J.S. Bach – Four selected fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2
Claude Debussy – Étude no. 3, Pour les quartes (1915)
Witold Lutoslawski – Study for Piano no. 2 (1941)
Victoria Poleva – Ischia Island (2019) and Sonata no. 2 “quasi una fantasia” (2011)
Arthur Lourié – Mazurka op. 7 no. 1 (1912), Intermezzo (1928), and Marche from Quatre pièces (1927)
Arnold Schoenberg – Piano Piece op. 11 no. 1 and Six Small Piano Pieces op. 19
Gustav Mahler – Andante comodo, first movement from Symphony no. 9, transcribed for piano by Iain Farrington
Crossroads is a special program oriented to profound, highly personal and expressive pieces, music well-suited to Michael Arnowitt’s style. The famous French flutist Louis Moyse wrote that Michael Arnowitt was one of the “few really great artists of the field … expressing his art on the highest level.” Moyse once commented that Arnowitt’s piano playing had “grandeur,” meaning a rare quality of grandness and depth of feeling. Most of the music on Crossroads explores Michael Arnowitt’s favorite period of music and world history, the years right before and right after World War I, a true crossroads time between the old and the new.
The program opens with music of Bach drawn from the Well-Tempered Clavier collection that so many composers and performers throughout history have deemed the foundation of all later music. Chopin had a lifelong affection for these pieces, and his well-worn copy of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was always on his composing table or with him before concerts. Both Chopin and the cellist Pablo Casals were examples of great musicians from the past that began each day by warming up with music from this volume of Bach, a ritual Casals continued to the end of his life in his 90’s. Michael Arnowitt has selected four of his favorite Bach fugues to show the depth, imagination, and pure joy of this music that has inspired so many musicians through the generations. The program continues with Debussy’s captivating “For the fourths” from his 1915 book of études. Perhaps influenced by the composer’s affinity for Japanese prints, the piece has a fantastic diversity of textures including some downright Beethovenian explosions of thunder and lightning.
The Russian-born Arthur Lourié, who lived in Paris in the 1920’s and 1930’s and later emigrated to the United States, has been well described as one of the most interesting forgotten composers of the 20th century, and Michael Arnowitt has been among a growing number of performers of today bringing Lourié’s fascinating music to greater attention. Unusually for a composer, each of his pieces sounds different from each other, and for this program Arnowitt has selected three works from 1912 to 1928 that are just the tip of the iceberg revealing this very unique composer’s great creativity. His Mazurka inhabits a dreamworld with tinkly out of tune resonances that are reminiscent of the sound of a music box. The intriguing Intermezzo begins with some brooding music whose slow swirling dance gestures gradually gather momentum and accelerate to a waltz, spurred on by some crackling drum rhythms. Finally, the March, dedicated to Horowitz, is full of humor and energetic good spirits.
The centerpiece of the program is the first movement of Mahler’s celebrated Ninth Symphony, universally recognized as one of the greatest symphony movements of all time and one that highly influenced the direction of orchestral music in the 100 years that have led up to our own time. The composer Alban Berg wrote, “The first movement is the greatest Mahler ever composed. It is the expression of a tremendous love for this earth, the longing to live on it peacefully and to enjoy nature to its deepest depths – before death comes. For death is inevitable. This whole movement is dominated by the presentiment of death, which makes itself known again and again … even in the middle of the deepest, most poignant longing for life.” Michael Arnowitt will perform a transcription for piano mostly done by Iain Farrington of the U.K., with some modifications of his own.
The path-breaking modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg was a friend of Mahler, who helped the young composer during his early controversial years in Vienna. Michael Arnowitt performs a selection of pieces from Schoenberg’s expressionist period which predates his famous later development of 12-tone music. These compositions from Schoenberg’s opus 11 and 19, the last piece of which was composed upon returning home from attending Mahler’s funeral in 1911, are from this crucial turning point in history where the first-ever music without key was being written, while at the same time Kandinsky, a friend of Schoenberg, was creating the first abstract art paintings. Audiences will hear, though, how despite Schoenberg’s reputation as a revolutionary composer,he retained elements of Mahler’s great romanticism that keeps Schoenberg’s soundworld wonderfully human.
A highlight of the program are pieces by the present-day Ukrainian composer Victoria Poleva. This Kiev-based composer writes highly absorbing music that is simple yet powerful, expressive, and deeply spiritual. Victoria Poleva recently sent Michael Arnowitt ten of her piano compositions. This year marks the beginning of Arnowitt’s efforts to champion her music and raise awareness in North America of this outstanding composer. Her Sonata “quasi una fantasia” borrows the official title of Beethoven’s famous “Moonlight” Sonata and is a dramatic, moving work of great emotional depth. “Ischia Island,” one of her most recent compositions, is an atmospheric piece presumably influenced by the island of that name off the coast of Naples, Italy.
Crossroads presents music that reveals what great art can be. At its most moving, art is not escapist entertainment but touches our deepest emotions and spiritual yearnings through these composers who did not shy away from exploring our innermost selves.
Michael Arnowitt, pianist
Pianist, composer, and event organizer Michael Arnowitt is one of the most creative musicians of today. His imaginative musical landscapes, extraordinary sense of touch at the piano, and warm onstage personality have delighted audiences in concert halls around the world. He lives in the USA and Canada and has given piano performances in France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Korea. His life and music is the subject of a documentary film, “Beyond 88 Keys” (2004). The documentary, filmed in both the USA and Europe, contains footage of concert performances, educational talks, and interviews. The film has been broadcast on public television and shown at a variety of film festivals and venues including the Rode Pomp, an arts center in Gent, Belgium and the Anthology, a theater in New York City’s East Village. Once international touring resumes, he will be performing an 8 concert tour of China with the guitarist Steve Blair where the duo will perform in Beijing and other Chinese cities.
His past creative projects have included “If Music Be the Food of Love,” a performance of classical and jazz music about food with the simultaneous serving to the audience of the food tastes that inspired the composers, and a collaboration combining his piano improvisations with the live creation of paintings on stage by visual artists. In 2013, his composition “Haiku Textures” for three cello soloists and orchestra was premiered, the three cellos symbolizing the three lines of a Japanese haiku poem. He has also performed with the photographer Marjorie Ryerson a special multi-media program “Water Music” where piano music about water is combined with the projection of water photographs and readings on the subject of water written by leading musicians of today.
In 1989 Michael Arnowitt began his novel, 26-year long presentation of the complete 32 Beethoven piano sonatas, matching up his age as he performed the various sonatas with Beethoven’s age as Beethoven composed them. The eight concerts in the project, spaced out over 26 years, thereby became a study in the psychology of aging and development. Audiences have seen how Beethoven developed as a composer, how Arnowitt developed as a pianist, and the intersection of the two processes. He has performed these “Beethoven & Arnowitt” concerts throughout the United States and in Canada, Korea, and Germany.
Michael Arnowitt has appeared as piano concerto soloist with many orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Kiev Chamber Orchestra under Roman Kofman. He has performed in concert with the Ying Quartet, and has toured Canada and the United States giving duo performances with Beverley Johnston of Toronto, one of the world’s leading classical percussionists. The Washington Post said of a concert Michael Arnowitt performed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., “he played with an exquisite sense of touch, color and musical imagination.” The Rheinische Post said of a Michael Arnowitt performance in Düsseldorf, Germany, “he played with a striking virtuosity and deeply felt passion.”
Michael Arnowitt has also been the principal organizer of a number of large-scale fundraisers for humanitarian aid, among them an April 1999 benefit concert for Balkan war refugees that raised over US $10,000 and collected clothing and 300 emergency first aid kits for the refugee camps. In 2016 he organized a benefit concert for Syrian refugees, creating a special program surveying Syria’s diverse cultures, with thirty performers presenting Syrian secular and sacred music, poetry, short stories, and drama.
His current projects include working on a new composition, Sound Essence, for jazz quartet and Indonesian gamelan orchestra. He is also developing a new concept of a multi-sensory performance event where he will be collaborating with a fabric artist, chef, botanist, and technologists to create a novel concert where the audience will be presented music paired with related simultaneous experiences in all the senses – touch, smell, sight, and taste.
In 2021 he began working on writing a book of essays about music which will be published later this year by Fomite Press. These essays offer Michael Arnowitt’s insights about moments in his favorite pieces of piano and orchestral music along with anecdotes from his life as a touring concert pianist.
The internationally-known flutist and composer Louis Moyse said while in his 90’s:
“During my long musical career, I have met few really great artists in the various disciplines of the field and I am very pleased to name Michael Arnowitt, pianist and musician as one of them. He expresses his art on the highest level. I have great respect for his interpretations and his way to communicate to any audience his feelings through his love for music.”
Since 1997, Michael Arnowitt has maintained a website at www.MAPiano.com which contains a number of his writings on musical topics. He can be found on Facebook under his name and on Mastodon at @MAPiano.