Monday 8 September 2014

With Koji Attwood in Paris

Pianist and pedagogue Koji Attwood has been a close friend since my Juilliard days, and is still one of the pianists I most admire and respect.  When we weren't dissecting the shoulder of a Neapolitan jacket or recipes from previous episode of Iron Chef, we dissertated on the nuances of certain Horowitz recordings or Scriabin harmonies, over Chinese food or industrial strength espressos in Little Italy.  When we
recently spent time together in Paris nothing much has changed - granted, we had Salade de Gésiers and Sole Meunière instead - and the routine somewhat repeated itself all over again.

E - Ernest
K - Koji

E:  Why piano?
K:  Couldn't tie my shoelaces as a kid.

E:  Favourite performance of your own and what made it good.
K:  Tough to pin down, but one that certainly stands out was an opening night collaboration in Minneapolis with Baryshnikov. We were both completely 'on' that night--time stood still--and I was able to appreciate the magic happening before my very eyes, and could sense how intensely the audience was being captivated by the performance, as well. The critic, thankfully also strongly felt along these lines as well, and indicated this in his ensuing review. Of the myriad of performances with Misha, that one certainly stands out in my mind and am still trying to track down a recording!

E:  Your favorite underrated composer/music.
K:  Another tough one. I think as a group, there are an incredible amount of really first-rate Russian composers that were active in the late 19th-early 20th century that are now almost completely neglected. Just a few would be Sergei Bortkiewicz, Felix Blumenfeld, Sergei Liapunov, Gyorgy Catoire, and Anatol Liadov. The piano repertoire is truly infinite, even you move just beyond the nifty fifty. Among the 'standard' composers, I feel that Haydn to this day continues to get short shrift. He was in the unenviable position of being stuck between the 'divine' Mozart, and the 'revolutionary' Beethoven (although he was close friends with the former, and taught the latter), and his contributions, which are significant, and music, which is magnificent, gets sadly ignored by and large in the concert hall. He truly was the father of the symphony and string quartet, and for that alone, deserves universal praise.

E:  Name a hobby of yours that helped or contributed to being a good pianist.
K:  Dining/cooking. Several pianists (most notably Jorge Bolet and Josef Lhevinne) equated planning out a program with planning out a multi-course meal, and I try to use those same aesthetics. I enjoy talking with chefs as well--they have to deal with that same balancing act of technique/artistry that musicians do. Many musician friends of mine are also first-class foodies, so there must be some sort of correlation there! And as you well know, Jacob Lateiner was absolutely legendary in his gastronomic knowledge.

E:  In your opinion, what makes a good pianist?
K:  There is of course, the wonderfully evocative and all-encompassing description by Ferrucio Busoni, but I will paraphrase William Kapell and say: Fingers, brains, heart, imagination, and poetic fury.

E:  Now answer the following with the first thing that comes to that weird head of yours.   
K:  Uh....

E:  Name a historical person you'd like to invite as house guest.
K:  May I invite three?  Marco Pierre White can prepare his leek and lobster terrine while Mikhail Tal shows me all his scintillating sacrifices in the midst of Gianni Campagna fitting us for some bespoke suits.
E:  What would you rather lose: pianistic power, taste buds, ability to ever love again?
K:  Since pianistic power is linked to the ability to love, I would have to choose taste buds, but as you know my love of food, that would be a very very cruel thing to do.
E:  Your least favourite color.
K:  Bright Orange
E:  Your least favourite sound.
K:  Screeching tires
E:  Bill Gates gives you a billion to do whatever you want.  What's the first thing you do?
K:  Give half to the Gifted Music School!
E:  How old are you? 
K:  Didn't you know?  I was actually born in 1815 and was a prominent member of the artistic scene in Paris and Weimar. Liszt could really throw a great soiree.

Koji has written countless transcriptions for solo piano, one of which I had the honour of recording in my CD.  He now teaches at the Gifted Music School in Salt Lake City.  In his spare time (or rather wee hours of the night) he loves analyzing chess moves and counting hand stitches on tailored jackets.  Find Koji on Facebook and YouTube. 

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