Posted by Bob Sherman, April 2009
Much has happened since the Nadia-Clara website went on line last November, so this is already our second update. We've added still more names, e-mail addresses and comments to the list of Nadia's students, and now have a link to the remarkable Reisenberg video, prepared by and stored at the University of Maryland Piano Library. Another exciting development is the completion of the huge task of re-mastering and preparing CD copies of NR's historic cycle of the complete Mozart Piano Concertos, with Alfred Wallenstein conducting. These performances. Including the original broadcast announcements and all sorts of delectable solo encores, are now available for individual purchase (any two concertos can be combined on a single CD) from the University of Maryland Piano Library.
• Repeated from January, because it is certainly worth stating again:
We've always listed 1922 as the year the Reisenbergs arrived in New York, because that was Nadia's recollection. Turns out she was wrong. According to Barry Moreno, of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the family actually arrived in New York Harbor on 19 December, 1921, and were questioned in the Great Hall on the 20th. Now if only I can figure out how to change everything in Groves and all the other encyclopedias...
• In honor of Steven Glaser"s promotion to full Professor at Ohio State University, he was asked to select a volume to be plated for the University Library; his choice was "Nadia Reisenberg: A Musician's Scrapbook."
"Nadia Reisenberg was my teacher for many years at The Juilliard School in New York City," said Prof. Glaser. "I as profoundly influenced by her always elegant and beautiful musicianship, and her effortless playing. She played as naturally as the rest of us breathe air. She was a great inspiration as a teacher and a human being. Her comments were, without exception, constructive and intended for the best interest of the music. As a person, she was warm, generous, and fair. I was very fortunate to have been her student. so it is my great pleasure to dedicate this book about her career. and honor the memory of Mme. Reisenberg (as I called her) by plating and exhibiting it in the Ohio State University Music Library."
• This past March 9th would be have Clara's 98th birthday (centennial ideas, anybody?). For us in the family, the date conjured up warm memories of joyful celebrations through the years, but for Peter Pringle, a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer who years ago, inspired by Clara's first recording, began playing the theremin, it was a day for musical remembrance.
Here's how Clara's nephew (and my son), Steve J. Sherman, described the posting:
"On the Levnet, Peter Pringle has consistently has spoken out beautifully, passionately and positively of Clara, her musicianship, and the inspiration of her work on his musical life. He just posted a youtube video called 'Kaddish to Clara,' a four-minute piece he wrote on March 9. I think it's a moving and heartfelt tribute to Clara by someone who never met her (as far as I know), but who spends an awful lot of his life playing for her and keeping her legacy alive and well."
I heartily agree, and with Peter's permission, I'm happy to provide the route to his unsolicited, and for that reason, even more deeply appreciated expression: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMsTUUADBYc
along with his e-mail postscript:
"As I have pointed out many times in the past, each generation of classical musicians is eclipsed by its successors, but this has not happened with Clara. She stands alone as THE unsurpassed theremin virtuoso of all time. She is the gold standard against which all precision theremin playing must be weighed, and in spite of the fact that there are more thereminists (and theremins) in the world today than there have ever been in the past, none of us can come close to her remarkable achievement."
Meanwhile, gratifying reactions to Clara's "Lost Album" CD on the Bridge label, and her contributions to the development of electonic music in general, continue to arrive:
• Posted by Bret Moreland: "No one will ever make a theremin sound like Clara Rockmore, no matter what theremin they play, including hers. I much prefer the sound of the Bridge 'Lost' recording, it is alive. I always thought the Delos cd recording had a dull, flat quality, compressed sounding. While there are the occasional noise reduction artifacts noticeable on 'Lost,' the performances of Clara and Nadia, and the lively sound of the theremin and piano are truly magnificent, and this restoration presents this in a convincing and engaging manner. I love it and highly recommend the 'Lost' cd if you liked 'Art' in the slightest."
• Posted by Raymond Tuttle: "This new CD gives an even more complete picture of the theremin, and of Rockmore's artistry, than the Delos release. The use of the cello ensemble in the Villa-Lobos, as specified by the composer, really works. (Villa-Lobos wanted sopranos who sang this work to sound like a violin, and I can't help feeling that the theremin's tone is exactly what he had in mind.) Reisenberg's accompaniments are delivered with suavity and sisterly understanding. As for the recording, despite its age and analogue origin, no allowances need to be made. One might want to dismiss this CD as kitsch, or as a soundtrack for a science fiction movie that never got made. However, if you give it a chance to cast its unearthly spell, I predict that you'll come back to it again and again, with your admiration and respect increasing each time."
• Posted by John Hoge (on the ThereminWorld website): "The work you are doing to keep the memory and work of Clara and Nadia alive is tremendously important and inspiring. She (Clara) was without peer as a thereminist during her life, and many consider her still the greatest player that has ever lived. Clara devised an entirely new way of approaching the theremin technically which has helped many seeking to play with precision and style, and gave the model of aerial fingering out of which grew other schools of playing. One of the great people of our time, it would take a full biography (something many of us long and wish for!!!) to cover the complete scope of her life and that of her husband, sister and family.
She not only toured with Paul Robeson, but took a direct stand against racism; not only devised a reliable manner of playing, but greatly influenced the design of the instruments Lev Termen built for her and later ones made by Bob Moog; not only perfected her own playing, but was passionate about inspiring others to master the theremin and achieve the highest musical goals.
Clara's family and friends were tremendously important to her, and she helped instill in their next generations the passions, social values and love of life that she and her sister Nadia held in utmost importance. The theremin community would not be what it is today without her, and many of us might not be playing at all, or at least not as well, without her tremendous contributions."
Speaking of Nadia...
• The fourth winner of the Nadia Reisenberg Memorial Award at the Mannes College of Music, the English pianist Sam Armstrong, played his debut recital at Weill Hall, January 26th, 2009.
• The new series of free NR Memorial Concerts at the Ossining Public Library, presenting laureates of The New York Piano Competition, began with splendid recitals by Charlie Albright (February 22) and Hannah Sun (March 29); it will conclude April 26 with the Westchester debut of 2008 winner Allen Yueh.
E-mail received from artist-manager Michael Chang after the first program: "Congratulations on a successful inaugural concert. The Nadia Reisenberg Young Artist Series is a fitting tribute to her memory, and a welcome addition to an already thriving arts and music scene in the region."
Anthony Tommasini's glowing article about the four-CD Bridge album (headlined "Reopening a Pianist's Treasury of Chopin") on the front page of the Arts section of The New York Times (1/5/09), helped send the collection to Billboard's list of top-selling classical recordings, and prompted a number of warm personal responses:
• from pianist Agustin Anievas: "I can't tell you you enthralled and excited I was at the beautiful playing of the Nocturnes, with such ravishing sound and poetry. It was sheer joy."
• from Patty Schwarz (widow of conductor Boris Schwarz): "Yesterday's article brought back the memory of when Nadia came to be the soloist with the Queens College Community Orchestra under Boris. I will never forget that first meeting. She was so beautiful, warm, elegant and gracious, and it all came through in her performance."
• from Vincent Lenti, piano faculty member and historian at the 'Eastman School of Music: "In my younger days (much younger, I regret to admit), I was a great admirer of Nadia Reisenberg's Chopin Nocturnes. Therefore, I was delighted to note their reissue on CD, and have purchased the Chopin Treasury. Happily my reaction to her playing is every bit as enthusiastic as it was 50 years ago. She was really a wonderful pianist!"
• from pianist and teacher Lynn Landy: "We feel we have had a very extraordinary experience. Thank you for sharing your mother's gifts with the world."
And excerpts from other rave reviews:
• by Bryce Morrison, in Gramophone Magazine:
"These records are treasure indeed, an Aladdin's cave of performances of such breathtaking pianistic finesse that they are able to achieve an expressive and imaginative freedom known to very few pianists. Reisenberg is responsive to virtually every facet of these works, in music proudly strutting or sunk in deep-dyed Slavic melancholy. Here (in the Mazurka, Opus 24 in B-flat minor), she strikes gold, as she does again in the great B minor Sonata, flinging all inhibition to the wind, and exiting from the stage in a blaze of virtuoso glory."
• by Jed Distler, posted on Arkiv.com:
"I first encountered Nadia Reisenberg's 1955-57 Chopin Nocturne and Mazurka cycles for the Westminster label via audiophile cassette reissues released by Connoisseur Society/In-Sync. Fine as these sounded, Seth Winner's digital transfers for Bridge reveal a fuller and more present sonic representation of the somewhat dry and close-up, yet clearly reproduced originals. A previously unissued B Minor Sonata from November 21, 1947 Carnegie Hall recital counts among the most ardent and committed readings of this warhorse I know. The easy and inevitability with which Reisenberg shapes transitions helps her sectionalized treatment of the first movement cohere. The Scherzo's outer sections fly like the wind with just about every note in place, buttressed by stinging left-and accents. However, the pianist reaches her expressive peak in a fluid, three-dimensional, gorgeously sung-out Largo. Loving and insightful program notes from the pianist's son, Robert Sherman, add an appropriate personal touch to this welcome reissue."
• posted on Classik Reviews from the Atlanta Audio Society:
"In these recordings Nadia Reisenberg shows the relaxed, beautifully centered tone, the natural phrasing, and the warmth for which she was famous. In the Nocturnes, she gets very quickly to the emotional heart of the each piece. As one nocturne leads to the next, we get the impression of one long, continuous narrative, and we are sad when it finally breaks off. Since we don't get many complete programs of Chopin's Mazurkas (the exact number of which is continually being revised as lost and posthumous pieces are discovered), it is a treat to have so many of them here. As with the nocturnes, there are no "lesser" mazurkas for Nadia Reisenberg: she crafts them all with the same loving care."
• posted on line by Christian Carey:
"The pianist's sense of line," particularly in the Nocturnes, is limpidly impeccable. Reisenberg's recording of the Third Sonata, taken from a 1947 concert at Carnegie Hall, presents a different portrait of the artist; passionate, even tempestuous."
I am especially grateful to the donors who help support the ongoing work of the Nadia Reisenberg/Clara Rockmore Foundation, with new thanks going to John Hoge, editor of TherminWorld, pianist Lynn Landy, and most especially to my brother, Alexander Sherman. His major contribution will result in a forthcoming CD devoted to NR's complete 1947 Carnegie Hall recital, a program that, in addition to the Chopin B Minor Sonata, included a Handel Suite, Mozart's K. 310 Sonata, The "Four Excursions" of Samuel Barber, and a rather spectacular set of Russian Etudes.
What else is happening? Stay tuned, as we say on the radio, and check the site every so often for our next update. Meanwhile, thanks for your interest in the unique legacies of these two extraordinary artists.