Seven years ago my world changed dramatically in three very different ways. My mother died, I gave birth to my son, and I got tenure. Grief and joy swirled around me, and I decided to take all those feelings and channel them into becoming a better musician. And for a pianist, there is no better teacher than the great composer Frederic Chopin. I knew I had to try to learn the Chopin etudes.
The Chopin etudes are twenty-seven enthralling, emotional, beautifully structured pieces of music. They are incredibly difficult and highly technical studies that develop specific virtuoso skills. Every serious classically-trained pianist has grappled with at least some of them, and I had always dreamed of playing them all. At first approach, I thought I could learn them in two years. Instead they’ve taken me six and a half.
Learning these etudes has been the biggest creative climb of my life, and sharing them with audiences is one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever experienced. Now I’m ready to record them, and I need your support.
I’ve played the whole set in concert more than twenty times now, and I’m still learning from these amazing pieces every day. Played together, they are an exhilarating, exhausting ride for both me and the audience. The etudes have changed me as a musician and as a person: I had never lived with music this closely for this long, nor mastered technical skills so difficult. While I’ve been working on them, life has thrown some challenges my way (illness, brushes with mortality, heartbreak, the usual), and I’ve poured those experiences into the etudes.
This music is intensely personal for me, and I want to share it with you.
My journey with the etudes has also included scholarly research, and that’s really shaped some of my ideas about how these pieces might have originally sounded. I’ve consulted with experts in historical performance and piano tuning, and I’ve played on over a dozen instruments similar to the ones Chopin played in his beloved home of Warsaw and his adopted city, Paris. I’ve traveled across the United States, practicing and performing on period pianos, and I’ve been astounded by the hospitality and generosity of their owners. Playing on the different pianos has taught me so much about different possibilities of sound and touch: effects that are incredibly difficult on one piano are sometimes much easier on another, and some sounds are only possible on some pianos. After I had played on a few Chopin era pianos, I started looking for the right one to record on.
Then I found it: I fell in love with an 1841 Erard.
Erard was one of Chopin’s two favorite kinds of pianos, and this particular one is from his lifetime. The first time I played it, I woke up the next morning feeling like a kid on a birthday: I couldn’t wait to play it again. There’s a clarity to the sound that I absolutely love. The piano was made for this music, and it’s a wonderful feeling to play it. Anne Acker owns and refurbished the piano, and will be the technician for the recording. She’s one of the world’s foremost experts on historical keyboard instruments, and it’s an honor to play on one of her pianos. In addition to being a master instrument builder, she’s also an expert in historical tuning systems. She is tuning the piano for the recording with a system informed by research on the way Chopin’s piano was tuned.
We’ll record at Anne’s studio in Montrose, PA. Emmy-award-winning audio engineer Jeffrey Clark will be the sound engineer. Ian Quinn, Professor of Music Theory at Yale University, will produce. We’ve got dates set for the end of July. Con Brio Recordings, the label that released my three previous albums, will handle production and distribution of the CD (Kickstarter backers get yours first, of course).
I’m ready to go into the recording studio, and all I need is your help to get there. Thank you so much for your support!
Risks and challenges
Although learning these pieces has been the most challenging creative experience of my life, by now I’ve now performed this music in concert more than twenty times. I’m ready to make this recording. I’ve released three previous solo piano albums, so I know what’s involved in making a recording like this.I’ve got dates in the studio scheduled, and all I need is your help. Injury would be the only reason this project might be delayed, and I will be taking very good care of my hands!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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