The Sounds and Music of Open Space
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Nurnberb/Berlin, Germany
During my teenage years, I joined a theater group that specialized in children’s musicals. I helped with the scenery, rehearsed the singers, and recorded all the background music. I also acted and sang in one of the plays: “Everything is Blue in the Blue Land” (http://www.livrariacultura.com.br/scripts/cultura/resenha/resenha.asp?isbn=8572722025&sid=89824519712210258011020111). That meant wearing make-up so I would not look like a pale corpse onstage. Bold make-up.
In my native Brazil, I have recorded a couple of times for a TV program called “Metropolis” (http://www2.tvcultura.com.br/metropolis/). Metropolis was a hip late-night variety show that also featured the elite of classical music in Sao Paulo City. I was the pianist in the chamber music group Novo Horizonte, directed by the innovative British conductor Graham Griffths (http://www.pianoclass.com/sistema/revista.pl?i=1&cmd=entrgrahamg).
The group had had just one female, the violinist Tania Guarnieri (http://www.taniacamargoguarnieri.com.br/). Tania is the daughter of the composer Camargo Guarnieri and bigger than life in both her music and personality. Once, before an appearance on the show, we had applied make-up appropriate for studio lighting.
We had to wait for a couple of minutes under fluorescent lighting, before our ‘live’ broadcast gig. Tania looked at herself in the mirror and exclaimed: “I cannot play Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” wearing the make-up of a prostitute!” Tania’s colorful remarks remind me of the strange means toward good ends embodied in make-up for television and film: ‘Prostitute’ make-up for the masses, natural make-up for the concert hall.
Last week for the first time in my life, I wore hand make-up. I was the ‘hand double’ for a production filmed in Berlin. The film is called Auf den zweiten Blick (On a second look). There is already a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Auf-den-zweiten-Blick/267826739499?ref=mf) . I will post further information about the film when it is released.
My first contact was with the First Assistant Director, Xiana Yago, a young Spanish woman living in Berlin. The director, Sheri Hagen (http://www.kino.de/star/sheri-hagen/filmografie/131839.html) is a gorgeous young black woman. In this film, the protagonist, Pan, is a white piano tuner with existential problems. He falls in love with a black gallery owner, Till, who is married. I was thinking that this film and its production does not get any better: a biracial gay relationship portrayed by a black woman. I wish the two men were Jewish and Palestinian!
I lent my hands to three short scenes. The shooting took almost a whole day. First, I was dressed in identical clothing to Pan (the character who I was doubling). Then, I spent some time with make-up. It was not easy to hide the inch-long scar on my left hand --but everything is possible with movie make-up… My first scene was to be the ‘playing hand’ for the piano tuner when he felt alone and disillusioned (musical translation: aggressive fast playing). This task was easy to accomplish with C. P. E. Bach’s "Solfegietto".
In the second scene, while Pans plays, Till sits next to him and starts improvising. In this scene, they acknowledge their differences and their attraction to each other through music. At one point, according to our director, their hands needed to touch each other.
The hand double for Till was Reggie Moore (http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/index.php?en_programs_reggiemoore), an experienced New York jazz pianist now rooted in Germany.
During the lunch break we planned the musical aspects of our ‘seduction’ scene. When should the jazz improvisation start? How should we show musically the connection and sparkle between the two? How each other’s music would be affected? When should the hands touch? The last question had an easy answer: the D Flat chord. After a two-page avalanche of sixteenth notes, time stops for a moment and life rests on a low D flat.
Reggie Moore and I rehearsed the music and did a preview for Sheri Hagen, the director. Although she liked our musical portrait of the scene, she wanted a much longer contact time between the hands.
We were glad to get to the D flat chord and let our hands touch each other for five seconds while we reviewed mentally the next chord progression in a jazzier style.
I hope that this moment will not be left on the editing table. I look forward to seeing the two actors gazing lovingly at each other while Reggie and mine hands touch in a flawless sequence. I know I will laugh remembering us two not-so-glamorous musicians touching hands while thinking: F minor 7th, C major, G dominant 7th, and so on while hoping to meet at the final tonic! Here is a sample from that scene: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/video/video.php?v=1269755477164
In my third scene, I play slowly, pensively, sensually. I cannot reveal more to you; I do not want to give away the film plot. I want you to go see the movie and enjoy my two seconds of ‘hand stardom’.
I must admit I was a bit nervous because I know everything recorded stays forever. I once played Prokofiev’s first Piano Concerto--coincidentally in D flat major—for 3,000 people in a Frank Lloyd Wright designed theater. Under the visual and aural scrutiny of so many people, I was nervous. In last week’s film shoot, I recorded in front of an audience of only twenty crew members. But I will be heard by many more filmgoers and musicians in a situation beyond my comfort zone.
Hence, I raise my cup to the Seventh Art, where everything is possible, with perfect and imperfect worlds colliding to convey a message of hope. And where life, even for a second, can hang on a D flat chord.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Blog posting written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Nurnberg, Germany
On November 8th, I will play a program entitled Three Trios, Three Players, Three Lands with two of my colleagues.
The program at the Rathaus Schoneberg, the City Hall of West Berlin and now a cultural center, will include Johaness Brahms’ Trio opus 8 (Germany), Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music (USA) and Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Argentina). I have played the four-hands version of the same piece by Piazzolla with Diane Birr as part of a previous FLEFF production . Sexy music plus tango plus historical footage spells great project!
Piazzolla had a colorful life, living in Argentina, US and Europe . His main instrument, the bandoneon, is the perfect medium for expressive music with a nationalistic character. Folk music of countries as France, Germany and the USA also utilized the accordion in its many forms and shapes.
Today, in my first trio rehearsal, we breezed through Brahms, without any stylistic controversy. And then… the old question about Piazzolla’s music as it is played outside Argentina poked through. The music is so passionate that the performers become afraid: they don’t want the textures, dynamics and timbres to sound like a Latin American caricature. So I ask: How much is too passionate?
We want to transmit the passion in the music. But a hard question lurks: where is the line between passionate and caricature? We certainly do not want to sound like a Mexican soap opera!
There is a market for Mexican soap opera--and that’s why they do well. So what’s wrong with them? Is passionate expression of what others might hear as mundane condemnable? People in different cultures express themselves quite differently in the world of emotions. Are these cultural differences playing a role in covert racism? Is cool and reserved the model to be followed? Should we all get musical Botox injections and perform in a wrinkle-free, expressionless style? Is there a place in the musical world for both the reserved and the extravagant?
Performance practice today is a minefield. Many performers do not play Bach in concert anymore. They fear being labeled purists or extreme romantics-- sometimes in the same concert. Recordings have created an educated and opinionated audience. We musicians silently agree on standards of performance practice. Then we criticize someone who strays from these standards. These attitudes do not help to expand diversity in the field of classical music.
Are only German performers entitled to play Brahms?Are only Argentine performers entitled to play Piazzolla? Are only American performers entitled to play Schoenfield? No. I suggest that we expand our horizons: we should not accept any dogmas in the art world.
Let music and our performance of it be free!
I leave you with Piazzolla playing ‘Adios Nonino’ with a German orchestra: