Monday, August 27, 2018

Beethoven's Jacket

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Re-worked an older Beethoven of mine. He needed some new clothes!

I was looking at children's books the other day and saw one where Beethoven was one of the characters. The artist nearly got his likeness n one of the drawings--but the others were a bit substandard, even given the possibility that this book was partially an attempt to humanize the composer, make him seem less intimidating.

There's one plate where "Beethoven" is standing on a podium in a concert hall, looking over his shoulder as if wondering where the restroom is, and you're kind of looking up at him. The composition and atmosphere and color work are wonderful, the musicians look great, the hall is beautiful...but Beethoven is fat and shiny, his cheeks ballooning and sagging at the same time, and his expression is utterly hapless. It's fine to use your uncle as a Beethoven reference, as long as he looks a little like Beethoven. And as the artist you can supply whatever's missing--cheekbones, in this case.

Yes, it is intimidating to draw composers, especially when you revere them. I felt that way doing Leonard Bernstein recently. I'm under no illusions that my Beethoven here is the definitive one. This is a caricature, after all. But he works for me. I never think of him as angry or crazy, or whatever the stereotypes are. Was he fat? I don't know, but that's something I might suggest more than emphasize in a drawing, because it's okay to idealize a larger-than-life personality like this. In one of his biographies I read a letter Beethoven sent to a little girl who asked his advice regarding her piano practice. I was completely won over by the tenderness of his response. Where do people get this idea he was a glowering grouch? So not the case.

If as an artist you're going to make Beethoven grotesque, fine—but it’s a cliche. I’ve seen some interesting odd caricatures of him, but the’re often uncharitable.  His art of course couldn’t be further from the grotesque. His resplendent works cover an incredible range, from his early Mozart-like piano concertos to his late quartets, which anticipated 20th-century music. He was a wide-ranging, rigorous and groundbreaking artist, not a chaotic one. The wild-eyed genius with unkempt hair whose mind became distorted with madness may or may not be an accurate image. It’s been done to death, but a bizarre or ugly artistic conception of Beethoven is still better than a bland one.

What bothered me most about the Beethoven character I saw in that children's book, is that he wasn't either ugly or idealized. He just looked like a life insurance salesman. Hey, nothing against life insurance salespeople. But you can't go mediocre with Beethoven. Make a choice, and make it a bold one!

Beethoven wasn't a Caspar Milquetoast, is what I'm getting at.

Leonard Bernstein

One of my Lennys. This was done recently on request. At the time I had no idea Bernstein's 100th was coming up. I figured it out in time to post the drawing to my other accounts on August 25th, but neglected to post it here goes. I usually use a lot of color, but I felt the drawing was strong enough on its own. I think the black and white makes it look more vintagey as well. I love men in suits!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Will Work...

I updated one of my Marilyn drawings for this post.

Hey, if anyone is in the market for an illustrator, I would love to do some work for you. Email me at frostedcookies16 AT gmail dot com.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guest Blogger: Cellist Kirill Timofeev, the Rastrelli Cello Quartet

From left: Sergio Drabkin, Kira Kraftzoff, Kirill Timofeev and Mischa Degtjareff 

The members of the well-loved Rastrelli Cello Quartet have been traveling all over Europe and America this Spring with their "From Brahms to the Beatles" tour. Award-winning cellist Kirill Timofeev, born in St. Petersburg in 1978, has worked with a range of gifted artists, including Yuri Temirkanov.

 When we do recordings, our sound engineer Christopher Tarnow is like the fifth member of the group. In a session we play each piece all the way through, then we start working on it, trying to sound good together. It's all about playing together and expressing the same mood. Christopher's ears are very good, and he always understands when to stop us, and when to just let us play.

The sessions last a long time. It's hard not to fall asleep after five hours! It's even harder, maybe, to do the recording sessions than to do the performances! We usually have to do more than one take. A live recording is much better, because of the concert feeling and the drive. Our live recordings on YouTube are not as good as if we were recording the same pieces in the studio. It's another kind of job. We should think about the YouTube recordings and prepare them specially.

On this tour we're doing two programs: Brahms and Beatles, and James Bond 007, featuring a 12-minute medley of themes from the Bond movies. Tonight we'll play selections from Karl Davidoff's Beatles Songbook. I agree with Kira Kraftzoff that the Beatles were the first band to bring the whole world together. Without understanding a single word of the lyrics, you could hear their songs in Russia, in New Guinea, everywhere! My father had the Beatles' records and he played them a lot, so it became the music of my childhood as well. And I didn't understand a word! But that was not important, actually. I cared more about the music.

I really love the Beatles' songs. Each piece has a very special moment, if you're hearing it for the first time, when you're not sure where the music will lead you. They always choose another direction. They make a very simple thing very special. It's ingenious. Our arranger Sergio can touch this moment and exaggerate it sometimes. It would be better for you to hear it than for me to talk about it. It's something that distinguishes good music from pop music.

Funny enough, this is also true in the Brahms Hungarian Dances which we play tonight. Every piece is a simple dance, but they all have a special moment of genius. Therefore these pieces are still played, and they'll never become old. We've forgotten the bad music of Brahms' time. Nobody cares about it anymore! But really good stuff always stays alive. The similarities between Brahms and the Beatles occurred to me just this morning, and I think I should talk to my colleagues about it. Maybe we unconsciously chose to program them together.

In some of the Beatles' recordings that include strings, like Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby, the studio musicians didn't take what they were doing very seriously. I think those pieces have the potential to be done in many different and interesting ways. Very often Beatles' covers are quite boring, except for the one by The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic. They did that recording in the 1970s, and it was revolutionary. No classical musicians had ever touched pop music before that. Now it's more common. The goal for us is to take each song and treat it like a jewel, like a classical piece.

Some people in our audience tonight will recognize their favorite Beatles' songs of course, and that's nice for them. But we're not necessarily trying to excite nostalgia or dreams of youth. We're playing this music for now, for the present. Tonight we're playing at Holy Names University, so we'll probably attract some younger people. It's one of our goals to show them that our music can be--I don't want to call it cool, but show that it's relevant to modern life, and that it's serious. Brahms' music is still modern, even though it was written 150 years ago. Maybe we'll attract some younger fans tonight! Four cellos are seldom heard together.

Funny enough, our youngest audiences are always in Russia. I don't really understand why. Maybe it's because the concerts start earlier, at seven. You invite your girlfriend to the classical concert and make a good impression, and later you can go to the disco! The whole situation is changing. It used to be classical musicians were thought of as snobby geniuses who didn't give interviews or talk to the audience. We don't feel that we're big stars, with our heads in the clouds. We love meeting the audience after the show! Staying at a hotel or eating in some restaurant, you don't have time to get in touch with people. After the concert it's really easy to start a conversation, and in America people are always ready to talk with us. It's great, I love it!

When I'm not on tour I live part of the time in Germany, and part of the time in St. Petersburg, where my wife lives. She's a doctor. It makes no sense for her to stay with me in Germany because I'm not at home much, I'm usually traveling. The quartet has a lot of gigs in Europe. But in Europe you can drive to them in a car!

I've been more or less on the road for the last six years. It's a great experience and a great chance to play for a lot of people and meet them. It's interesting to compare different countries. People who love culture are everywhere. They're the same, they understand each other, whether they're in Poland or Russia or Israel. They are much closer to one another than the politicians. I think things would be better if all the politicians would get together and sing some songs!

The world is very connected now. You can't just look at one country. We only know what we read, but politicians at the highest levels are discussing other things. They're global chess players. They can tell us about human rights, but they have their own agenda. To understand this situation I should at least study economics. I have no idea about economics! Nothing! I have no idea how it works! I can read various articles in German and in Russian, but why should I trust these people? Before giving an opinion about world events, the author should know their subject better than me.

I'm not here to give my opinion of things I know nothing about. My goal is to build bridges.

I want to thank our sound partner Christopher Tarnow, Jean Schreiber of Classics Alive Artists, and every presenter who invited us on this tour. These people really love the music. And thanks to the Meadowlark Music Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. We have a lot of good friends there. And there are so many others.

2018-04-20Chicago, IL USANortheastern Illinois University
2018-04-22Abingdon, VA USAAbingdon Church
2018-04-24Willow Valley, PA USAWillow Valley Community Center
2018-04-26Memphis, TN USAConcerts International
2018-04-27Augusta, GA USAHarry Jacobs Chamber Music Society
2018-04-28 7:30 PMSarasota FL USAArtist Series Concerts of Sarasota
2018-04-29 3 PMSarasota FL USAArtist Series Concerts of Sarasota
2018-05-04Lauffen DEAlte KelterFrom Brahms to Beatles
2018-05-13 17:00Darmstadt DECentralstationVon Brahms bis Beatles