A Reasonably Good Excuse For Not Blogging?

Flight of the Concord, in this week’s New Yorker.

Now, if you think I’m the sort of person who would run down first thing in the morning and buy nine hundred copies of the New Yorker (and some potato chips) from my local newsstand, you are absolutely correct.

Since the piece is an obsessive and neurotic account of making a recording, it’s interesting to note that I spent some part of Christmas obsessively and neurotically archiving old recordings of myself. I unearthed some provocative memories, ghosts of Denks past. I have updated the “listen” section of my website with a few of these live performances, with plenty of embarrassing warts. For instance, Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives was a very new piece for me when I played it in 2009 …

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And I was interested to hear an uneven performance of Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze from 2010,

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I will avoid saying what parts I like and hate.

Musicians are torn between the dream of the definitive recording and the dream of the affecting performance, between the paradigms of two different media; I indulge another dream, that I can head off into a space where I’m “just” making music, in context-less paradise. A vacation from occasion and circumstance: not too likely…

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39 Comments

  1. Janet
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Nice to have a new entry (and a New Yorker article to look forward to tonight). But what happened to the wild record-release party dream that was the previous entry? I liked that one.

  2. Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    It’s unknown what happened to the last post; some web design stuff has been going on behind the scenes and hopefully we will be able to locate the rabbit hole the dream went down. In a way, appropriate that a dream would vanish like a dream?

  3. Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Bravo Jeremy! I just read your New Yorker piece, and it’s brilliant and moving and a little heart-breaking, and in its own way as fine a companion to your recording as the essay is to the sonata. And I can’t wait for your next performance of it, done completely differently.

    Thanks for bringing such fire to music and life.

    All the best,

    Conrad

  4. Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Yes, Bravo!
    And thank you to allow us listening some of your performance, in two different repertoires.
    i enjoy particularly Prokofiev.

    And your sentence “I indulge another dream, that I can head off into a space where I’m “just” making music, in context-less paradise” is really a dream of a true musician.
    Marc.

  5. spinningchick
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy:
    What an absolutely fascinating article – I love your sense of humor (I miss the schmear)! What a journey and thank you for taking all of us along for the ride. Was crafting and publishing an essay in the New Yorker similar in ways?

  6. Annette
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    What Conrad said. Seeing your article in the New Yorker yesterday made me feel like a proud aunt whose favorite nephew has made good. (“If it isn’t young Jeffrey — why, I’ve been reading his blog for YEARS!”) And if you ever make it to Bonn (Beethovenhaus — excellent Steinway, or so they tell me), I’ll be there, brandishing my tattered copy, lips tightly clenched so that none of the Seven Unforgivable Post-Concert Remarks have a chance to escape.
    P.S. Headline in today’s FAZ: “Denksport macht neugierig auf mehr”. Absolutely!

  7. Janet
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Modern recording seems to be a little like that proverbial ax that is still my great-grandfather’s ax, even though every part of it has been replaced. At what point is a recording so altered that it’s no longer the artist’s performance?

  8. Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    The New Yorker piece was as much fun as watching you play; if I hadn’t seen you play the Concord (at Zankel Hall) would I have enjoyed reading it so much? Well, very nearly, I’m sure. Nonetheless: a total media experience!

  9. Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Congrats Jeremy! Great piece. And Denkophiles: My brand new book on Beethoven Now includes an entire chapter on Jeremy, based on a lengthy interview, along with excerpts from this blog! Trill, baby, trill. http://bit.ly/yDka4

  10. Norman Kelley
    Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Denk,

    Thanks for the edifying article about your work on the Ives Concord.

    I have never liked the music of Charles Ives and dismissed him as a crank, a misfit, a curmudgeon, when I was a teenager. Since then, I have turned off whatever radio station I was listening to when I heard Ives’ work performed.

    However, after reading your essay and listening online to your interview, I realize I was wrong. I’ve been wrong and will continue to be wrong about a lot of things, but this morning was a pleasant revelation. I think I’m beginning to get it–I mean, Ives as a serious artist.

    Just wanted you to know that!

    Thanks, again,

    Norman

  11. Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I loved the NYer piece. I’ll listen to recordings in a new way, so thanks for that. I’m psyched to hear your Ives. For the record (heh), and this is a serious request, I would give a lot to hear the “perfect” Thoreau outburst with you talking over it. Please?

  12. Bill Brice
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    LOVED the New Yorker piece, Jeremy! Now I need to buy your Ives recording. And then enjoy hearing you play it quite differently someday soon.

  13. John Henris
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    A rhetorical question: why is it that providence so often bestows writerly gifts on those already in possession of musical ones? I suspect the answer has to do with the fact that at heart they must be much the same thing, but it breaks my heart to consider this as I am such a lumbering musician. In any case, I enjoyed your Concord essay almost as much as I have enjoyed your Concord recording. In fact, I am sure I will enjoy your recording more now.

  14. Ann
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I loved your New Yorker piece which introduced you to me as a fascinating writer as well as musician. I was even more pleased to learn you graduated from my alma mater Oberlin. Now I’d like to subscribe to your blog but can’t figure out how to do it. Am I missing something? (By the way, I also plan to seek out your recordings!)

  15. mvhul
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I was so delighted to open the *New Yorker* and find a piece by one of my favorite writers (and certainly my favorite blogger). (“They finally discovered him!” was my thought–immediately followed by, “Whatever took them so long?!”)

    Your article is moving and delightful. I’m so grateful that you’re a writer as well as a pianist. Thank you.

  16. rg2
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Having recently done time in a recording studio, crafting one of those conceptual artifacts, I’d say your New Yorker piece is less “obsessive and neurotic” than it is straight-up, unadorned reportage–the facts. It feels just like you say it does. We should all be grateful that our favorite recordings exist, given that most artists (across all genres) often felt/feel like destroying the evidence in fits of playback-induced dismay, horror, and/or shame. Thanks for undergoing the ordeal.

  17. Lisa Saffer
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Hi Jeremy,

    just finished the NYer article which was SO excellent. I was just speaking with a young pianist about recorded music–musical documentation–and now must send this on to him. You really got it down. In my own previous recording life I always had an itching urge to sabotage it all with something wild and live and, dare I say, ugly.
    Sigh.

    Keep it up–your writing is as wonderful as your playing. Thanks.

  18. LT
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    I found your New Yorker piece yesterday at 4 am, when I got up to make sure one of my cats, whom I’d accidentally double-dosed on heart medication, was still breathing. (He’s fine.) Exhausted and worried as I was, I became so engrossed in your story that I couldn’t put it down.

    I was in charge of a museum chamber-music series for many years. After working with performers and calming (unconfessed) pre-concert nerves and the occasional qualms during intermission, I found that everything you wrote made brilliant sense to me — secrets, fears, and insecurities revealed to seem as obvious and natural as breathing.

    I found myself thinking, “If he plays like he writes, he will always be worth hearing, even if he’s practicing scales or thinks he’s messing up. This guy is amazingly eloquent, honest, funny, and insightful.”

    I’m delighted to find your blog, and since I love Concord, Massachusetts, and it’s history, I plan to listen to your CD very soon. I like Ives and haven’t heard him in a long time; he has humor among his other gifts, as do you. Thanks for writing that terrific essay!

  19. jean
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I like your article in the New Yorker. I’m going to pick up a copy to read then send it to my friend. My brain has grown a few more cells since I’ve been reading your blogs which is about a year now; and I thought they’re a little too intellectual for me at first…. Beside the Ives recording, I’m going to get some other solo CDs of yours as well.

  20. Janet
    Posted February 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I second Daniel’s request. Unless you said something truly unseemly, perhaps it would be possible to post that “perfect” take here?

  21. jean
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    Like I said, I went right away to buy the New Yorker just to read your article since I could only read a small part of it online earlier. All I could say was “Wow! awesome writing!” That’s a very long essay for the magazine, so of course you’re excused for not blogging on time. I also listened to your Brahms’s Sonatas for Viola and Piano today and read the CD’s leaflet. Thanks!

  22. mvhul
    Posted February 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what my mom said in an email this morning:
    “Read Denk’s piece this morning. He’s a word artist as well as a musical one.”
    Yes.

  23. Posted February 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    ‘Enlightening’ is the word that comes to mind in response to your wonderful New Yorker essay. Whatever it is that compels a young girl to take piano lessons, and keep playing years later, just for the pleasure of it, is a far cry from what it takes to be a professional, and, yet, it’s that very intimacy with the piano that makes your essay resonate. What you write about the nature of a live performance vs. a studio recording strikes a chord (could not resist that) about the very nature of capturing a moment via an artist’s brush or a photographer’s lens or a poet’s words.

  24. Posted February 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I noted earlier here that my new book (with Kerry Candaele) “Journeys With Beethoven” has a full chapter based on my lengthy interview with Jeremy. Now I’ve launched a daily Roll Over, Beethoven blog that you might enjoy

    http://journeyswithbeethoven.blogspot.com/

    And here’s an excerpt from interview with Jeremy for the book, as he comments on Beethoven’s opus 111 as “a piece I can’t leave behind. For one thing, he is revisiting all of his C-minor work — after all the sturm and drang, he’s coming back and sweeping all these old ideas into this. Everything in the first movement is about an onrushing, and then all these little moments of trying to stop. And that’s a very profound life statement that maybe young people are not quite so well attuned to, you know what I mean? Desperate attempts to extract repose from this onrush. Then those little stoppages explode into this endless C- minor river. And the way that river responds to the mini-stoppages, and then erases all memory of that.

    “By then Beethoven was more and more concerned with the notion of returning after complete disintegration. And that’s not something you may recognize at certain times in your life, you don’t get all the resonances. You don’t feel as incredibly torn by it. I didn’t get that at the beginning but now it’s one of those weirdly supercharged pieces for me — the most difficult to get through without becoming emotional myself.”

  25. jean
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy, you seem to like the magnificent flowing river and its branches which are sneaking out from everywhere which at times can be turbulent or peaceful, in describing the music. However, don’t know why, in Beethoven I only see the universe above; partly because from a movie I saw a long time ago when Beethoven the kid sat by the window and looked up the sky full of stars. My mind is set for that image when I listen to Beethoven’s. I’m not sure there’s a river up there, maybe a river of exploding stars or something….

  26. Posted February 17, 2012 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I bought the New Yorker last week, and still haven’t read it. Looking forward to it.

  27. Rachel
    Posted February 20, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Jeremy–what a great article. Completely curious to hear the recording now! Also…thanks for a thrilling concert/talk at the Institute for Advanced Study on Saturday. At one point, I was trying to count the number of variations for the Eroica Variations, but found myself enjoying your playing too much to keep up!

  28. Will C
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I just began subscribing to the New Yorker again after a lapse of several years and the “Flight of the Concord” piece was one of the first I read.

    I have no more than a minimal background in classical music, but do attend live performances in Denver, Fort Collins, and Cheyenne, Wyoming when possible. I play electric and acoustic guitar in a pathetically mediocre local cover band that pursues that ‘hobby’ with the same terminally adolescent fervor that oft-characterizes participation in adult softball leagues.

    As with many of us lurking in the primordial ooze of what just barely qualifies as ‘musical appreciation,’ I’ve always been fascinated by how genuinely gifted musicians approach their craft and how they view the challenge of ‘covering’ another artist’s material that–to the rest of us–seems so terribly complex as to be akin to ascending Everest without supplemental oxygen.

    I loved this article. It’s the first piece I’ve ever read that seems to accurately reflect how a real musician approaches a task like recording ‘Concord’ for posterity. The idiodyncracies of the instrument, the acoustical properties of the room, the individual apperceptions of the sound engineer, the understanding (or varying lack thereof) of the original composer’s intent, and–finally–the detailed perceptions of those truly technically challenging passages that strike the layperson (like myself) as similar to those Hendrix passages that are just humanly possibly to duplicate in terms of the notes and the speed, but impossible to completely capture in terms of feel, fluidity, and projection.

    This is great writing . . . . could there ever be a book of similar recording challenges in the offing?

    Will

  29. jean
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    The J.S. Bach’s CD Partita #3,4,6 came yesterday and I’ve been listening to it since. It’s so terrific; I’m wondering how many takes did you have to do in the studio in recording this album, which sounds so perfectly pleasing to my ears. Also wondering, from your experience, if the recording is more positive when perform together with another artist versus solo? after what you went through with Ives. Thank you!

  30. jean
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I meant “from what you went through with Ives.”

  31. Daniel Loftin
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed the Prokofiev set. A beautifully personal performance. To me, those rare occasions when the immediacy of live performance gets caught on good quality sound equipment is pretty close to the peak of the recording experience.

  32. Posted March 20, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    The thing about The New Yorker issues is that they just keep coming. Every week. And I get behind on my reading, usually six or seven issues (and during one dark period a few years ago, about eighteen months worth). So I missed the article when it first came out, and only now find myself getting around to the issue in question. I loved reading about the difficulties of the recording studio, challenges that mostly have been unknown to me. They come as some reassurance, though: I’ve been slowly collecting the necessary stuff to turn my living room into a studio, and find the recordings sound nothing like I thought. Par for the course, it seems. I’m looking forward to reading more from you, including, now, it seems, a set of articles for NPR…

  33. A Fan in Watertown
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I just finished listening to you on All Things Considered and it reminded me that I never thanked you for your performanc of the Beethoven #1 at Carnegie Hall. We were in New York with Paul’s brother for one of our Museums/Dinner/Jeremy’s plaing weekends. You delivered what I’ve come to expect…. You opened a door onto a piece of music that I had heretofor consigned to, “Eh… no, I don’t need that in my library.” It was riveting!! I’ve never before found it riveting. I wish I were enough of a musician to know what one reviewer (very positive) meant when he called it “idiosyncratic.” If you record it, I’ll surely buy it!!!
    P.S. I also loved the New Yorker article and the NPR interview! I expect I was “hearing” something that I didn’t understand as you explained, more felicitously, on NPR, when I perceived the Beethoven as being very special, even if I didn’t know what made it so.

  34. 12 bits
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I really like your French Impressions. The arrangement is new and the expression is fascinating. That’s why they are so good.

  35. 12 bits
    Posted March 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    When are you going to release your new CD? CANT WAIT!

  36. Posted March 28, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed your piece — it is fun to hear about the process of performing/creating from the inside of the performer’s mind. I paint, and I can relate to your desire to keep the mistakes in there. I do too. They bring a painting to life, locating it within a distinct moment. Thanks on behalf of all of us who are pro-flub.

  37. Posted March 28, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy:
    Get to work! You haven’t posted about your work at NPR, so I don’t have a proper place to mention that your comments on the Goldberg Variations led me to Wikipedia on G major where I posted this note, minutely adding to your fame: “Pianist Jeremy Denk observes that the Goldberg Variations are 80 minutes in G major.[3]”

  38. Lil
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Your New Yorker piece was awesome! Will u marry me??? :)

  39. 12 bits
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Your CD preview speaker is not working.

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