowd of attentive post-war baby boomers at the Jewish Community Library of San Francisco. (May 5, 2019) They know by the inflection of her voice that “something’s coming” and it might be plucked right from West Side Story.

But not yet. Maybe later.

The humor of the moment encompasses LB’s Eastern European immigrant father, Sam who refused to underwrite his son’s plea for piano lessons, expecting his first born (without skipping a beat), to take over the family beauty supply business. But being submerged in an all-embracing Old World culture that regarded musicians as wandering gypsies subsisting as paupers from shtetl to shtetl, the family patriarch was intransigent.

Jamie carefully tenders this family framed anecdote, building it by layers to a crescendo of comic relief irony.

Decades later Sam is asked why he mercilessly denied his son piano lessons.

His reply is delivered without a second thought,

“Well how would I know that he would grow up to be Leonard Bernstein?”

The crowd roars!


Jamie’s book is much more than an outpouring of nostalgic family tales that were part of Leonard Bernstein’s cultural heritage. Famous Father Daughter is a deeply gripping, and nakedly honest story of Lenny’s prolific life as conductor, composer, mentor, lecturer, Young People’s Concerts creator/narrator, raconteur, civil and human rights activist, with a built-in passionately mirrored memoir of his daughter. It’s her story as much as his and it embraces family conflicts, journeys to European culture capitals, inter-relationships with celebrities such as Steven Sondheim, “Betty Bacall” (aka Lauren Bacall), Mike Nichols, Richard Avedon, and a triangulation of LB’s marriage to Felicia Montealegre, to his art, to his family –with the complicating infusion of homosexual liaisons kept secret for a time, but gradually leaked through gossip channels to full blown exposure. (The psycho-dynamic dimension of ensuing family fracture, reconciliation, a mother’s illness causing regression, and Jamie’s own musings about psychotherapy make this tome an atypical memoir, one that Kitty Kelley would never churn out as authorized or unauthorized.)

It encompasses the various residences that the family inhabited-at the Osborne opposite Carnegie Hall, on Park Avenue, in Fairfield Connecticut, Redding Connecticut, and at the famous Dakota in the W. 70’s off Central Park–and details the trauma of John Lennon’s assassination in the courtyard of the floridly towering apartment complex. (Jamie had been madly in love with the Beatles and experienced up close the emotional aftermath of the tragedy)

In the course of her page turner, she gives frequent glimpses of her struggles to find her bearings, to garner the attention of her father amidst the excesses of his composing, studying scores, meeting deadlines in the recording studio, etc., all while he takes pills to sleep, to keep him awake, and peppers the menu with doses of Ballentine’s Scotch.

The author is unreservedly open about every facet of her life as the growing up daughter of a cultural icon, and as the oldest sibling of Alexander and Nina. She relives their bonding trio of response to the turbulence of family life and events, (within a household of adoring South American domestic help) alternating with the joys of an intellectually rich and musically abundant environment.

In the rhythm of daily living, Jamie fleshes out her father’s automatic pilot mentoring at the drop of a word, syllable, or impromptu gesture that engenders a lecture of epistemological proportion. It can be taxing at times.

The writer vividly shares her own vulnerability in the shadow of her father’s greatness when she unsuccessfully pursues a career as a pop music guitarist, lyricist, and vocalist, finally shedding a burdensome performance anxiety after her father’s death.

Ultimately, she comes to terms with an identity she’s comfortable with that ironically blends with the Centennial of her father’s birth in 1918. It’s through this devotion to re-igniting the substance and spirit of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts that she’s found her niche.

As creator, narrator, producer, director, script writer, public speaker, all in one, she’s determined to build concert audiences of the future that will revere and appreciate the Masterworks while remaining open to newly composed, adventurous music in diverse genres. Certainly, if L.B. were still with us, he’d be proud of his Famous Father Girl.

My feeling about Leonard Bernstein: The raw emotional connection to music, the choreography as conductor, the singular dedication to the composer and his intent, the intense deep-layered analysis of the score, the visceral connection to the orchestra in every performance, the diversity of his creative expression in Classical, Contemporary and theatrical realms, the heat of his total immersion and composing genius, and his limitless hunger for learning, growing and teaching made him uniquely special–A treasured gift to the world.



I can’t resist name-dropping here and there when it comes to “Lenny” and my years at the NYC High School of Performing Arts. (aka “P.A.” or the FAME school) To begin with, Bernstein’s name listed on our Board of Trustees, seduced me into accepting admission to Performing Arts instead of enrolling at the H.S. of Music & Art. (Eventually decades later, the two schools merged to become LaGuardia H.S.)

P.A. alum Gerard Schwarz who became co-principal trumpet at the NYC Phil. under Bernstein (1972) eventually ascended to conductor at the Mostly Mozart Festival, and took the helm of the Seattle Symphony for many years.

Korean pianist, Jung Ja Kim, two years my senior at P.A., was 16 when she played on one of the Young Performer segments of Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. It was a beautiful rendering of the Chopin Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor (middle movement)

Murray Perahia, one year ahead of me at school, won the Leeds Competition in 1972, and was booked by Bernstein to play the Chopin E minor Piano Concerto with the NY Philharmonic. I attended Perahia’s June 1976 performance of the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor at Avery Fisher Hall. (Bernstein conducting)

Finally, I note that L.B. engaged 80 year old Madame Rosina Lhevinne (in her orchestral debut) to perform the Chopin E minor Piano Concerto no. 1. A stunning performance!

(By a quirk of fate I had been bestowed a ticket to Lhevinne’s 80th Birthday celebration-1960- at the OLD Juilliard School well before it moved to the Lincoln Center area. With impeccable sensitivity, under Jean Morel, the pianist played the Mozart Concerto No. 21 in C. Years later, as I sat in he listening library at the Oberlin Conservatory, I discovered the very recording of this historic birthday concert!) Bravo to Maestro Bernstein for sharing the superb pianism of Madame Lhevinne as follow up to the Juilliard fete.

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)

Should pianists consult performances of others to grow their learning process?

I posed the following question to six well-regarded pianists/teachers whose responses were varied and informative.

“If after you have performed a concerto, or composition many times over, or if you are learning new repertoire, or are re-visiting works in your recital repertoire, will you search for other performances on the concert stage, (or by CD) or even by way of YOU TUBE, to further your awakening/discovery about nuances of interpretation, tempo, etc.?”

(NOTE: This particular exploration was meant to distill the common “copying” cliche that’s often echoed by music critics who berate recitalists for lacking “originality.”)

Marianna Prjevalskaya

My answer is absolute yes, I do listen to other performers playing pieces I work on, either live in concert, CD, or YouTube. When I work on a new composition, I often listen to other performers either on YouTube, Spotify or even in a live concert because I am just too curious to know how differently the same music can be interpreted. However, it doesn’t mean that I want to base my interpretation on what I heard. There is always a danger of being influenced in this way. So, perhaps I would say that I listen to others when I’ve worked on a piece significantly by myself and have already built my own interpretation. Sometimes I might disagree with what I hear, and that reinforces my own ideas, my own view of the work, or I can be pleasantly surprised and even inspired by what would trigger a deeper emotional connection to the music and also open new horizons of perception.

Beth Levin

I don’t usually like to listen to other interpretations especially in the initial stages of learning a work- I do love to discover things in the music on my own and feel somewhat certain about my own ideas before looking outward. Although recently I found a Solomon performance of the Hammerklavier sonata on YouTube that I felt compelled to visit-really snippets here and there-and found it so inspiring. His imagination, freedom and sense of color affected me deeply. I remember loving a Schnabel Op. 110 for similar reasons- but again only sneaking small sections at a time.

Seymour Bernstein

I personally never listen to performers on YouTube performing a work that is in progress. For me the challenge is to gain as deep an insight into the work as I can and not copy what I hear from others. After I have convictions about musical and technical details I find it crucial to listen to other performers. For who am I to think that I have covered all areas of interpretation, or even correct notes and rhythms? I listen to many formidable young pianists who have embarked on major careers, and I realize that they have either stopped studying with mentors, or else they are juggling too many works in their repertoire to find the time to perfect musical issues. In short, we must remain students throughout our lifetime.

Rami Bar-Niv

Personally, I do not seek other performances of pieces I play. I do not need other people’s ideas for my own interpretations.

The score is my bible (and the composer is my god).

I also do not encourage my students to consult other performances of works they’re playing/studying.
That said, one cannot interpret music in a vacuum. One first needs to be well educated in music: Study history, theory, harmony, counterpoint, literature, listen to a lot of music, go to concerts, symphony, opera, chamber music, etc.

Diana Dumlavwalla, DMA
Assistant Professor of Piano Pedagogy
Florida State University, College of Music

Yes! Absolutely. I will always search for other performances, whether they be “live” on the concert stage or as a CD recording or on Youtube. Listening to various interpretations always informs my understanding of performance practice. In order to avoid “copying,” I try to ensure that I listen to several recordings so that I am exposed to many different interpretations. It’s like listening to many sides of a political debate. It keeps one “in check” and open to other perspectives. I may also go through different listening phases as I live with certain pieces. There may be times when I want to expose my ears to many other interpretations. However, there may also be other instances when I just want to live with the repertoire by myself.

From The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog
Frances Wilson – pianist, writer, blogger and music lover

“Listening to great recordings and performances does no harm. They can inspire and inform, highlighting aspects of the score which may not be obvious from our initial study of it, sparking ideas, expanding our perspective and nourishing our perceptions of the music. We can admire the great interpretations of the music we are studying, but should never seek to imitate nor borrow from someone else’s version. Acknowledging the greatness rather than revering it can be helpful too: after all, if we continually keep the music on unreachably high pedestals, we may never actually play it, thus denying ourselves the opportunity of experiencing something truly wonderful and the feeling of being part of an ongoing process of recreation every time we play or perform the music.”

from Arioso7’s Blog (Shirley Kirsten)