Sophia and I have been hard at work this winter season, not only with our seasonal concerts and committments, but we are always at work as usual with our music. Sophia composes daily, and for me to keep up with her musical genius I have to put in the time in our customized studio. No. Not all studios in our business are filled with Steinways! As you can see here in this picture, I am working on our computer system with software that enables us to create compositions, and also allows Sophia some previews of her work. It is complicated, but at least I am not trying to transcribe the work with a pen and parchment! I have to confess that the work is exciting and our true love. I can't wait for you to hear some of the amazing music that I get to listen to daily!
One of the most common questions that I am asked is, "What is the difference between organs, harpsichords, and pianos?" Sophia and I regularly play all three and regularly interchange these instruments in our concerts. Because we live and breathe on these music machines, I sometimes forget how mysterious they can be to the rest of the world. How these instruments work, where they came from, and the differences between them can seem almost mystical. Hopefully, I can shed just a little bit of light into your darkness and direct you towards a couple of the most basic points of the history and working parts of the tools that Sophia and I work on each day.
Compared to the piano and the harpsichord, the organ is the most complex of the three. It is also the oldest. It is also complicated to play. An organist has to operate not only multiple keyboards (manuals are the technical term) with their fingers but also a big one down below with their feet (called a pedal board). But put simply, an organ is anything that blows air through pipes to make sound. The pipes are made with different shapes and materials that give us the different sounds that you hear. For example, flutes sounds come from square pipes made with wood while trumpet sounds come from pipes are shaped like ice cream cones and made of metal. A big blower blows air through the pipes as valves are opened at the pipe bottoms allowing a sustained tone for as long as the performer needs. Different sounds and sustained tones are the primary differences of the pipe organ compared to the piano and harpsichord.
So, where did the organ come from? Now, we historians love nothing better than arguing about exactly when or where this or that occurred, especially looking this far back into history. For example, on the one hand, very early water driven organs were reported in ancient Rome. Many organists call those the first accounts of organs. Now comes my personal bias and opinion. I don't agree. I think these Roman instruments fall into the "steam whistle" category and have little to do with our modern organs. (But again, I have many distinguished colleagues who disagree with me on this.) I personally fall into the Constantinople camp. I am convinced our organs came out of the Eastern Church in what is now Syria and Turkey. At any rate, all of us organists agree that the organ has been in use in Christian churches since the time of Peter and Paul. In fact, the use of the organ in Christian worship actually predates the use of both the Cross as a symbol and the Holy Bible (Well…..at least the "New" part!). The primitive organ continued its development and rapidly spread across Europe on the Roman roads The air blowing through the pipes was said to represent the Holy Spirit blowing at Pentecost and heavenly choirs of angels. Germany gets the nod for the oldest truly complex and complete organ ever built and organs became much more innovative, versatile and reliable through the 1500's and 1600's. 1708 was a landmark year. During that year J.S. Bach wrote his first great Toccatas and Fugues and the organ was here to stay. At about the time of our Revolution, Mozart called the organ the "King of Instruments" because of its technical complexity and glorious sound. The high tech development race was on during the 1800's with France, England, Germany, and the Flemish lands all vying for top honors. As builders and players immigrated across the Atlantic, the old world powerhouses were soon joined by the great Canadian and American builders.
At this point, organ building split into two types - organs that "power assisted" the player's fingers in some way so they could play more notes and the old style "tracker" that literally ran wood strips from the keys to the pipes to open the air valves. Most of the time, you can quickly tell the difference. Mechanics have the keyboards in one place and the pipes somewhere else - usually in a pipe room or chamber. Trackers have the pipes in a single case of some type directly above the organist and keyboards.
The picture you see in this blog is of me talking with fellow organist Dr. Richard McPherson about the Skinner organ he plays in Northern Virginia just out of DC. We are laughing here because we agree that we organists each have our own "favorite heroes" of organ building. Mine is Samuel Sebastian Wesley (grandson of Methodist co-founder Charles). His best friend in the world was one of the sons of the Walker and Sons Organ Company. Samuel lived not far from the factory and designed what we would call the first truly modern organ around the time of our Civil War. Every Sunday I get to play an English "tracker" organ that was built in 1997 from his blueprints and then sent to America.
See? Now you know what I'm talking about. You passed the exam! Next time, we'll talk about the harpsichord.
My Top 10 - Instrumental Pastorale from the Christmas Concerto, Op. 6, No. 8 Corelli Overture from Messiah Handel Pastoral Symphony from Messiah Handel Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring Bach Sheep May Safely Graze Bach In dulci jubilo Bach Von himmel hoch (Prelude BWV 606 OR Variations BWV 769) Bach Overture from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker Tchaikovsky
My Top 10 - Vocal Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (commonly paired with Comfort Ye) Handel And the Glory of the Lord Handel Rejoice, Rejoice O Daughters of Zion Handel Cantique de Noel (O, Holy Night) - get a "real" version, please! No c&w. Adam Jesu Bambino Yon Hallelujah (technically not Christmas - but who cares?!) Handel Glory Be Unto God in the Highest from the Christmas Oratorio Saint-Saens Praise Ye, the Lord of Hosts from the Christmas Oratorio Saint-Saens The Virgin's Slumber Song Reger In the Bleak Midwinter Holst
Of course, my all time Christmas favorites are by Sophia Pavlenko! Christmas Festival for Two Pianos Christmas Christmas Medley God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Dobriy vechir tobi (the Ukrainian carol - Masters in this Hall) Christmas Rose
I first met John about fifteen years ago when I was working with the North Carolina Opera Company (with the director John Galbraith) and John was singing the role of Cavaradossi in a production of “Tosca” at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh. We became fast friends from then on, and we worked together again as he played Rodolpdo in “La Boheme”. Over the years we have done countless performances together including some concerts featuring my own compositions, and also productions with his opera company Southeast Opera Experience.
People ask me what it is like to work with John, what makes him stand out in opera. I have to say that he does have this most incredible voice, but it is his ability to deliver that voice with this most incredible intimacy that is there even in a big opera house; that execution and emotion that he brings to a role. He makes the role his own and then he just pulls you in…very passionate, very articulate, very sensitive. Of course there is that big opera sound that we all know and love, but the joy is in his sincere and emotional singing.
That’s why I so love working with John. I grew up with my father who was a great opera singer for many years. I remember I would crawl and sit under the piano while my mother rehearsed with him and other singers. They came through our home constantly, every day, and sang and talked and visited. When I work with John and his group of artists it feels like home to me. It is so comfortable, and that makes me so happy to have opportunities to work with such a talented individual.
I think this also makes him a different kind of teacher which is why he has many students that have become prominent performers in their own right. I do not mean that he does not teach them technique, but he does so much more. He is really good at spotting the potential in a voice and showing students how to bring this out, maybe transitioning from a baritone to a tenor, expanding their range, or even creating a repertoire with a new direction. He also brings his vast experience to the direction about stage roles and actually show students how to sing a tenor part, but with the complete package…how you think, how to feel the pain and the tears, and how that sparks such emotional intensity in the voice. I saw him work with Jeff Gwaltney in this manner, and it completely changed his approach to opera.
I think if you ever want to listen to John, well I just adore anything that he sings, but his Puccini is perfect. I also love his Rodolpho, (which is one of his signature roles) and his Cavaradossi aria is so beautiful it is like an emotional spark. But of course my all-time favorite is when he played the part of The Prodigal Son in my own oratorio “The Parables”! I am hoping we can do this again as a performance perhaps this spring. It is so personal to me, and to hear his voice in that work brings me such joy.
People also ask me about how John approaches a performance or a rehearsal and to be honest, when I think of John I think of that famous Pavarotti quote: “If you are not sweating, you’re not working hard. If you’re not working hard, you’re not good enough. And if you’re not good enough, go away.” That’s how hard John works. I don’t think people understand that. He is that dedicated to the music, and it’s not about the roles, or the fame or the house you live in, or anything else. That’s what he teaches other musicians. If you want to perform at such an intense level, you have to be prepared for that level of commitment. That is the way my father and mother raised me to think about the music, and that is why John is so special to me.
If you want to listen to John here is his Emmy award winning performance of Rodolpho.
The latest in the Pavlenko Chandley family news is that Sophia and I have acquired another Harpsichord that I am restoring so that we may use it in our two piano concerts for a “two harpsichord” addition to our repertoire! We are really excited about this because after our harpsichord purchase several years ago, Sophia and I have both come to love the unique sound and texture of this instrument that was widely popular during the Baroque period. I mean, I just have really come to love the quote by Wanda Landowska (the woman who famously revived the popularity of this instrument in the early twentieth century) when she says; “You play Bach your way, and I’ll play him his way.”
What she was referring to was the fact that Bach never composed on a modern day piano. Indeed, his notes span the normal five octaves (there is some variation on harpsichord keyboards) of the instrument, while the piano has a total of seven octaves. In addition, the ‘feel’ of the harpsichord is a complete shift in technique. This is mainly because the keys are much lighter, and they pluck the strings instead of hammering them. As a result, you cannot be sloppy at all with your technique on the harpsichord, because the keys have to be played separately, and they return to their rest position based on their weight and not a spring action. In other words, when you play a note on the harpsichord, you get an immediate return on the investment…you can only imagine how much fun this is for Sophia!
When I was at the music conservatory, and early in my career, I remember not paying much attention at all to this instrument, because in piano performance the focus is obviously on the best of modern day instruments and their technology. Over the years however, I have come to appreciate the history and context of the music, and to be quite frank, it wasn’t until Mozart’s time in the eighteen hundreds that the piano was looked at as the superior instrument (and even Mozart learned on the harpsichord). If you look at the picture of Sophia playing the piano in this blog, her harpsichord is featured behind her, showing some of the differences between the Steinway, and this beautiful delicate instrument.
If you have time, take a look at this video footage of Wanda Landowska. It’s the only known video of her playing her harpsichord, but look at her hands in the clip. She really plays each note distinctly and individually. Wanda Landowska
I have also attached this link of Karl Richter’s J.S.Bach Concerto for 2 Harpsichords in C minor BWV 1060 for your enjoyment. Sophia and I both look forward to a concert such as this soon! J.S. Bach 2 Harpsichords in C Minor
As the romance ensues this seasons I also got to thinking about what are truly romantic pieces. My list is as follows, although in no particular order.
These are all piano solo pieces that are perfect for a romantic evening's atmosphere. Romantic orchestral and operatic works are another list altogether. None of Sophia's pieces are on here either. That's another list as well!
1. "Moonlight" Piano Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2; Mov. 1 - Beethoven
2. "Pathetique (pah teh TEEK) Piano Sonata, Op. 13; Mov. 2 - Beethoven
3. Gymnopodie (zhim NAH puh dee) No. 1 - Satie
4. Clair de lune - Debussy
5. Arabesque No. 1 - Debussy
6. Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 - Chopin
7. Nocturne in E Major, Op. 72, No. 1 - Chopin
8. Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3 - Chopin
9. Traumerai, Op. 15, No. 7 - Schumann
10. Liebestraum, (Notturno) No. 3 in A Flat Major - Liszt
Ok, so I know everyone will ask, "Where is Bach?" Well, technically, Bach never wrote anything for the piano. He was a bit too early. However, for those non-purist dissidents out there:
Bonus: Prelude No. 1 in C Major; Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1
I hope everyone has a wonderful February and may spring come early for us all! Take the time to listen to the beautiful pieces and in the words of Clara Schumann: "Why hurry over beautiful things? Why not linger and enjoy them?"
Hi everyone! Paul and I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! I thought I would take the time today to tell you about my favorite recipe to cook for the holidays. Of course Paul and I love so many wonderful seasonal foods, but the Borsh soup that my grandmothers on both my father and mother's side taught me to cook is the one that is a favorite in our kitchen here in our home in Troy. I remember when I was a girl walking into their homes and smelling the wonderful Ukrainian flavors on snowy evenings. If you would like to try it, here are my recommendations:
First make some stock. It can be from beef bones or some nice organic chicken stock. (I myself use beef soup bones in filtered water and cook it overnight).
Then flavor the stock. Add some sauteed onions and carrots, a bay leaf, some salt and pepper to taste.
Next add potato. Use three or four nicely sized, cubed to your preference, and let this boil slowly.
Then prepare beets and beans. You need to cook each of these separately. Take 3 to 4 whole beets, peel them and boil them in water that has a tablespoon of vinegar in the pot until they are tender (Some people prefer to roast the beets in the oven). Soak and cook 1 1/2 cups of white beans with some salted water until they are also tender (You may use black beans also if you prefer).
Finally combine the soup ingredients. Cut the beets into french fry like chunks, add the beans, cut a 1/4 head of fresh cabbage, add some roasted garlic cloves tp taste, then take diced or whole canned tomatoes and add it all to the stock and potato pot.
In the end add the sweet pepper and flavors! While it is all slowly simmering take some sweet Bulgarian Red Pepper and sautee it in some olive oil, and add to the soup. Finally mix some garlic and salt to taste!
Don't forget the sour cream! Keep tasting and flavor to suit your self! When it is ready to serve be sure to garnish your delightful bowl of Ukrainian Borsh with some fresh sour cream! Enjoy!
I hope you have time to try this recipe over your holiday break! Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all! Don't forget to check out our website music tracks so you can enjoy our holiday music while you cook!
Stanislov was encouraged by the Soviet army to become a singer after being extremely popular as a troop entertainer. He was a successful high tension wire tower builder, but he left that world when he auditioned for (and was accepted by) the Moscow Conservatory. He was admitted at the extremely young age of 25 because of his exceptional baritone voice. He met Sophia's mother Larisa while she was assigned to the National Opera House of Ulan Ude on the far shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. He was the honored artist and leading bass soloist of that house and he fell in love with Larisa there. Soon thereafter Sophia was born! Later, Larisa groomed him as his vocal coach to become one of the most renowned Bass Baritones in the history of the Soviet Union.
They moved back to Kiev when Sophia was one year of age because Stanislov was chosen to run the No. 2 Opera House that was new. He was among the first wave of artists hired there. Larisa would later become the vocal coach for the National Opera.
Over the years his career took him all over the Soviet Union. He was however an outspoken advocate for Ukrainian independence. He refused to join or support the Communist party and his career was affected by that political stance. Public media and publicity exposure was censored and he was therefore never allowed to leave the Soviet Union as a result.
Sophia's memories: " I remember my father's long conversations about art, philosophy, and music. He basically exposed me to culture and shaped my vision. I do remember seeing him sing on stage, but it is his conversations that I cherish the most. He was so well versed, and he had a keen sense of humor! He left me so much for my life, but he also gave me life lessons to which I always adhere. "Strive for excellence. Behave yourself with dignity. Always perfect yourself. Have a sense of honor. Never ever forget to represent the great country of Ukraine with honor. Believe in yourself." My father proved by example that all is possible with discipline and dedication. Most of all my father adored high art. He felt that it was the pinnacle of the human experience. My father's influence on others reflected these thoughts. The legacy of his voice, the way he performed on stage,the artistic force of his artistry all combined to make him revered. But he was also considered to be a true friend's friend. He was intensely loyal and would do anything to help his comrades. People valued his reliability. He was the one there for them during times of trial.
Special note from Paul: Stanislov died in 1996. I have actually seem people stop Sophia on the streets of Kiev to get her autograph because she was his daughter. That should give you an idea of how truly revered his memory is is. Sophia has also been invited to stay with Ukrainian and Russian fans, colleagues, and friends throughout the world over the years...just because she is his daughter. This says a lot about his legacy as an artist and a man.
My family has always had a keen interest in music, and when they settled in the mountains they brought the English tradition of folk song and dance from their homeland, and because of the isolation in the rugged mountain terrain, the music was passed down in the form of ballads and tunes from generation to generation.
From 1916-1918 a dedicated Englishman and musician by the name of Cecil Sharp visited the southern Appalachian region (from England) recording and writing down the words and music of all the old English tunes he could find. He has been popularized in recent years as "The Songcatcher". One of the first communities where he spent time in 1916 was indeed...Shelton Laurel!
Cecil Sharp's Diary reads as follows:
29 July, 1916. ‘I call on Mrs Noah Shelton who sang me 2 or 3 beautiful songs, including ‘On Friday Night’ (‘The Lover’s Lament’), a lovely dorian tune....after a picnic lunch we call on Mr & Mrs Sol Shelton & family - a most delightful lot of people. Here I got 3 or 4 more songs... walked home beaming with pleasure after so successful a day’.
9 August, 1916. ‘Called on Sol Shelton’s in the afternoon and had a long talk there taking down one song from Donna’.
Donna Shelton was my great grandmother. The song she sand was 'Sweet William'. I remember sitting on her lap when I was a preschooler and she sang that song to me! The picture of the beautiful young woman you see is her, taken by Cecil Sharp and his assistant during the visit in 1916. I have also included other pictures of my family recorded in the Sharp library in London. I have never visited the house there, but I hope someday Sophia and I will visit and maybe listen to the recordings of my family singing the original tunes!
Diary entry and picture credit given to "Cecil Sharp Diaries" Vaughn Williams Memorial Library, London England.
These arrangements took me four days to create the initial piano composition. I then spent several days on orchestration, and of course there is the task of proofreading and editing. All in all it was a very big job, and the month was intense at times with hours of work at the piano.
I think it is funny how sometimes people think that composing is all inspiration and developed by sunshine and breezes and starry night romance. The fact is that it is not glamorous at all. All you do is sit and work. You have the job to do and you have to sit down and do it. You have to lock yourself in a room and spend hours creating the melodies and harmonies.
It can also be very intimidating. I mean on this project I was so concerned that I would be respectful of the African American heritage and musical tradition. You also have to be certain that you are not letting other arrangements into your work for fear of having that influence in your arrangement. When I have played other arrangements they are there in my head and I have to clear them out. It is very important to begin only with the pure melody. Luckily, I had only heard one arrangement of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, so I was able to approach that arrangement with a really fresh start!
The most exciting part for me however will be hearing the arrangements with full orchestration. You just do not know until that moment how it all comes together! I look forward to this concert!
The picture you see is a sample of my notebooks. I like hand write the composition at the piano and then transcribe it to the computer.