Friday, September 9, 2011

A Liszt Performance for the 21st Century

On any pianist’s checklist of most challenging repertoire, you’re likely to find Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor. Performing the piece on the intended instrument is daunting enough; performing it on a violin presents an even greater challenge.

This Saturday, September 10th 2011, violinist Giora Schmidt will attempt just that, with the aid of a few technological tools. Transcribed for violin by Noam Sivan and published in 2007, this will be the first time Sivan's adaptation of the piece will be performed on a concert stage.

To help navigate the non-stop thirty five minute piece, Schmidt will read Listz's masterpiece from an iPad, and control each page turn using a wireless foot pedal.

Ariama asked Giora about his unique presentation and performance, to find out what inspired him to reimagine such an iconic piece.

The Liszt B minor sonata is such a difficult piece for pianists – what are the particular challenges it presents for the violinist?
When I first looked at Composer Noam Sivan’s transcription of the Liszt B-minor Piano Sonata, my gut instinct was: this can be done. But I remember immediately noticing two things that would pose a (potential) problem. First, there’s no break! Literally.

It was page after page after page of notes – thirty-five pages to be exact. I’m used to playing with orchestras where even though I’m playing a concerto that is 30-45 minutes in length, I can have 3-minute sections where I’m not playing at all.

The second problem would be the middle section: An incredible polyphonic, multi-voice fugue that in itself is complex. But here Mr. Sivan asks the violinist to play everything pizzicato – completely plucked! Put the bow down, and create this multi-voice illusion by plucking. Not only an incredible challenge for physical dexterity, but also acoustically. A string instrument plucked (no matter how loud) will never make as much sound as when it is bowed. And when bringing a piece to the concert stage, one has to take into account the acoustical considerations of presenting a piece to a listening public.

There’s also the fact that we’re taking something written for ten fingers and playing it with four, which makes certain passages impossible. And where there is a sliver of physical possibility, the sheer speed and wildness of the music makes it impossible again! So we spent 50 hours revising the 2007 published edition into what I call the 2011 “Performance Edition”, which distilled many of the things originally written into something completely original, mind-blowing and virtuosic for the violin.

Are there any works in the traditional violin repertoire that present similar challenges?
This is by far the most difficult work in the violin repertoire that I’ve ever played, and without hesitation I would put it in the top 5 most difficult works for violin. Period. However, it really stands on its own challenging peak simply because of its length – 35 minutes of nonstop virtuoso playing. Stamina - both physically and mentally - plays a huge role. The Liszt transcription makes the Paganini 24 Caprices, and the Ysaÿe 6 Sonatas for Solo Violin seem like a cakewalk!

Are there works outside the violin repertoire that you wish were transcribed for your instrument?
I’m a huge vocal music lover - opera in particular. There are so many arias from Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and other opera masters that would sound so wonderful on the violin. That’s a future project for me!
Also, recently heard a stunning arrangement of Leonard Bernstein’s Dream With Me from his Broadway show Peter Pan. And I immediately thought, man that would sound great on the fiddle!

You are going to play from a score that is on an iPad and you’ll make page turns by using a Bluetooth, wireless foot switch. Has anything like this been done before? How do you feel about reading music electronically?
This Liszt project is very exciting for me because there’s a pioneering element to it. Not only bringing this extraordinary piece and transcription to life on the violin, but this will be the first time an iPad will be used with wireless foot switches in Classical performance. What was brought on by necessity – either walk onstage with a page turner or use ten music stands to tape the 35 pages of sheet music across – has now completely changed how I read, annotate and perform with music.

I’m a very plugged-in person to begin with. I have my laptop, BlackBerry, iPod, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube at my fingertips, but I never thought of bringing that technology into my performances.

Thanks to the AirTurn wireless page turning device and the ForScore app, my iPad has turned into a portable digital music stand. And my hands are completely free to focus on making music. Plus the clarity of the display on the iPad is so fantastic that it’s almost clearer that the actual printed-paper it replaces!

Do you think other musicians will begin using this technology? What role do you see technology playing in classical music performances going forward?
I would love to see more and more of my musical friends and colleagues using this technology. There is nothing worse than schlepping 10 pounds of music through airports while on tour. How cool would it be to have access to your complete music library on a one-pound device that you can just throw in your bag? There have been so many times where someone forgets the sheet music for that rare encore gem that they thought of playing one hour before the concert and having it right there at your fingertips is a life saver! I also think that technology is so integrated into all of our lives that this can be another way to bridge the gap between the digital age and the great classical music literature.

What are your top 5 favorite classical works?
Too many to choose! But in no particular order:

See the list and sample/buy the recordings on our site

Check out this video of Giora performing the first movement of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto with the Las Vegas Philharmonic!

See another great video of Giora playing Barber's Violin Concerto conducted by Itzhak Perlman!

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