Sunday, June 28, 2009

First Microfunding House Concert

I've just returned from playing the first of my microfunding house concerts.  Many thanks to Doug and Eva who hosted a lovely evening in their beautiful home.  (If you're not up on this microfunding setup, you'll find the specifics elsewhere on this blog and also on my website.)

I really enjoy performing in this type of setting.  The intimate nature of a house concert allows for a much more direct experience of the energy exchange that occurs cyclically between performer and audience.  I do believe that the audience gets a lot from being in such close proximity to the performer, and the performer can really feel the responsiveness of the audience at every moment.

Tonight's program comprised music of Northern European composers.  Grieg was, of course, featured as well as Sibelius, Gade, Stenhammar, & Medins.  I enjoy the fact that all this music is Romantic in style; this really seems to suit the soiree type of event.

I look forward to more of these occasions!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Listening to Grieg himself

These recordings are quite well known by now, but are well worth hearing.  Grieg playing his own piano compositions - this really just gives me chills! "Butterfly" and "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen" are both pieces that will be on my Volume 2 CD. You can also hear "Spring" and part of his "Sonata in e minor" on Youtube.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Grieg!

Today, June 15, is Grieg's birthday!  Happy Birthday Edvard...sorry I didn't bake you a cake.

The title of this blog of mine is "Building a CD", but clearly during the last couple of months, a more apt title would be "Not Enough Time for Building a CD"!  This has been extremely frustrating for me.  I've been trying to get at the edits whenever possible, but as this type of work really needs decent stretches of time in one go, and I only seem to have at most an hour at a time available lately, I make very little progress.  

So rather than continually feeling frustrated about this, I have decided to change my timeline to a more realistic one.  During the next two months I will be playing at least a dozen concerts which means that most of my time will be spent practising new repertoire.  I'll hopefully also be playing several fund-raising house concerts to help "build the CD" during this time.   I have decided therefore to take the first three weeks of September to completely and diligently focus on finishing the editing process.  Once the kids are back at school I will keep my schedule free of just about every other commitment, which will allow for longer periods of time without the day being chopped up into smaller bits.  This means the recording release date will be mid-October.  

In the meantime, I'll be pursuing the microfunding with more focus.  I do still need to raise several thousands more before we can get this music coming out of peoples' speakers and headphones.   A blog-post on this aspect will appear soon.

There, that feels better now, and completely do-able.   And, by the way, this means that the recording will be ready just in time for Christmas shoppers.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Liner Notes: Exciting News!

April has been a month full of distractions, unfortunately keeping me from making much headway on this project.   The month of May will definitely see great progress on all its aspects!

The excitement for me this week is that I received the completed liner notes for the new CD from the esteemed Grieg expert and scholar, William Halvorson.  (For those unfamiliar with the term "liner notes", I am referring to the background information  about each piece on the recording, written for the CD booklet insert.)  I met "Bill" at the Grieg Festival in Winter Park, Florida, this past January.  He gave a wonderful talk on Grieg's vocal music, entitled "Grieg's Favorite Grieg Songs".  The text of this presentation has been made available at the Grieg Festival website.  (This website is a generous offering of many of the musical and scholarly presentations from that enriching weekend event.  If you haven't already taken a look and a listen, I really encourage you to do so.)

I feel so honoured that Dr. Halvorson would agree to being a part of my project.  He is the author of many important books on the subject of Grieg and Scandinavian music.  He has also done the English translations of the Grieg songs for the Peters Urtext edition.   I am incredibly grateful that a man of such expertise and international reputation would be so willing to contribute his efforts to this recording!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Piano Transcriptions

The most recent work I've been doing regarding the edits has been on some of the beautiful pieces in Opus 41 & 52, with the somewhat awkwardly translated title, "Piano Pieces after His Own Songs".  Grieg, who of course is well known for his piano music, was a masterful composer of songs for voice and piano.  Of the 181 songs he wrote, Grieg himself chose twelve of his songs to transcribe for solo piano. They comprise the two volumes mentioned above, each volume with six pieces.  

These transcriptions are not widely known or performed by pianists, unlike the favourite Lyric Pieces, Ballade, Sonata, and Piano Concerto. I myself only happened upon them in rummaging through my mother's music cupboard.  My mother must have purchased the Vilhelm Hansen edition of Opus 41 #1-3 on one of our family vacations to Copenhagen, while browsing the famous Danish music shop.

My particular enjoyment of these pieces comes of course because of their beauty, but also because of the opportunity to combine the two dominant aspects of my career as pianist: as soloist and as accompanist to singers.  In these works, I am soloist, singer, and accompanist. Although the poetic texts are not articulated, I very clearly hear the words as I play the part of the singer.  As many of these pieces are somewhat virtuosic elaborations on their original song counterparts, I delight also in the opportunity to explore the sonorities of my instrument.

I suggest to pianists that they consider exploring this repertoire, as the opportunity to focus on the lyrical element and the aspect of letting phrases "breathe" as if sung is instructive in developing one's musicality and pianism.  At the same time, I would encourage singers to listen to these transcriptions in order to gain a new perspective on the songs: directly from the composer.  It is interesting to notice the subtle differences between a particular song and its corresponding transcription.  Quite often the piano transcription has been expanded or lengthened from the original, but there are also more subtle differences in terms of the placement of expression markings or tempo directions.

I also find it interesting to contemplate the possible reasons for Grieg's choices of songs to transcribe.  Some of his most famous songs (Solveig's Song, and Jeg elsker dig) were chosen, and placed next to some much lesser known songs (Jeg giver mit digt til Vaaren, and Kaerlighed).  I'd love to know what Grieg's choices were based on.  Were these songs simply among his favourites?

For this "Volume Two" CD, I have recorded four of the transcriptions; this in addition to five that are on my first CD means I just have three left to record...for "Volume Three"?  (Don't let me get ahead of myself here!)  I hope you enjoy them.  

Monday, April 6, 2009


This little photo gives you a rough (and protect the innocent!?) idea of the process I go through as I listen to the various takes of each piece.  Lots of scrawling on the score in different colours.

I'm nearly one third of the way through this process of choosing takes for the edits.  I'm trying not to call it an agonizing process, but it really is not a straight-forward "what should we have for dinner tonight?" kind of choosing.  (Actually, the dinner question can also be quite agonizing for me at times, I must admit.)

Sometimes I'm happy to note that the difficulty in choosing takes is that there may be two or more takes or sections of takes that are equally beautiful, but in different ways.   When there is clearly one take that is much more beautiful or successful than all the others, the choice is obvious.  My struggle comes when I need to decide to turf one great take in favour of another.  

I am not complaining, really.  I love this work, and I love all the learning that comes from it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


I just have a few brief words of gratitude.  

I have received a couple more donations in the last day or two toward the microfunding support of this project.  It is so gratifying and yet at the same time very humbling to open those envelopes as they come in the mail.  I feel so very moved each time someone gives me such a vote of confidence.  

Thank you all.