Excellent Versus Great Piano Playing. What determines excellent piano player? Here are a few strictly musical goalposts of excellence. However, Vladimir Horowitz, pictured above, fits into the great category.
Few if any wrong notes. Preferably, none.
Adherence to the tempo, except when otherwise notated by the editor.
Following phrase marking instructions.
Adhering to dynamics (i.e. forte, piano, mezzo forte etc).
Playing the correct tempo at a steady pace.
For this blog I quote and paraphrase: Reflection from the Keyboard:The World of the Concert Pianist. It is written by David Dubal.
Excellent versus Great Piano Playing
Bar-Illan asks: What separates a very excellent performance by someone from great performances given by certain pianists? This statement touches me. I studied with Mischa Kottler. In turn Kottler studied under Alfred Cortôt in the 1920’s. Bar-Illan’s description of Cortôt’s playing places his difference out front: “What an individualist! What is it about Cortôt! -Even with all the wrong notes and variations in tempo that I simply cannot understand. Yet his performances make your heart beat faster. One can talk about timing, personality, character, tone, ability to color the music. …It is impossible to actually say what separates a very excellent performance…from one given by Cortôt, Rubenstein, Horowitz or Gould.” The difference cannot be defined, yet, it is essential to great music making. Every if both types play the music absolutely correctly, they are still “two different species.”
Mischa Kottler told me a most amusing story about Cortôt. In Paris the public loved a good bet. Cortôt also had numerous memory lapses. Everyone still loved him. However, his audiences in would actually place bets as to how many times he would forget the music. Regardless, Cortôt’s pianistic interpretations thrilled all that listened to him.
Phrases: How the Romantic Pianists Played Two Note Phrases. Two note phrases have an easy ring. After all, it’s just two notes. But easy, it isn’t. Often learning to apply the technique in practice can take a full year. That’s why I’ve provided this tutorial entitled “The Paris Piano Connection.” It contains seven essential piano techniques. All examples are excerpts from my own compositions. The music was created just for this purpose. A full manuscript of music will be available shortly as a product on DSOworks.com. The reason for the title: My instructor studied in Paris in the 1920’s under Alfred Cortot.
For the blogs, I present the techniques in distinct 7 sections. Then I feature them together in one number that I call, Twilight in A minor. This particular number I later lengthened. It is now featured as “Moonlight on the Lake:” See my numerous thumbnails on DSO.com. All presentations there are free. Each one has a full realization in the actual music. They will be available for purchase in the future. In the complete youtube video, I play 7 sections. Different techniques follow in the “two note phrases” youtube”. However, the technique in consideration is less than a minute. That’s all you need to watch. Each technique will eventually have its own blog. I offer piano lessons in Sarasota.
My Piano Technique and the Voluptuous Two Note Phrases Have Been Enjoyed At the Gasparilla Inn for the 7th Straight Year
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. I play for United States Presidents and heads of state in the winter season at the Gasparilla Inn on the isle Boca Grande. I’ve just completed my 7th year. My instructor, Mischa Kottler, prepared me for a life time career. He studied in Paris in the 1920’s. That is the reason for the Paris Piano Connection. Then he went on to study with Emil von Sauer in Austria. Sauer edited all of Brahms’s piano music. He also was a pupil of Franz Liszt. Mischa Kottler soloed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra well into his nineties. On you tube, you can hear him play Chopin’s Minute Waltz like nobody can: He plays it with double notes!
In My Set of 7 Etudes Entitled the Paris Piano Connection, I Demonstrate Classical Two Note Phrases
Ravel Has Novelty, Always in Good Taste. The Golden Encyclopedia of Music by Norman Lloyd confirms my thoughts. His music is “rarely emotional.” It is as though he wrote waltzes, minuets or sonatas with amusement or affection. Lloyd brings out his contrast with Debussy:
Debussy drew much of his inspiration from nature.
Ravel received his creative impulses from dance.
The Background of Ravel
Ravel’s mother was a Basque. That defines a region located around the western end of the Pyrenees (the part shaded red). It is on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The Bay straddles parts of north-central Spain, and south-western France.
Part of his soul was Spanish. His masterpiece, Bolero, is an affirmation. Again, we see a prime example of his affinity for dance. Here’s my favorite story. I set it up by contrast to a story about John Cage. The theme for Bolero is only 8 bars long. Its treatment by variations with orchestra is 17 minutes long. But, it builds to one of the greatest climaxes ever. In his humble manner, Ravel called it: “17 minutes of orchestration without any music.” By contrast John Cage wrote a piece of music that he calls 4’33”. It refers to the time of actual silence. Not one tone is played. You can “hear” it on youtube.
My Upcoming French Piano Concert
I am planning a full piano concert of French piano music from the late 1800’s and early 19oo’s. My instructor, Mischa Kottler, asked me to do such the concert just before he passed away. He studied in Paris under Alfred Cortot in the 1920’s. Below is a sample of him playing Chopin’s Minute Waltz.
The entries of my own concert will include the following works:
by Claude Debussy: Deux Arabesques, the entire Suite Bergamasque, Reverie. the Sarabande from Pour le Piano, Estampes, and La Cathedrale engloutie
By Gabriel Faure: Pavane
By Maurice Ravel: Sonatine
I will be arranging a date and place in the near future. It will be announced as an event on DSOworks.com. Below is a sample of the concert taken from from my upcoming Debussy CD. It is his Claire de Lune. from the Suite Bergamasque. Click on the title.
The Arabesques of Debussy: The most well-known of this limited genre are Claude Debussy‘s Deux Arabesques, composed in 1888(N0 1) and 1891 (No.2), respectively. Debussy’s view of a musical arabesque was a line curved in accordance with nature, and with his music he mirrored the celebrations of shapes in nature made by the Art Nouveau artists of the time.
DEBUSSY’S USE OF TRIPLETS ON HIS ARABESQUES
My own observation: Both of Debussy’s Arabesques are written in duple meter or 4/4 time. A conductor uses straight and angular lines when conducting these rhythms. However, in the Arabesques, Debussy uses a wealth of triplets. Things in three can also be conducted using a circular motion. Triplets invoke circles. Triplets and the Art Nouveau style go together. In his quest for a new sound, Debussy looked to the 17th century for inspiration. Revealing his feelings for the baroque term, arabesque, he wrote:“that was the age of the ‘wonderful arabesque’, when music was subject to the laws of beauty inscribed in the movements of Nature herself.”
THE OQUAGA SPIRIT SPEAKS OF THINGS IN THREE
I can’t resist the temptation to bring up the words of the Oquaga Spirit in this regard: My own book of her poetry, called the Oquaga Spirit Speaks, will be available soon on the product page. Nature is all about curves and therefore, three-four time. In this regard, heed the words of the Oquaga Spirit. This excerpt is from “Nature’s Waltz”: Man likes duple meter. His triple meters wane. Return ye to the waltzes of Vienna; and the vibrant boleros of Spain.
Also my entire session of an hour of Debussy’s music will also be available, shortly. Below is a rough, unedited clip from the recording session. Techniques I learned from Mischa Kottler are readily viewable. Mischa Kottler studied in Paris in the 1920’s with Alfred Cortot. Cortot was a personal friend of Debussy. Enjoy!
A Date With Debussy: As I Record His Music at Glenridge Performing Arts Center- My family put together an incredible birthday present for me. Abe, my oldest son, wanted me to play and record one hour of the piano music of Claude Debussy. That got the ball rolling. I immediately agreed. Preview YouTube video Ohrenstein plays Debussy Arabesque No. 2
SAMPLE THE VIDEO MADE AT THE GLENRDIGE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER ON YOUTUBE
MY DEBUSSY PARIS MUSIC CONNECTION
My own piano instructor, Mischa Kottler, asked me when he was 94 years of age to give a concert of French music. That I should show people how I play. Kottler studied on the 1920’s with Alfred Cortot. In turn, Cortot was a contemporary of Debussy. He personally knew him in Paris. Debussy was born August 22, 1862. Cortot, September 26, 1877. I learned Debussy’s craft from Mischa. It uses included the plethora of two note phrases. Also Debussy developed a hidden notation to specify which notes he wanted to emphasize.
PARTICULARS OF THE RECORDING
That got me started on a 4 hour/day regimen of practice. On my birthday, October 24, my daughter Kathryn and her wonderful husband, Jonathan, bought me the session. It was videoed by Mark Palmer.
AT THE GLENRIDGE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
My wife, Sharon-Lesley coached me on some tricky rhythms. She the agreed to be the page turner.
My youngest son had a day off. He was the lighting technician and stage assistant. That was after a 4 minute tutorial.
My oldest son, Abe, was the first to insist on one hour of Debussy. He is a marvelous computer technician.
Conclusion: As proud as I am of A Date With Debussy-, I am even prouder of my family coming together to give me the best birthday present of my life. Date of release to be announced. And yes, I am working on piano music for an all French concert. It will include works Ravel and Faure.
Mischa Kottler – A visit by the legendary piano instructor. Here’s how it all started: The phone rings. I pick it up and hear, “David, this is your piano teacher, Mischa.” I was incredulous . Having left Detroit, Michigan 10 years earlier, I remembered that Mischa Kottler was in his eighties just before I had moved to Sarasota. I said to the voice on the phone: “That’s a joke. Who is this, really?”
Chopin’s Minute Waltz, with a twist … … Mischa Kottler playsRachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, Movement #1 – Duration: 15:18. by Joseph …
The voice said, “Really, it’s Mischa and I hear that you have more children than I know piano concertos.”
At that moment, I knew it was Mischa because his gruff, Russian accent now matched his familiar sense of humor. To my shock, he said he would love to fly to Sarasota to visit me and my family. To which I, without hesitation, said , “Yes.” He also said he would be happy to give me piano lessons in the exchange. To which I immediately said,”That would be a dream come true!”
Mischa’s famous students
Mischa had guided the careers, at least in part, of such notables as Seymour Lipkin, Ruth Laredo, and Cynthia Raim. Mischa’s student frequently went on to win piano competitions. He even gave advice to Van Cliburn, who flew in from Texas for fingering solutions to a Brahms Piano Concerto. My father and I saw van Cliburn leave as I arrived for my piano lesson. I was told at the time by Mischa to keep Van Cliburn’s visit a secret…. which I have until now. You may remember that Van Cliburn was an American pianist who achieved worldwide recognition in 1958, at the age of 23, when he won the first quadrennial International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War that actually opened the doors to better Russian-American relations. Ah, the merits of great music, well-played!
If you were accepted as a Kottler student, you might have to wait about 1-2 years just to start, his lesson time was in such demand. Even then, acceptance didn’t mean regular piano lessons. Since Mischa was the official pianist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, he would tour for months.
Mischa’s own legendery teacher – Alfred Cortot
A visit from the legendary Mischa Kottler. Wow! That Mischa was actually coming to stay with our family was beyond my wildest dreams. When he arrived at our home, this man at 94 years of age, sat down at our not so great piano and played Chopin’s “Minute Waltz”. It is incredibly difficult to play in tempo with single notes, but Mischa played it with double notes in 3rds, 4ths and 5ths in the right hand at the same tempo that other pianists are only able to play it one note at the time. Mischa mastered this most difficult art under the instruction of Alfred Cortot….who had studied with a pupil of Chopin. Kottler studied with Cortot at the Paris Conservatory during the 1920’s because of a recommendation from a very impressive pianist composer – Sergei Rachmaninoff. Kottler had auditioned for Rachamninoff. I was told by Kottler that Rachmaninoff said to Kottler, ” You have to go to Paris and study with Cortot.” and gave him a a personal letter of recommendation.
Another notable Mischa student – Greg Philliganes
From work with Stevie Wonder while still in his teens, to tours and recordings with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, and Toto, Phillinganes’ massive discography reads like a “Who’s Who” of pop music, encompassing four decades.
From Greg Philliganes’ interview in Keyboard Magazine
“Sensing that I needed discipline more than anything else, my Mom managed to hook me up with a wonderful teacher named Mischa Kottler. He was a no-nonsense Russian Jewish guy who could crack a pane of glass with one finger. He was a complete badass, and he cooled my attitude out immediately. I studied with him well into my teens.
What kinds of things were you studying with him?
I was studying technique and classical repertoire. He taught me a certain way of playing that I still use to this day: a sense of evenness where your wrists aren’t loose or moving up and down. It’s a totally linear way of playing, where there’s even movement in both hands so your wrists stay perfectly still. Misha would take two fingers and weigh them down on my wrists to keep them from moving. He instilled a sense of dexterity and definition in my playing. If I’m known for my speed and precision, it’s probably due to Misha more than anything else.
Now you see why titled the blog: Mischa Kottler- A Visit By the Legendary Piano Instructor