Monday, January 6, 2014

Paul Schoenfield's Peccadilloes

That has to be one of the best performance indications ever: “kvetch”. It was pencilled in my score of Peccadilloes by the composer himself, Paul Schoenfield, when I visiting the University of Michigan last summer to play for him. I wish he had added it to the actual published edition. This particular passage is from the fifth movement, “Shuffle,” out of a set of six. The innocuous title belies the sombre mood, dominated by specters and ghosts which rise out of the blurred harmonies in the lowest piano registers.

Before I was introduced to this piece by my teacher James Tocco, I only knew Schoenfield from his Café Music trio, which has now gone viral and is already part of the standard repertoire. I asked him how he felt about being known by a single work, a fate famously bemoaned by Saint-Saëns (Carnival of the Animals) and Rachmaninoff (Prelude in C sharp minor). He was philosophical about it, remarking that at least he was known by a mature work of which is a good representation of his style.

I've received overwhelmingly positive feedback on this piece when I've performed it, and I wouldn't be surprised if it soon earns a place in the regular piano competition repertoire, just as the Carl Vine Piano Sonata No. 1 did eight or nine years ago. It's still little known though. Peccadilloes was written for Christopher O’Riley (of From the Top and Radiohead arrangement fame), who premiered it but hasn't played it much since. The only commercial recording is by James Tocco on the Naxos label, a brilliant performance that is marred by an out-of-tune piano (the B two octaves above middle C is jarring, particularly in the Shuffle movement where that note is very prominent).

Ironically, when I made my own YouTube recording, my piano also suffered from tuning issues. I was recording at the ELMS Conservatory in Jakarta, which has a recital hall on the top floor of a four-floor building. The tropical sun beats down on the roof and turns the room into a sauna, which the Kawai piano has adjusted to excellently—far better than I could. As I found out, turning on the AC ruins the balance. I literally started recording as the tuner was leaving, and by the time I was recording the Shuffle, the piano was in barely usable shape.