December 23, 2019

Every Good Boy Does Fine

I feel incredibly honored to have been asked to write this piece on piano lessons for The New Yorker, and hopefully I used the honor honorably. It caused me some stress. Assembling a narrative out of your past is dangerous, especially when your life is still frantically ongoing. It was complicated (to say the least) to write about the vulnerability of performing while I was preparing for my Carnegie Hall recital.

In the essay, many sins of omission. I elide stupidly over the Oberlin years, Joseph Schwartz, and all the other great teachers I had there, in order to make space for the appearance of Sebok. There is no mention of my wonderful Juilliard teacher, either, Herbert Stessin, who was so different from Sebok and wise in a completely different, often more practical, way.

Anyway, I hope all those other teachers and coaches out there forgive me for organizing the piece around this moment when Old Europe landed on top of me, and neglecting all their crucial interventions. I am so delighted that the magazine put together a little web video, which includes a peek inside the piano lesson journal, and some beautiful footage of Sebok. I must admit, my absolute favorite recorded bit of Sebok is his performance of the Mendelssohn Variations Concertantes with Janos Starker. There is something about the way he plays the formidable technical passages of this piece, with a bit of amusement, as if it were complicated child’s play, always turning the corners eloquently and cleverly…and then after Mendelssohn’s stormy mini-climax, the way Sebok plays the return of the theme, with just the tiniest loving pauses on the meaningful notes—it calls back to me all the amazing time I spent with him. (The whole album, of course, is worth many many listens.)

There’s also a YouTube of his studio recording of the Brahms Handel Variations, which I think captures some of the purity and simplicity of his musical thinking (he was very dismissive of his own recordings), and a video of him playing the “Aeolian Harp” Etude, showing his hands, a miracle of ease, efficiency, fluidity.

Somewhere in the Oberlin archives, also, I believe there is a recording of Sebok’s recital in early 1990, with the life-changing Bach encore I mention in the essay. I am too afraid to go listen to it.

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