What is "best" is normally not a concept that I like to promote when it comes to any aspect of music. But I clearly prefer live music up close and personal!
That it was -- very up close, very personal, and extraordinarily friendly at the Brani Piano Atalier* last night where I ventured out with my partner for early dinner and then to attend my first-ever piano performance there, sponsored by Groupmuse.
Brani describes his music venture as a "Piano and Vocal Art Studio, Opera Studio, Art Gallery and a Music Event Space located in Lower Nob Hill in San Francisco."
Groupmuse is a musician/worker owned cooperative (in part a non-profit venture with performance "admission" a voluntary donation of $20 for last night's performance with a $5 seat reservation fee in advance) dedicated to providing Bay Area residents with regular, varied "intimate concerts with music that's held communities together for generations." It's worth a visit to their website to check out what concerts are coming up and learn more about this admirable grassroots venture to provide music in a different way from more typical but remote concerts given in huge performance halls. Groupmuse concerts occur several times each month and are held in private venues like the Atalier, homes, churches, and other event locations.
Some have larger audiences than others, but my partner and I chose the perfect solo piano performance with a very modest audience size, for our first visit. I'm now quite enthusiastic about offering our home for a similar future event, albeit our audience would have to be limited to about ten others; you can apply to the do the same on the Groupmuse website.
We arrived in the cozy, dark, romantic, multi-mini-roomed Brani boutique (a miniscule version, as it seemed, of the famed Winchester Haunted House), heard a piano being tuned, and followed our ears up a color jeweled-lit stairway leading to a tiny balcony room that eventually seated 12 of us. I sat five feet away from and behind the piano, and noted there was remaining room for only two extra chairs for possible late arrivals.
When we arrived, the host, Brani (pictured below),
was completing a tuning of what we learned later was a 1939 pristine, gorgeous August Forster vertical piano (pictured above), which instrument impressed us greatly in the coming performance with its crystal-clear, lovely tone. I learned later that it was the first time Brani had sponsored this pianist or this group's event.
The accomplished, personable local pianist, Ian Scarfe, was soon enough introduced by Brani. Ian then played an hour-long program right down my genre alley from the Romantic Era, starting with a movement from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony then continuing to a few of my favorite composers: Chopin, Grieg, Beach, and Debussy. Afterwards, Brani hosted refreshments and all of us stayed to meet others in attendance and chat with both Brani and Ian.
So what is "best" for me about music as I have learned, is the nature and context of how music is presented to me, and not necessarily the genre or specific piece of music being presented! Romantic Era music is like icing on the cake, but the intimacy of the venue and my clear hearing of the instrument(s) played, are foundational to my ultimate pleasure.
The nature of the event last night was friendly and informal with nothing off-setting as remote or superficially highfalutin about the place, presentation, personnel, or audience. We audience were respectful of the music and place, and focused on and were attentive to Ian's discussion of the background of each piece and composer. This discussion enriched the pieces he played. I particularly loved his Grieg Nocturne (nocturnes being a main theme of Ian's program).
However, Amy Beach's exquisite The Hermit Thrush at Morn stunned me! Beach had carefully studied the sounds of the hermit thrush and amazingly and accurately interspersed these into this delicate and delicious composition.
By way of introduction to the piece, Ian mentioned the double-edged sword of Beach's career, namely that after her new husband "required" her to give up a promising concertizing career, she dedicated to herself to composing -- certainly a lovely gift to the musical world from which we may never have benefited had she continued on stage. When I told Ian that I had brought to my former piano teacher (who never suggested that I learn a composition by a female composer in the nine months I studied with him), the Waltz from Beach's Children's Album, he knew it and said one of his students plays it, too!
That a young male pianist like Ian recognized the talent of a female composer in that way, and smilingly told us that he would be in deep trouble had he taken a similar approach to his wife, heartened me. It seems that starting not too far in distant in the past, some things may gratefully be changing about how accomplished musical women were overlooked.
If anything might be added to the gentle program, I only wished there had been a post-piece or post-performance short time to ask followup questions that came to me during the performance, or to hear something about Ian's music training and background as well as his personal music choices, preferences, and transmission nuances in his performances.
Compared to two orchestra concerts and four recitals I attended during the 2022-2023 SF Symphony season, the event last night convinced me that I prefer music up close and personal, which is definitely "best" -- for me.
*I was exceedingly happy to learn that Brani is willing to come and tune Ms. Bellamy, my 1953 Baldwin Acrosonic piano that I kept after had my Duchess grand piano rebuilt and refinished a year or so ago. I cannot bear to dispose of the spinet piano who helped me restart my piano adventure and grand love affair with music after leaving them both 63 years earlier. I want to keep my spinet in good, tuned shape because I sit down from time to time to play her, and eventually want to pass her on to a family desiring a sound little basic piano with which a child can start piano lessons.
Sadly however, over the past two years I have encountered two piano technicians turn down my request to tune her, one from a physical aggravation if he lifts his arms up to tune other than a grand piano, and another one who shies away from liability for complaints he says he gets, if the somewhat limited sound does not turn out the way a client envisions it to be or if an old string or other part breaks (doesn't sound irreparable to me and of course, there can be written waivers if that or other unintended damage occurs).
ON WHICH MUSIC IS BEST? (From Vol I Poetical Musings)
What is “natural”
Is not better
Or “natural” at all.
Music in the Western world
Is preference, after all.
But “nature” calls us to acquit
What we believe is best.
“Tis only choice or habit set,
But not from God is blest.
TO LOVE ONE SONG (from Vol I)
To love one song
Does not mean
I love the others less.
Each score is blessed
With blessed intention
By composers, all!
No one will fall
Into disrepute with me.
Not equal though they be,
Each one unique,
A gift the goddess gave
To man or woman,
Angels all who heard the call
Took up their pen
Or quill, they said,
Until they were dead
To gift us all
With glories be:
Truth, passion, and despair,
Love, romance–it’s all there
To thrill and chill our bones.
Sense comes from all the tones
Together. Then there’s rhythm,
Contour and tempo,
Resonance and rubato,
Because the pianist who plays the score
Renders it a living thing,
And total pleasure then does bring.
And as Proust said,
“Music is communication
Thus, to music we are called.
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