By Hannah Reimann
ShiZ’ka at St. John’s in the Village
ShiZ’ka, a gifted and expressive pianist from Japan, performed a concert of varied periods and styles at St. John’s in the Village on Saturday, March 20th. The concert’s coinciding almost exactly with the closing of all non-essential businesses, places of worship, performance venues and other New York City establishments and services due to the COVID-19 global pandemic is reason enough for this artist to be lauded and admired. To suddenly adjust to playing in an empty hall, create the conditions for a live broadcast and all the other challenges we’re now all facing made this an interesting and captivating show.
Three Scarlatti sonatas opened the concert (K.118 in D major, K.523 in G major and K.57 in B flat major), played with agility, poise and the special effervescent joy that only can be communicated via Scarlatti: well done. The same went for Beethoven’s Sonata in F major, Opus 54. There is much ebullience in this fast-moving romp of two movements and ShiZ’ka showed this emotion excellently with complete technical control. I found myself shouting “brava!” and applauding, alone in my apartment, seated on my couch, listening through my Bose speaker to the final chord. That was a lot of fun, a surprise I hadn’t anticipated.
Chopin’s very poetic and intimate Ballade in F minor begins quietly and builds gradually to passionate waves and fortissimo climaxes which the artist relished and exploited with aplomb. All of Chopin’s ballades require physical and emotional strength. Maybe a little more poetry would come into play as she lives with this and the other ones.
ShiZ’ka was in her element on this day playing Rachmaninoff’s Moment Musicaux and Prokofiev’s Sonata in D minor. The mood and virtuoso passages match her temperament and skill. She communicates deep longing and adventurousness, spectacular “Brilliance and Fervor” as the program is named. There were many colors and beautiful clarity of the motivic ideas of the Prokofiev Sonata in spite of the interface of streaming that separated my ears from the actual piano. I applauded, again, and cheered, again, after the brilliant conclusion of this work, a great ending to a show that would have surely garnered several encores had there been a live audience. This artist has much to offer as a focused, athletic performer with solid knowledge of style and ability to execute an exciting program of music.
Teaching Young Musicians in the Time of Corona
It is a privilege for me to report that my work as a music educator has not been severely compromised to date as a result of the present pandemic and its restrictions. Music lessons are being taught remotely just like school is, by scores of individual teachers to their usual students, all of us taking the pains of organizing FaceTime, Zoom and other online video sessions for our virtual lessons on smart phones, tablets and laptops.
It has been a wonderful exploration to work with my piano and vocal students, mostly at their usual weekly times, demonstrating for them at my piano or with my voice, doing a lot of imitation and call-and-response, encouraging a lot more independent work from them. Often it feels like the one activity we all have from our old lives that feels somewhat the same in spite of not being together in the same room. They are all used to technology as a staple, more so than much of the over-50 demographic. There are many smiles and laughter, runs to the bathroom and trips to the kitchen to get a drink, the exaggerated joy and examination of a face filling a screen, the square borders of the images allowing me to zero in on their expression even if the sound doesn’t equal an in-person listening session.
The first full week of teaching remotely has been very rewarding and given me much happiness, working with the kids, ages 7-16, on their pieces and songs, sometimes phrase by phrase. Several years ago, one of the preteens, a very talented boy named Hiro, moved to Pittsburgh and wanted to continue studying with me. So I have had a lot of practice for this new era, having taught him remotely every Sunday for years. He is now fifteen, playing Chopin’s “Revolutionary” Etude and four Schubert Impromptus as well as accompanying a dozen of the singers in the studio as a special project I’ve arranged for him with his mother. The trick will be setting up the Zoom session for 13 or 14 people for a concert, figuring out beforehand if he can actually accompany them online! Another project of technical research awaits me (sigh). What will be the best App for this? Music in the Time of Corona is not simple, but it is an enjoyable new horizon for my students and me. Wish us luck for our virtual Spring concert!
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