The regular piano collaborator

Long-term collaborations in classical music used to inspire confidence in the tradition of the genre. Whether we were listening to an LP or the local classical station, we the audience knew that the stability and continuity of several schemes guaranteed the authenticity and superiority of this music – Ormandy conducting the Philadelphians and Marriner the St Martins, the Amadeus Quartet, the Beaux Arts Trio. (It felt the same with labels such as Deutsche Gramophone and the RCA Red Seal.)

A very special source of reassurance used to be the regular piano accompanist: We could count on Gerald Moore to play with Fischer-Dieskau, Jörg Demus with Elly Ameling, Dalton Baldwin with Gérard Souzay, Erik Werba with Irmgard Seefried, and more recently on my colleague at Michigan, Martin Katz, with Marilyn Horne.  These musical pairs seemed destined for classical eternity.

Things are quite different these days. The pairing of singer and pianist is far less predictable (I can think of a few exceptions, such as Ian Bostridge & Julius Drake, and James Gilchrist & Anna Tilbrook) but the instrumentalist, now justifiably promoted to “collaborative pianist,” is more learned (Graham Johnson), flexible (Malcolm Martineau), and reflexive (Charles Spencer). I will never forget Roger Vignoles’ enthusiastic sophistication, during a singers’ master class, as he grew more and more interested in the views of another collaborator, and got to explore at length with him Brahms’ “Von ewiger Liebe.” The fellow pianist was, of course, Pantelis Polychronidis, my collaborative self.

Sometimes I miss the security (and self-flattering satisfaction) of guessing “Geoffrey Parsons” before the announcer could finish “Schwarzkopf” but I am happy to be often surprised by less predictable and stable musical pairings.  (Yet, in the midst of so much flux in life – the NME is closing its print edition! – a few things seem to remain classically the same:  Christa Ludwig will be 90 on March 16, and still giving masterclasses in Vienna.)

March 9, 2018

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