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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/14/2011

Link: The unconventional Tzimon Barto

By Anne Midgette

In Sunday's Washington Post: A profile of the idiosyncratic pianist Tzimon Barto, by Anne Midgette.

One of the things that I found striking about Barto, which I hope came across in this story, is that the classical music world tends not to like him more because of his style than his music. The people who criticize him tend to focus on the way he looks and acts rather than the way he plays; or in some cases project the way he looks onto the way he plays. This to me is a statement about the conservatism of the classical music world, though I realize that Barto is such an unusual character that many people would fail to "get" him in just about any milieu in which he might happen to move.

Here, since I have unlimited space on the Web, are a couple of outtakes from the story that were cut to get it to fit into the paper.

Take his pilot program for first-graders, which before it started sounded like a pipe dream: in July, he still needed to find a teacher to lead a class of first-graders who would come in voluntarily at 7:45 in the morning for half an hour of music and Greek before school officially started. But the teacher was found, and the first semester has been a success: the kids have made Mark Rothko-inspired drawings, a large mural evoking Jackson Pollack, and have heard “tons of music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Ligeti.” Next year, when they’re in second grade, they will start piano lessons, and Barto is buying them six pianos with his own money. “My idea was to buy them 12,” he says, but “the teacher said it’s not possible; they’re too unruly.” The only difficulty is keeping the teacher abreast of the ancient Greek, in which Barto is tutoring her himself. “It’s tough going,” he says.
...
Barto’s recent recordings are like everything else in his life: uneven, with some moments of near-parody but others of genuine poetry and beauty. A recent recording involves piano performances of works written for harpsichord by the Baroque composer Rameau -- the mere idea is anathema to some music lovers. Even more recent is a two-disk Schubert recording released this year but made before and after the difficult period of the drug bust and Ori’s death. Some of it is jagged; in other places, his many nuances of quiet playing -- “I love to play about 20 shades of piano,” meaning soft playing, he says -- seem ideally suited to the soft edges of Schubert’s music.

By Anne Midgette  | January 14, 2011; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Washington, national  
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Comments

This is something unrelated to the article, though which may be of interest to the readers: an interview with NSO principal trumpeter Steven Hendrickson, part 1:
http://videoblog.scena.org/2011/01/paul-robinson-in-conversation-with.html

and part 2:
http://videoblog.scena.org/2011/01/paul-robinson-in-conversation-with.html

(or simply go to La Scena web site.)

Quote: 'Much of our discussion has to do with rotary valve trumpets. [...] The subject came up because the National Symphony's new music director, Christoph Eschenbach, has expressed a preference for these instruments.'

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | January 14, 2011 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Anne, Thanks for the article. I knew Barto as a classical musician growing up in Central Florida. I think your main article captured him pretty well, but I'm not sure I agree with your theory above that the classical world tends to dislike him more for his style than his music. (I'm glad that didn't come across more clearly in the article.) It's true that his style can be abrasive. But I think that what is more offensive is that he seems to think his uniqueness and flashiness will win him enough points among those with untrained ears that he doesn't need to practice. It's a nice theory that you can be great without working at it, and a lot of people would like to believe that is true, but among classical musicians it is rarely the case. And by not unashamedly not practicing much, its almost like he is saying the rest of us are foolish for doing so.

Posted by: choco241 | January 16, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

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