Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Artist Interview with Beth Levin

Acclaimed New York City pianist, Beth Levin (www.bethlevinpiano.com), will release her second album with PARMA, PERSONAE, this Friday, January 8th, on Navona Records.

Beth has been busy recording and performing for the past year, and PERSONAE represents the next milestone in her career as an artist.  We caught up with Beth to talk about her life as a pianist, how she programmed PERSONAE, and what she's working on next:




You were introduced to piano at a young age and debuted with the Philadelphia orchestra at 12 years old. What first introduced you to piano?

Beth Levin
We had a large rather old Lester upright in the basement of our house on Lenape Road in Philadelphia. I went to it as a child and it became my special place in a way. The bench was filled with music- Bach, lieder, sheet music of all kinds- and I learned to sight-read quickly. At about age five I went to a wonderful neighborhood teacher who had come over from Europe to study at the Curtis Institute of Music, the place which was to become my own destiny as well.

My father was quite musical and had a great ear. I would accompany him when he sang and during car rides he would play the radio and teach me about the composers and performers we were hearing.

At 12 I went to study with Marian Filar, a brilliant Polish pianist, and he was the one who prepared me for the Philadelphia Orchestra competition and consequent performance.

Your last release, A SINGLE BREATH, focused on Beethoven's piano sonatas.  How did you change your approach for selecting the repertoire on PERSONAE?

I think I had been thinking a lot about Mr. Filar who was a great Chopin interpreter. I hadn't performed Chopin in a while and when I opened the B flat minor sonata I knew I was going to play it. Sometimes one gets hooked in the first few measures.

"Davidsbundlertanze" I had recently performed at Bargemusic in NY and wanted to keep working on. It's a huge expanse of a piece and one you could work on for years and not feel you had touched bottom. Both the Chopin and the Schumann were great contrasts to the Beethoven sonatas I had recorded and much more romantic- yet somehow the perfect next step from Op. 111 of Beethoven.

For PERSONAE, you recorded with Peter Karl in New York City - have you worked with Peter in the past?  How was the experience?

Working with Peter Karl is half the fun of recording. He is quite funny at the same time that he is a pro and knows exactly what he wants. He had often recorded my live concerts over the years but this was one of the first times I had recorded in his studio. The work of recording can be grueling- especially repeating whole movements. We tried to keep the music whole and not chop things up. Peter set up a very welcoming atmosphere that allowed things to flow and feel creative and spontaneous.

Anders Eliasson is the only contemporary composer (1947-2013) featured on PERSONAE.  How were you introduced to his music?

I was introduced to the music of Anders Eliasson by a great champion of his work, the conductor and teacher Christoph Schlueren, whom I met on Facebook. He had listened to my recording of A SINGLE BREATH and invited me to come over and play a few recitals in Germany. There he showed me scores of Eliasson and in the next program that I learned I included his "Disegno 1". Two other works followed in my recital programs. He and Peter Kislinger, another friend and champion of Eliasson, helped me to understand the language of the music.

What do you want listeners to take away from PERSONAE?

...mainly an hour or so of pleasure in the music of great masters. I hope I have portrayed and relayed the character of the music enough that it speaks to a listener's imagination. The music evoked great feeling in me and if some of that translated to the listener I'd be happy.

PERSONAE Cover Artwork

Do you have any upcoming performances featuring works from PERSONAE?

I performed the program in Boston and in NYC before recording it but now am at work on a new recital which I'm scheduled to play in Fall of 2016.
Some of the recording was just aired on radio programs in Vienna and in Vermont. I hope that the CD will take on a life of its own.

New York City is a musical and cultural hotspot.  What is your favorite aspect of being a musician living and working in the city?

I like to walk down the street and hear other musicians practicing.
And sometimes it's nice to have a concert that is a subway stop away from home.
You can feel happily surrounded by art and music here, but you can also be a hermit, practice away and feel the necessary isolation behind serious work at the piano.

What's next for you?

I'll be working with an Icelandic violinist next and playing two concerti here and in Europe- of Mozart and Beethoven. A recording I made with the cellist Sam Magill (also for PARMA) comes out in February and we have concerts together in April, 2016. I'll perform a new solo recital program at Symphony Space in NYC in fall of 2016 sponsored by the Drozdoff Society.



PERSONAE is out this Friday, January 8th via Navona Records. Listen and find purchase links here: www.navonarecords.com/catalog/nv6016/ 

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