Life Art Music Writing

Salon at home

Last Sunday, my roommate and I started a salon series at home. Organizing stuff in New York is difficult, as things get intense and overdue, and you can always have as many troubles in work as in personal life. Luckily, a bunch of supportive friends and art enthusiasts never give up occasions where they can get drunk and shout out their love for the city, while the city becomes more irresistibly charming because of them.

The first salon was much simpler than what we had envisioned due to the limited time we had for planning as well as the doubt for the feasibility. The only performers we had for the music part were me and my roommate's laptop (on which a recorded live performance was played). Artist Michael Hafftka showed up in his casual denim shirt with a humongous amount of energy to be poured out from his creative mind. Throughout the salon, Michael went through all the facets of his creative process, from how to start a painting, how to pin down a title (in which his lovely wife Yonat Hafftka playes a big part) to how to interact with the viewers, he successfully left an impression of a Santa Claus... No, a mature artist who has a great positive vibe and as well as total control of his art world (which is that you cannot control...). As a music lover, he also shared his immediate reaction after hearing me perform the "Piano Sonata 1. X. 1905" by Leos Janacek as a game to compare the historical context of an artwork and the audience's emotional reaction. (Here I am sharing a great recording recommended by the intelligent and elegant pianist Lisa Yui.) When it came to music, we were so lucky to have had Lisa in presence as her broad knowledge made a much-appreciated contribution to the discussion. She could just call in Beethoven and Chopin when we dealt with subjects such as giving a title or to communicate the creators' intentions, and she would tell us what these giants in the classical music world would say about them. We had so many wonderful people in our apartment, and most of them came to hear my roommate Shiuan Chang's wonderfully unique composition. As the composer stated himself, he preferred not to give away the title before playing the recording because he believed "a direct personal contact with the artwork" would be the most genuine way of appreciating art. All these discussion led us to explore other media in the art world. We turned to the inspiring photographer Masahito Ono for his point of view, as he later recalled, "I don't consider any of my work original since all the materials and elements I use already exist." That suites perfectly for a pianist dealing with a musical score, and our discussion paused there, with me finishing the salon by performing Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy. We are all wanderers on the path of pursuing the art, aren't we?

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Consistency

The art of music is so complicated.

Recently, I have been thinking about consistency a lot. I wrote in an article that:

"After all, music is a kind of performance art. The key to a contagious performance is about focusing on it and believing in it. People may talk about the skills, but I value the consistency more. By saying that, I mean I care about the logic and sincerity behind the interpretation more than the skills. One may be skillful enough to imitate masters' interpretations, but that is just cliche, which cannot persuade me."

The same thoughts occurred when I was dealing with a new composition. I have always asked myself: "Why do I sometimes feel unsatisfied when learning a  travesty?" It is hard to say. Is it because I have a higher musical taste? Bullshit. What about the soul of a work? Not even thought of it. Then I discovered something, something really on the surface...

There are two things I cannot bear with when they are not consistent. One is the direction, the other is the dimension. Direction, meaning the flow of the music, which of course is flowing in a piece of music. However, the flow can be any kinds, any forms of flows. It can be smooth, arched, abrupt, segmented, arbitrary... Any kinds! But it is disturbing when a piece, especially a short piece of music is not flowing consistently. Dimension can include the density, harmony, technique or sonority, which are all very intuitional for a performer. It is okay when learning a difficult piece of music, but it is not okay when there is a bar that is physically impossible while the next bar contains a single note. The activities of music are like living beings, which have to be organic.

The direction is horizontal, while the dimension is vertical. It is almost like talking about counterpoint and harmony now. I gotta stop here.

Last day in Aspen

It rained so hard when I was practicing on the Bucksbaum campus today. The clouds dark and low, as if leaning on the mountains, no sunshine at all; I thought, after all, it might be a sunny day tomorrow.

And tomorrow will be the day I depart. Although it has already been my fourth year in Aspen, this last day still stirs me up. Part of the reason is that I will soon be in a country I have never been to before, and, in addition, the workload awaits me is massive. The uncertainty makes me melancholic.

 with "Family in Aspen"

with "Family in Aspen"

I had the last conversation with my dearest bus driver (my "occidental grandpa"), the last piano lesson with Veda (while figuring out the next lesson in a month), and the last supper with my "family in Aspen" at Casa Tua. My "little sister" played a family concert of Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals in Harris Hall right before the dinner, to which almost all the kids in Aspen went. Some of them were shouting, some crying; some running around while some totally drawn to the music. What a fun concert! Yet all my attentions were paid on the kids. The concert reminded me the first musical experience in my memory.

Before I started learning the piano, I went to some classes to learn basic notation and solfège. In one of the classes, the teacher played a cartoon of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. The teacher patiently explained which instruments represented which characters, while my innocent classmates were not necessarily listening. But, once she started to play the music, all of us quieted down and listened to it. That was the first time I learnt about flute, bassoon, french horn and other instruments, and I must was listening so carefully that I still remember it today.

 Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare

 Grilled Octopus

Grilled Octopus

 Lamb Chop

Lamb Chop

 Apple Tart (!)

Apple Tart (!)

 Green Tea Creme Brulee

Green Tea Creme Brulee

 Lychee Panna Cotta

Lychee Panna Cotta

Luckily, the sun appeared before the concert, so we could witness the beautiful sunset in Aspen once more. We sat down in Casa Tua, and all of us decided to have Lamb Chops before looking at the menu. Two appetizers were set and three desserts followed the meal. It was the most abundant meal I have ever had in my life - I even had a cup of coffee with the desserts. Not only the food was gorgeous, but the atmosphere, the waiter (who treated me coffee), the conversations my friends and I had and the feeling of time passing by also inspired me as I looked back on my summer, which was so exciting and interesting.

 Backstage

Backstage

I played again in the Benedict Tent this year: I did Hindemith's Concert Music for Piano, Brass and Haprs with the Brass Ensemble under Mr. Per Brevig's conducting. To be honest, I was nervous as hell because we had far less rehearsals than enough and they were not so ideal. Somehow everything went right on stage that day, not meaning playing everything perfectly but musically and spiritually good enough. People who attended the concert seemed happy, yet I did not dare to get the recording of it until today. However, the sound of ONLY brass was not new to me. I still remember the sound from the brass section when I played Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Winds with the Juilliard Orchestra back in 2012. As a result, I was ready for the thickness and harshness brasses could produce before the rehearsal, so that I was not drown out in the Hindemith.

If I want to pinpoint the most exciting event I have experienced this summer, it would be the performance at the brand new Aspen Art Museum. At its opening, the Aspen Music Festival and School cooperated with it on a recital given by the students. I was lucky to be one of them and played Schoenberg's Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 11 and selections from Bach's Goldberg Variations. Thirty-something audience seats were placed in the spacious gallery while in reality much more people came. Some of them sat on the ground and the other stood through the concert. I have been a modern-art-nut since middle school, and the space of a gallery or a museum is somehow very appealing to me. The museum opening includes works by Cai Guo-Qiang, Yves Klein and so on, which to me is already the most exiting event. But playing in a museum? Surrounded by those artworks? To describe it, It was one of the concerts I played in my life that I enjoyed every seconds on stage.

But even more than that, I interned in the museum! I had been expecting the opening of the new building along with my coworkers for the whole summer. During my intern, I helped with the ArtCrush event, had my first auction experience, did security in the gallery, and, most frantic to me, gathered artists' information for the opening concert. So when the museum CEO and director Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson was introducing the concert to the audience, I could recognize some sentences I wrote. How excited I was when I heard them! I turned to the piano so happily and played with such dedication that I felt I was literally making art.

 Performance in Aspen Art Museum

Performance in Aspen Art Museum

 My Internship Tag

My Internship Tag

 with Cai Guo-Qiang after the Black Lightning

with Cai Guo-Qiang after the Black Lightning

I also saw the Black Lightning by Cai Guo-Qiang at the Aspen Mountain. The first time I saw his works was when Taipei Fine Art Museum did a retrospective show of him in 2009. If you turned on TV in Taiwan during that time, you could see him everywhere in the News and talk shows. He made this huge canvas on which he sketched a dancer's movements with gunpowder and then exploded it. The result was breathtakingly beautiful. This time in Aspen, he designed the Black Lightning for the new museum opening. The idea of seeing a firework in daytime made people thrilled and nervous. A good crowd gathered on a Saturday afternoon and two sets of fireworks were set off separately. People witnessed the mystic and uncommon ceremony for the opening and after a short moment of halt, they all adjusted back to the beautiful day in Aspen.

Notwithstanding all these wonderful experiences in Aspen, I am now looking forward to my second summer festival IN MY LIFE. Lucerne Festival Academy. I already know that it will be very different from what I have here now, but I am sure that I will fall in love with it. Time to get some white sausages and cheese fondue.