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Moments Musicaux & Maestro Meier

Posted by on 2016/05/28. 0 comments

Schubert Moments Musicaux (Number 3)

I started learning Schubert’s Six Moments Musicaux in 2006, the first semester of what would be my final year studying in Spain. I’d known the pieces my whole life, but had only been practicing them seriously about seven months. While learning them, every one of my piano lessons was a complete disaster. My piano professor would stop me after the first phrase and then criticize mercilessly. Sometimes I wouldn’t play a single note for the rest of the lesson. This went on for months. It wasn’t my playing she criticized, it was me; it was absolutely personal: I was lazy, I was slow, she felt sorry for me, I was from the wrong cultural background, I started playing piano too late, I would never have the technique, I was unrefined, I was insensitive, I was tone-deaf, I lacked character, I was too passive, I would never understand this music, I was stupid. It was hopeless. I played the Alban Berg Piano Sonata and some Debussy etudes at that semester’s jury. Maybe someday you’ll play Schubert…

After that, I worked the hardest I’ve ever worked on the Moments Musicaux. It became a bit of a running joke among the other students and teachers at the school, particularly in the viola studio, who’d hear me through their wall practicing the Moments Musicaux hours on end. I became the Moments Musicaux guy; people would hum number three or number five when they’d pass by me. I would take the score with me everywhere; if I wasn’t playing piano, I was either listening to recordings or reading the score. Those pieces were my life. There was no improvement in the lessons; if anything, they got worse. Now instead of playing a phrase, I would play a measure, a note… sometimes the criticism would start before I even played one note; the character of the breath was wrong, the way I sat was wrong. At the end of the semester, I played a pair of Rachmaninoff etudes and Beethoven’s Andante Favori for my jury. Maybe someday you’ll play Schubert…

That Summer Break, I filled in as rehearsal pianist for the International Conducting Workshop, a conducting course Gustav Meier taught in Mexico. During the lunch breaks I would practice my repertoire, including the Moments Musicaux. Before one of the last sessions, Gustav Meier came up to me and mentioned casually something to the effect of: “I’ve been listening to you practice that Schubert all week. It sounds wonderful.” We then talked briefly about one section that he liked particularly in the second piece of the set, how difficult it is to pull off the pick-up notes of the sixth piece, and our favorite recordings. After that minute-long conversation I was glowing. I played through the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth for the next couple of hours with the conducting students with a renewed energy. A weight had been lifted.

The next day, when I sat at the piano to practice those pieces, I broke down weeping and shaking uncontrollably.

I did not return to Spain in the fall. I played the Moments Musicaux in a recital later that year and put them away until now, almost eight years later.

Maestro Meier passed away this week. We did not stay in contact after that, although I played piano for his conducting workshop the next year and ran into him once while living in Michigan. Although the gestures and ideas discussed in those workshops have stayed with me and become an important part of my conducting background, I was most affected by that one casual remark. I could have gone back to Spain and continued on the self-destructive path I was on. I was depressed, lonely, alienated from my family, and potentially suicidal. That simple gesture of appreciation changed my life. That ability to reach out and touch another human being so profoundly is, in my opinion, the highest ideal of any conductor.