Sunday, October 28, 2007

Work, Work And More Work

Our weekend was pretty low-key.

Andrew and I both had a strenuous week last week, and we collapsed into bed very early Friday night.

On Saturday, we both went to our offices for six hours, arriving very early and remaining until early afternoon.

After finishing up things at work, we went to Andrew’s parents’ house and watched football games. We arrived at the end of regulation of the Iowa-Michigan State game, just as Michigan State tied the game with a last-second field goal, sending the game into overtime. Iowa prevailed after two overtimes, which pleased Andrew’s father no end.

Minnesota was not so lucky. As expected, the Golden Gophers got pummeled by Michigan.

Oklahoma did not play on Saturday.

We watched football games for the rest of the afternoon and evening, keeping our eyes on various games as we played with the dog and helped Andrew’s mother prepare food. It was a very restful afternoon and evening, and very welcome.

Today, after church, we all went out to lunch. After lunch, we all went to the care facility where Andrew’s grandmother lives. We spent an hour sitting with Andrew’s grandmother. After our visit, we drove to Saint Paul to hear Jonathan Biss in recital at Macalester College. The recital began at 3:00 p.m.

Biss programmed three Beethoven sonatas—one each early, middle and late—between which he played two compositions by Janacek.

I did not think much of Biss’s recital, especially his playing of Beethoven, in which he pounded the piano more than touched the keys. I thought his performance of Sonata No. 30 atrocious. Biss completely fell apart in the work.

Biss’s touch was more apt in the Janacek, and the spiky sparseness of Janacek’s piano pieces seemed to suit his temperament more than Beethoven’s music, where Biss was unable to generate any genuine drama or sense of involvement.

Andrew’s parents had heard Biss in recital before, six years ago. Andrew’s father said on the way home that Biss had not been ready for an international career in 2001 and that Biss remains unready for an international career in 2007. Among other things, Biss lacks sheer virtuosity at the level of a Gavrilov or a Kissin, which means he will have to sustain any budding career not as a touring virtuoso but as a “serious” pianist, and that may require more poetry and more intellect than he has at his disposal. I don’t think his prospects are good. I suspect Biss will have to settle for a fourth-tier, Jeremy Denk-like career.

For some reason, America does not produce great pianists in significant numbers. The last two pianists of note produced in the U.S. were Murray Perahia and Stephen Kovacevich, both of whom emerged over 35 years ago and both of whom moved to Britain as soon as their careers took off. The U.S. has not witnessed the emergence of a single major pianist since the early 1970’s, when Perahia and Kovacevich arrived on the world’s concert stages.

Why is this?

De Tocqueville said that democracies are destined not to produce artists of genius, an inherently contentious statement that may or may not contain some small grain of truth. I suspect that an answer may more accurately reside in the fact that piano lessons are no longer a routine part of children’s upbringing in the U.S.

After the recital, we returned to Andrew’s parents’ house and prepared dinner. Since it was chicken night for the dog, we decided to make it chicken night for everyone. It took a while for the stuffed chickens to roast, so we played with the dog and fed him snacks until his chicken was ready to eat.

Our plans for the forthcoming week are set: work, work and more work.

This coming Friday, after work, Andrew and I will decamp and move over to his parents’ house, where we will remain for ten days. We will have a good dinner Friday night and help Andrew’s father pack for Zurich.

The following afternoon we will take Andrew’s father to the airport, after which Andrew and I will spend the week with Andrew’s mother, providing her with company and helping her get things ready for a family visit. A week from today, Andrew and I will take Andrew’s mother to Saint Paul to attend a performance of “Agnes Of God” at Park Square Theater.

We’ll keep her entertained the six days Andrew’s father is away.

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