Blier’s Blog: October 26, 2011

I shouldn’t have been surprised at the power of In the Memory Palace—but I was. The quattro staggioni effect of four song cycles, each of them intense and utterly different from one another, worked even more magic than I had expected. The beauty of not being especially confident is that good experiences still fill me with wonder and joy. Tuesday’s concert was such an experience—a wonderful evening where everything worked like gangbusters. Michelle, Becca Jo, Paul, Andy: American originals, brilliantly gifted vocalists, sublime ensemble artists. And Michael played like an angel/demon. Best of all, Gabe Kahane’s cycle swept everyone away; every singer I spoke to afterwards said, “OK, I want those songs.”

Rinse and repeat tomorrow….

memory palace rehearsalMemory Palace cast after the dress at Merkin Hall: Michael, Becca, Andy, Steve, Michelle, and Paul

Blier’s Blog: October 24, 2011

Moving to Merkin from our Washington venue was a bit like going from dating Twiggy to dating Gina Lollabrigida. Our Washington space was a Bombay martini; Merkin is graciously reverberant, and it sure LOVES the piano. We spent a pleasant afternoon adjusting to the new (but by now familiar) acoustics—both its challenges and its possibilities. Everyone is trying to bleach out those last “ring around the collar” moments in the show, the tiny errors that refuse to listen to reason. The quartets sound so beautiful at Merkin, and the cast is starting to take up permanent residence in their solo cycles.

Blier’s Blog: October 23, 2011

It sounds simple: you leave town to make music in another locale, and then you come home. But touring is seldom a bed of roses, and this bed was unusually thorny. Dramas abounded. When we got to Union Station in Washington on Friday night, our specially pre-ordered cab (with a ramp for my wheelchair) had blithely loaded another passenger (without a wheelchair). Off they went, leaving us stranded at the train station. The driver worked for Royal Cabs, who seem to have gotten their idea of Royalty from Henry the Eighth, i.e. they screw whomever they want. After some heated negotiation, the dispatcher condescended to send the driver back after he had dropped off the interloper; two hours later, he showed up. We drove into town in silence as he took us to the wrong address. Finally disgorging two very tired angry guys at the Westin Georgetown, he burst out with, “You’re LUCKY I came back for you! I wasn’t GOING to!” Just as I was about to lace him with some choice Big Apple invective, I managed to locate what I call my Inner Flicka (Frederica von Stade’s nickname). Flicka is among the gentlest and most forgiving people I know, and if I can summon up her spirit in time, I manage to avoid epic pissing matches that I cannot win. What would Flicka do? She’d say a prayer for him. I couldn’t quite summon that up, but at least I kept my mouth shut.

The people that ran the performance space were the exact opposite of my cab driver the day before: meticulous about their jobs. The hall was one of those black-boxy places where the crew always tells you within the first 45 seconds, “Oh, it’s a bit dry for the performer but we assure you the sound out front is crystal clear.” This is a bit like telling someone that no one else will feel their bee sting—comforting, but irrelevant in the moment. Michael’s piano had a big, brave sound. Mine was more like a Wellesley sophomore: sweet, elegant, not forceful, cultured. I quietly gave up the idea of colorful climactic phrases and geared myself to the Barricini version of my songs.

We all had our meet-your-maker moments Saturday night, and I was in a fine lather by the end of the performance. I have one need before I walk onstage: I must play through all of my songs. But between one thing and another (including the need to tune two pianos, a Q&A session with four very bright voice students, and the auspices’s decision to open the house 45 minutes before showtime), I didn’t get my warmup. I had gotten caught between extremes of callous incompetence on Friday and OCD-ish efficiency on Saturday. The good news? In spite of it all, it was crystal clear that “In the Memory Palace” is a first-rate NYFOS show, great songs, great performers, great sequencing. Gabe Kahane’s cycle grabbed the audience’s heart. Frank Bridge astonished, Granados detonated, Villa-Lobos seduced. On the way to the restaurant after the show a guy drove up, came to a screeching halt in front of us, jumped out of his car, and yelled, “I LOVE THOSE GABE KAHANE SONGS! THEY’RE GREAT! THANK YOU!”


Mission accomplished. Glad to be out of the space capsule and back on the earth again.

Blier’s Blog: October 19, 2011

Today is my late father’s 100th birthday. One of the cast members took his photograph down from my windowsill and put it on my coffeetable—the Danish Modern one I inherited from him. It gave my dad a ringside seat for the six-plus hours of rehearsal today, and I think he enjoyed it. I mean, he was grinning throughout the whole day. Of course, he’s been smiling like that since the picture was snapped in 1956.

blier's dadHe had a lot to grin about. The cast is doing sensational work, and I am in love with the music for next week’s concert. There is always a horrible interval between the optimism of conceiving the program and the first few days of working on the concert. During that six-week period I always think I have created a monster. I go through all of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance—acceptance that I am preparing a latke, a flat tire, a root canal of a concert. Then the cast walks in and starts singing the songs we sent them, and I am amazed at how beautiful the music is, especially in their hands. This drama is so predictable that by now I pay it no mind, but I have never lost the wonder of hearing the birth of the show. “In the Memory Palace” is so arrestingly lovely and fascinating; I am grateful to all the composers and all the singers.

Above: Steven’s dad, still smiling

Blier’s Blog: October 16, 2011

As I get ready to rehearse Granados’s Tonadillas, I’ve been tempted to listen compulsively to other performances of them—I have about six recordings on my iPod. But I realized that rather than torture myself hearing de los Angeles and Gerald Moore for the ninetieth time, I’d do better to spend that time slugging it out at the piano myself. After all, I’ve known those recordings since I was about 12 years old and they’re already embedded on my internal hard drive. What I’d rather hear, of course, is their out-takes, the wrong notes, the phrases that needed to be re-done, the curse words they spat out when they screwed up. That would be comforting! And educational.

Lacking that stimulation, I embarked on a high-minded course of cultural enrichment. I admit that this happened by chance: at a recent used-CD sale I picked up a recording of the Beaux Arts Trio playing Turina and Granados. The Turina piece was lovely, and absolutely what I expected: a gorgeous sound track of picturesque Españolitude, full of flair and charm. Musical paella. But the Granados—what a shock. It starts out with a riff that sound like the love-child of Keith Jarrett and Philip Glass, and goes on to evoke the beauty of Brahms leavened with of the sweet transparency of Fauré. The Tonadillas are pure Madrid, and they’re sublime. But this piano trio is like getting on a plane with Granados and having dinner with him all over Europe—in the best restaurants.

I’d written in the program note about the Goya paintings that inspired Granados to write the Tonadillas, so after I’d busted my knuckles on them for a while I decided I’d earned a cup of tea and 10 minutes of web surfing. I found my way to the Frick Museum site where they had posted a brush-and-ink drawing called “A Fight.” Two people are brawling in the background, maybe two women but maybe a man and a woman; in the foreground a Spanish dandy, a majo, is also sprawled on the floor—but he’s laughing at them.

When I went back to the piano, with my mind full of Keith Jarrett and angry Spaniards wrestling like crazy people, the Tonadillas started to fall under my fingers pretty easily. Bless caffeine, the internet, and m’man Granados. The link >