On Monday, February 25, I'll host my last masterclass/comedy hour at the Drawing Room. (It remains to be seen how the new space works out for group events.) The class is free and will go from 7 to 10 PM.
70 Willoughby Street (between Lawrence St. and Bridge St.) in downtown Brooklyn. When you are on my block, you will see a Petland store and a fish market. In between them is a doorway that has a purple awning above it that says "Fatou" beauty salon and the street number 70. This is the door to my building. Our studio is #2A. Go up one flight of stairs, and then follow the signs on your left for "The Drawing Room." There are subways everywhere to this easy location, the very closest stop is "Jay St./Metrotech" on the R.
Mainly for pianists, but if you play something else and really want to come by, that's OK, too.
No RSVP required, just show up.
I will certainly play a few excerpts from my solo concert at Weill Hall Wednesday Feb. 27.
Alleluia in Form of Toccata Louise Talma
Familiar jazz standards (to be announced from the stage)
Serenade in A Igor Stravinsky
Iverson original pieces (to be announced from the stage)
Alleluia in Form of Toccata (Louise Talma) After a brief herald of bells, a syncopated perpetual mobile commences its cheerful but tightly-structured course. Talma called it, “A tonic to encourage optimism.”
Talma was Sophia Rosoff’s counterpoint teacher at Hunter College in the early ‘40s. When I first tried Alleluia in Form of Toccata out in a lesson with Sophia, she hadn’t heard it since encouraging Ray Lev to premiere it at Carnegie Hall in 1945. According to the New York Times review, Lev’s performance got a spontaneous ovation.
I met Talma briefly before she died in 1996. She was the first great composer I saw in the flesh. A formidable presence, scary even in her 90s, she positively cackled when I said that I had just acquired the score to her Piano Etudes. “Those are the hardest things I ever wrote!” The implication was that I’d never be able to play them, and I think she was probably right.
Most of Talma’s solo piano music is collected on a valuable CRI disk by Theresa Bogard. Alleluia is a great opener or encore, the Piano Sonata is in a similar neo-classic style, the more advanced and romantic Piano Sonata No. 2 is one of the very best (if not the best) American piano sonatas of the 50’s, and the nearly twelve-tone Etudes are simply marvelous. While the complicated classification “worthy woman composer” helped Talma get performances and awards when she was alive, it now perhaps works against her legacy. Surely the best Talma should be played more frequently. There isn’t just piano music, but reams of interesting chamber, vocal, and orchestral scores waiting to be discovered by the curious listener.
Serenade in A (Igor Stravinsky) One of the most pragmatic of composers, Stravinsky created Serenade In A in 1925 specifically to have something to record for the label Brunswick, and tracked the four 78 sides in the same New Jersey studio that Duke Ellington would use for the first recording of "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" a year later. The concurrent printed edition has several wrong notes and barely any editorial markings; after Stravinsky died, his son Soulima prepared a more elaborate and intriguing edition that should be consulted but not taken as gospel. The pitches and even the rhythms of the two scores and recording are different in subtle but significant ways. I play a mixture of all three sources.
Influenced by 18th-century ceremonies and dances, Serenade in A is arguably Stravinsky’s prettiest solo piano work. Short, lacking a forceful finale, and too easy for virtuosos, it lives in the repertoire not as a frequent concert work but as something connoisseurs read though at home for melodic and harmonic inspiration.
Hymne There’s naturally a lot of “A” in the Serenade in A, but famously there’s not a lot of A major harmony. The melody begins with an “A” but is harmonized as F in first position. Then the second phrase is similar but in D minor or B-flat. Finally we hear a bit of A major in first position and the piece gets into gear. But we never are convinced of a home key: indeed, Stravinsky ostentatiously closes the first three movements with an A that is struck but not heard.
Romanza After a few flourishes -- one can almost see calligraphy on the page -- a G major song in triple time lurches forward with a charming melodic awkwardness that recalls late Beethoven. The final abrupt G chord is surrounded by un-articulated but resonating A’s.
Rondoletto Mostly a two-part invention, the effect is less of Bach then of the classical era, although of course with “wrong” notes. There’s no doubt the left hand of the Rondoletto should be like one of Stravinsky’s many parts for bassoons, for example the Octet. Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata from the same era features the same texture, and of course Louise Talma was influenced by this sort of thing in her Alleluia.
Cadenza Finale The closing movement’s solemn beauty is at odds with the word “cadenza,” a false relation just like all those intervals in neo-classicism that lack conventional direction. It’s the most Russian music of the set, and here the recording is especially helpful, as the procession of even eighth-notes on the page are not played exactly even by Stravinsky. Towards the end the composer allows himself the luxury of a root-position A major chord, a sonority barely present anywhere else in the whole work. The last note, however, is simply “A,” without major or minor.
About the artist
Ethan Iverson is best known as one-third of The Bad Plus, a game-changing collective with Reid Anderson and David King. The New York Times has said that TBP is "…Better than anyone at melding the sensibilities of post-60's jazz and indie rock." TBP performs in venues as diverse as the Village Vanguard, Carnegie Hall, and Bonnaroo; collaborators include Joshua Redman, Bill Frisell, and the Mark Morris Dance Group. They have released ten CD’s of mostly original material. A current project, On Sacred Ground, is a faithful arrangement of The Rite of Spring for piano, bass, and drums with video projection by Cristina Guadalupe and Noah Hutton.
Iverson also plays in the critically-acclaimed Billy Hart quartet with Mark Turner and Ben Street; other current musical associates include Albert “Tootie” Heath, Sam Newsome, and Tim Berne.
At the website Do the Math, Iverson interviews other musicians and writes musical analysis, a pursuit that influenced Time Out New York's selection of Iverson as one of 25 essential New York jazz icons: "Perhaps NYC's most thoughtful and passionate student of jazz tradition—the most admirable sort of artist-scholar." Among the essays online at Do The Math is “The Emotional Rhythm of Sophia Rosoff,” a biography written by Iverson’s wife, Sarah Deming.
Iverson has studied with Sophia Rosoff since 1994, and this is his fourth concert for the Abby Whiteside series.
I've done a lot of listening to Serenade in A the last few months. After Stravinsky's, the recorded interpretation I like best overall is by Peter Serkin. Alexei Lubimov and Noel Lee are good too. Others I tried out included Maria Yudina, Boris Berman, Peter Hill, Marcelle Meyer, Alex Karis and Michel Beroff. The two notable disappointments were Soulima Stravinsky -- it made me a bit more suspicious of his edition -- and Beveridge Webster, who I think must just be sight-reading. (He was a famously talented sight-reader, it's plausible he just went in and did it with as little introspection as Sonny Stitt.)
Speaking of Webster and Talma, though, I'd like to mention his performance of the Etudes on Desto, which I think is one of the greatest piano records I've ever heard. It's well worth seeking out for those that love the corners of the literature.