music clip of the day


Tag: Jeremy Denk

Tuesday, October 1st

Here, following Saturday’s post, is another guy who recently won a MacArthur “genius” grant (a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000).

Jeremy Denk (1970-), pianist, writer

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, live, New York, 2012


Two summers ago, I was playing concerts in Santa Fe, some five hours’ drive from where I grew up. Travel is more difficult for my parents than it used to be, but they made the trek to hear me. They brought along a strange gift—a black notebook with my name on the front, written in my best prepubescent cursive. It had been excavated from a closet and smelled faintly of mothballs. I’d forgotten it existed but recognized it instantly: my piano-lesson journal. Starting in 1981, when I was eleven, it sat on my music rack, so that I could consult, or pretend to consult, my teacher’s comments. Week after week, he wrote down what I’d played and how it went, and outlined the next week’s goals.

I paged through nostalgically, reflecting on how far I’d come. But a few days later I was onstage, performing, and a voice made itself heard in my head: “Better not play faster than you can think.” It was the notebook talking. I was indeed playing faster than I could think—sometimes your fingers have plans of their own. The notebook voice went on. “Keep back straight,” it said. “Beware of concentration lapses.” Through several subsequent concerts, it lodged complaints and probed weaknesses, delivering opinions worse than any reviewer’s. It took me weeks to silence the voice and play normally again.

In popular culture, music lessons are often linked with psychological torment. People apparently love stories about performing-arts teachers who drive students mad, breaking their spirits with pitiless exactitude. There’s David Helfgott in “Shine,” Isabelle Huppert’s sadomasochistic turn in “The Piano Teacher,” the sneering Juilliard judges for whom Julia Stiles auditions to redeem her mother’s death in “Save the Last Dance.” (I can testify that the behavior of the judges at my real-life Juilliard audition was even meaner and funnier.) I’ve often rolled my eyes at the music-lesson clichés of movies: the mind games and power plays, the teacher with the quaint European accent who says, “You will never make it, you are not a real musician,” in order to get you to work even harder. But as the notebook recalled memories of lessons I’d had—both as a child and later, once the piano became my life—I wondered if my story was all that different.

—”Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Life in Piano Lessons,” New Yorker, 4/8/13

Thursday, 9/13/12

A piano to play, books to read, coffee to drink—what more could you want?

Jeremy Denk, talking and playing, New York, 2012


Playing Gyorgy Ligeti’s Piano Etudes, Book 1

No. 4: Fanfares


No. 5: Arc-en-ceil


No. 6: Automne à Varsovie

Thursday, 4/19/12

This guy’s a rare bird. Long a respected concert pianist, he’s also become a notable writer, appearing recently in the New Yorker and the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Jeremy Denk, piano
Charles Ives, Concord Sonata (excerpt [“The Alcotts”])
Live, New York, 2012



reading table

My Ives addiction started one summer at music camp, at Mount Holyoke College. I was twenty and learning his Piano Trio. There’s an astounding moment in the Trio where the pianist goes off into a blur of sweet and sour notes around a B-flat-major chord. I knew the moment was important, but I wondered, was my sound too vague or too clear? (A recurring interpretative problem in Ives is discovering the ideal amount of muddle.) I was also puzzled about where this phrase was going. I’d been taught that phrases were supposed to go somewhere, yet this musical moment seemed serenely determined to wander nowhere.

—Jeremy Denk, “Flight of the Concord,” New Yorker, 2/6/12



After posting the Peter Brötzmann clip and the AOL headlines, I drove a hundred miles to see a client serving a life sentence at the Pontiac Correctional Center, then stopped at a nearby restaurant for a mid-afternoon lunch, where I overheard the cook ask a patron: “Did you see where that guy was killed by a swan?”

Sunday, 2/19/12

the first voice Whitney heard

Emily “Cissy” Houston (born Emily Drinkard), singer, 1933-

The Drinkard Singers (Cissy Houston, lead vocals), “Lift Him Up,” live (TV broadcast), c. early 1960s



Live (TV broadcast), 1970

“Be My Baby” (P. Spector, J. Barry & E. Greenwich)


“I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” (B. Bacharach & H. David)


listening room: (some of) what’s playing

• Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note)

• Johann Sebastian Bach, Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, Pierre Fournier, cello (Archiv Production)

• Johann Sebastian Bach, Well-Tempered Clavier, Glenn Gould, piano (Sony)

• Johann Sebastian Bach, Partitas Nos. 3, 4, 6, Jeremy Denk, piano (Azica)

• Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonatas Nos. 14 (“Moonlight”), 8 (“Pathetique”), 23 (“Appassionata”), Rudolf Serkin, piano (CBS)

• Alfred Cortot, The Master Pianist (EMI)

• Claude Debussy, Pour Le Piano, Etudes Books 1 & 2, Gordon Fergus-Thompson, piano (Musical Heritage Society)

• The Dirtbombs, Ultraglide In Black (In the Red Records)

• Morton Feldman, For Bunita Marcus, John Tilbury, piano (London Hall)

• Morton Feldman, Piano and String Quartet, Aki Takahashi (piano), Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch)

• Mary Halvorson Quintet, Saturn Sings (Firehouse)

• Slim Harpo, The Best of Slim Harpo (Hip-O)

• Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, Krzysztof Penderecki; Kim Kashkashian (viola), Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (Dennis Russell Davies, cond.), Lachrymae (ECM)

• Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation, and Flow (Pi Recordings)

• Jimmie Lunceford, The Complete Jimmie Lunceford Decca Sessions (Mosaic)

• Guilliaume de Michaut, Motets, The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM)

• Paul Motian Trio (with Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell), Sound of Love (Winter & Winter)

• Mudd Up!, WFMU-FM (DJ/Rupture, “new bass and beats”)

• Pee Wee Russell, Swingin’ with Pee Wee (Prestige)

• Pharoah Sanders, Karma (GRP)

• Pharoah Sanders, Live (Evidence)

• Giacinto Scelsi, Natura Renovatur (ECM)

• Arnold Schoenberg, Piano Works, Peter Serkin, piano (Arcana)

• Sinner’s Crossroads, WFMU-FM (Kevin Nutt, gospel)

• Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel (ECM)

• Toru Takemitsu, Peter Serkin Plays the Music of Toru Takemitsu, Peter Serkin, piano (RCA/BMG)

• Anton Webern, Complete Music for String Quartet, Quartetto Italiano (Philips)

• Anton Webern, Works for String Quartet, Emerson Quartet (Deutsche Grammaphon)

• Wild Flag, Wild Flag (Merge)

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