ALTZAR: A JOURNEY FROM LEFT TO RIGHT BRAIN
I set out this evening to create a 7-second video for the header of my ALTZAR website. And this is what I ended up with – a 1-minute trailer about my journey from the left to the right brain:
On this day nearly half a century ago, a Belgrade graduate entered the world of adulthood.
But not like Dustin Hoffman in the Oscar-winning movie “The Graduate.” There was no Anne Bancroft to seduce me, nor Katharine Ross to fall in love with. Nor the California sunshine.
It was a cold, freezing winter day in Belgrade. And after I defended my thesis orally in late afternoon, and graduated as the first in my class, I was joined for an all-night party by my all-male classmates at a nearby restaurant. The photo you see here was taken at about 2AM. Which is why everybody looked so “merry.” 🙂
You’ll probably never guess what I graduated as?
Civil engineering! No kidding.
Yes, this writer, musician, shaman, war correspondent, playwright, filmmaker, public speaker… who made his money as a computer industry consultant, was meant to build roads and bridges on this day in 1968.
As it turned out, I only did a little bit of that in the last 8 years Elizabeth and I lived in Maui. By hand, not using construction equipment. I called it my “farmer’s yoga.” 🙂
So it goes… Fully how life takes its own turns in the most unexpected directions. If we let it. If we follow our passions, our intuitions, let our talents shine.
As Mark Twain put it, “if you love what you do, you’ll never have to work another day in your life.” 🙂
PS: By the way, my “graduation picture” is a photoshop. We did not used wear gowns and funny hats like that when graduating from European universities. Furthermore, I colorized my passport photo to create effect. Being artistic and creative was something they did not teach me in the civil engineering classes at the Belgrade university. That came later on, as I unwittingly followed Mark Twain’s advice.
GAUDEAMUS IGITUR! (Let Us Rejoice, Lat.) As I was waking up this morning, I heard the sounds of a song … Continue readingGAUDEAMUS IGITUR
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY… AUG 21 1968 SOVIET TANKS ROLL INTO CZECHOSLOVAKIA ENDING “PRAGUE SPRING”, PROTESTS ERUPT This particular … Continue reading
UPDATE DEC 12, 2017
One of the readers of my yesterday’s post on Putin (WHAT IS PUTIN UP TO?), a young woman from Chicago, commented, “I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with the Russian president.” ❤
Which reminded me of another post I made in July of last year (PUTIN AND ALTZAR IN 1970: TWINS?).
You can see them both below, along with an updated “Evolution” (of twin souls?) image. So it goes… 🙂
https://www.facebook.com/groups/vladimirputinfans/permalink/10156042456016942/ (WHAT IS PUTIN UP TO? – Dec 11, 2017)
https://www.facebook.com/bob.djurdjevic/posts/10208085824638293 (PUTIN AND ALTZAR IN 1970: TWINS? – July 12, 2016)
On our drive back home from Los Angeles via Palm Springs, Elizabeth and I kept humming the entire time the famous Va Pensiero aria from Nabucco.
This music even played in my third ear in dreamtime the night of Nov 10-11.
So when I woke up on Nov 11 (two days ago), I knew I had to record my own version of it. So I downloaded the sheet music – to be sure I played it in the same key as written by Verdi (F major).
Here’s now my second recording of the famous Nabucco aria without the imperfections of the first (Nov 13) impromptu version.
NABUCCO: VA PENSIERO – recorded by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic on a Clavinova in Scottsdale, Arizona – Nov 16, 2017 – a film by ALTZAR, edited Nov 17, 2017
I had worked on it on and off during the last two days, and On Nov 13, on a spur of a moment, I decided to record it “as is” in one fell swoop. And this is a result:
NABUCCO: VA PENSIERO – recorded by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic on a Clavinova in Scottsdale, Arizona – Nov 13, 2017
Here are now some still shots from this impromptu recording:
When the last sounds of the “Va, penciero” encore died down on the LA Opera stage at the end of the three-hour “Nabucco” opera on Nov 8, 2017, I had tears in my eyes. I am sure many others in the audience did, too. There was a momentary pause, a second or two of silence. And then thunderous applause and ovation broke out anew.
After several minutes of a standing ovation, the ensemble of the LA opera, lead by Placido Domingo (tenor), Liudmyla Monastyrska (soprano) and James Conlon (conductor) performed “Va, Pensiero” again as an encore to Verdi’s “Nabucco.”
Monastyrska, the soprano, started singing first, appearing to do so spontaneously. Then Domingo joined her in a duet. Then the chorus also pitched in, followed by the orchestra. It was a musical cascade with the conductor doing his work on the stage rather than in the pit.
At the end, the audience also joined in and sang the last bars with the opera cast and chorus. That was about 3,500 people singing together as one. The encore was followed by another standing ovation by everybody, including the cast and the orchestra.
The same thing happened in January 1901, when Giuseppe Verdi died. At his funeral, Italy wept an sang as one. Almost a quarter of a million people took to the streets, marching to “Va, Pensiero” from Nabucco – sung by a massed choir under the baton of celebrated maestro Arturo Toscanini.
Elizabeth and I learned about that and many other interesting facts about Verdi’s life at the one-hour pre-show lecture we attended by the conductor, James Conlan.
It was only on Wednesday that I began to understand the patriotic significance of this opera to the Italians. The opera is ostensibly about the Hebrew slaves in Babylon in the 6th century BC. But when it premiered in 1842, there was no such thing as the country of Italy. Unlike the Jews in Babylon, the Italians were exiles in their own land, divided by rivalries between the various city states and principalities.
With “Va, pensiero,” Verdi helped create a united Italy – without trying to do so. This aria has become an unofficial Italian anthem. It is something that every kid in Italy can sing, according to the conductor.
Which is not necessarily true of the official national anthem. They come and go with the change in the winds of history and various kings, rulers and dictators. But Verdi’s Nabucco stayed, like an anchor forever grounding the Italian people to their country.
Here’s an excerpt from a BBC story published on the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth.
“Can you imagine any country today in national mourning over the death of a classical composer? When Giuseppe Verdi, born 200 years ago next week, died in January 1901, Italy wept as one. Almost a quarter of a million people took to the streets, marching to Va, Pensiero from Nabucco – better known as the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves – sung by a massed choir under the baton of celebrated maestro Arturo Toscanini.”
The reason the Italians took to the streets that wintry day at the dawn of the last century was about much more than just music. Verdi’s operas had provided the soundtrack to the politically tempestuous half-century that preceded his death, and his most famous arias had become quasi-anthems for a nation recently unified. When Nabucco had its premiere at La Scala in 1842, ‘Italy’ was simply a cluster of geographically contiguous kingdoms and principalities with little more to unite them than a common language.
So when Italians sang the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves at Verdi’s funeral procession, it wasn’t just because it was a catchy tune they knew the words to. Its subject – the Israelites giving poignant voice to their longing for the promised land – had become a powerful analogue for the long-frustrated desires of the Italian people. When they cried “Viva Verdi!” during the funeral procession, they were still acutely conscious of the slogan’s double meaning and its clandestine resonance for the agitators of ‘the Risorgimento’, as the cause of Italian nationalism was known.
The letters VERDI also spelled out the name of the King of Sardinia who, in 1861, finally took the throne of a unified nation for the first time since the 6th Century – Victor Emmanuele Re D’Italia.” (for more, see http://www.bbc.com/ culture/story/20131002-verdi- when-music-meets-politics).”
All these photos were taken before the opera started.
Verdi’s aria was inspired by the biblical Psalm 137, one of the best known psalms. Its opening lines, “By the rivers of Babylon…” express the yearnings of the Hebrew people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 607 BCE. The rivers of Babylon are the Euphrates river, its tributaries, and the Tigris river. The psalm reflects the yearning for Jerusalem, the Hebrews’ home.
When my Steinway concert grand and I were reunited back in April, I thought it sounded great at its new desert home in Scottsdale. It was a vast improvement over its sound in the damp and humid Hawaii climate (see REUNITED: MY STEINWAY AND I – http://wp.me/p1jFeo-2fs).
In fact, my 7-foot grand ($81,000 list price) sounded better than even some of the 9-foot top-of-the-line Steinway Model D pianos ($156,000 list price) which I played side-by-side in the Steinway dealer’s showroom. But I knew it wasn’t perfect. The action (touch and feel of the keys) was still harder than that of a Model D. And there were some other minor issues with a couple of individual keys that needed adjustment.
In other words, nothing that a listener would necessarily notice. So Tony Smith, the Steinway tech, and I agreed to tackle these issues in the fall, after the piano has had a chance to “settle down” and acclimatize to the desert dryness.
Yesterday, Oct 11, was the D-day. It was the day Tony was to perform a major surgery on my Steinway, akin to a heart transplant in a human body, but also including the entire vascular system’s overhaul. As in complex medical procedures, there were no guarantees that the operation would be successful. I just had to pray and hope that the skilled “surgeon’s” hands produce the desired result
And what was that?
“I want to retain the beautiful sound of my piano,” I said to Tony before the start of the surgery. “But I also want to have the feathery keyboard feel of a Steinway Model D ($156,000 list price) or of a 9′ 6″-ft Bösendorfer concert grand ($250,000 list price).”
In other words, it was a tall order.
The surgery started a little after 11AM. It ended around 9PM. Tony, who is also an accomplished pianist and thus understood the finer points of my request, spent nearly 10 hours practicing his art and magic.
Here’s the gist of the surgery in technical piano terminology:
Full prep and regulation. File hammers, lubricate action centers, key pins, capstans, regulate and adjust all points, tune, voice. Full tuning.
Tony was finished just as Elizabeth and I arrived back home after a dinner function. Tony looked dead tired with bags under his eyes. But his eyes were sparkling,
“You will be amazed,” he said. “This is not the same piano anymore. It’s night and day difference in sound quality as well as the feel. This piano now sounds like the new ones I tune in showrooms or for major concert events.”
At first, I wasn’t going to play it right away. It was getting late at night and I wanted to be fresh when I did it. But with a statement like that from the Steinway tech who is usually a master of understatement, I could not resist.
I sat down and played a few segments of Chopin’s “Grand Valse Brillante” and the Etude “Tristesse.” I was totally blown away. It did indeed feel like a new and different piano.
“This is effortless,” I said when playing some particularly difficult passages of the Grand Valse. The keyboard felt feathery, just that of 9-foot Steinway.
Tony just grinned in self-satisfaction.
And the sound was not only the same as before, it was out of this world… crystal clear, sheer perfection. It does not get better than that.
“This was an exceptional experience,” Tony said. “I can sometimes spend hours on an instrument but I don’t often get this kind of a result. This was amazing for me, too.”
So Tony left around 9:30 last night a tired but a happy man.
This morning, I spent an hour or so playing the various piece of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. Some soft and slow. Other fast and furious. The piano responded as it it were on autopilot.
“My old Steinway died and ascended yesterday,” I told Elizabeth yesterday. “And then reincarnated as a Model D.”
Here’s a collage of some my new recordings on this reborn Steinway. Any imperfections in this recording are that of the pianist not the piano.
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 1 – Chopin’s Grand Valse Brillante – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
In this part two, you can see and hear me play Chopin’s Etude “Tristesse” (Sadness). Chopin supposedly said this was his favorite piece of all he had composed. His music is full of melancholic feelings. So no wonder he felt that way about this slow and mournful etude.
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 2 – Chopin’s Etude “Tristesse” (an excerpt) – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
Next came Schubert’s Impromptu in A♭ major. It is the last piece I played when I thought I might become a professional pianist. By contrast to this recording, the impromptu sounded nearly perfect back then.
At 15, I was then attending simultaneously the Belgrade Music Conservatory (piano) and the freshman year of high school. And then I quit my music to pursue other interests, partly under my father’s influence (“how are you going to support your family as a musician?”).
So I became an engineer, like my father. Except that I never really practiced this left brain profession. And now I have returned a full circle back to music and to my right brain. C’est la vie…. (“such is life”).
Anyway, back to Schubert…
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 3 – Schubert’s Impromptuin A♭ major (1st movement) – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
I didn’t plan this, but it seems fitting that the next piece I recorded was the first one I learned to play when I started my return to classical music in 2005. About 45 years after Schubert’s Impromptu, I tried playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
And it was a struggle even though the first movement is technically relatively easy for a pianist. My fingers felt like led soldiers. It took several months to get to an acceptable level of performance.
Yet unlike back when I was 15, and playing technically much more masterfully, back in 2005 time I found myself playing with my heart, too. Tears would roll down my cheeks brought about by the beauty of Beethoven’s music even if I occasionally hit a wrong note or a chord. I didn’t care.
I also improvised, not always sticking exactly to the written music. At first I did it with apologies to great Ludwig. Later I felt Beethoven (and Mozart) were guiding me to do so, to build upon what they had created. In recognition of that, back in 2010, I even produced a visual blending of our faces.
And now, with that as a preamble, here’s my latest recording of the Moonlight Sonata on my newly incarnated Steinway.
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 4 – Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (1st movement) – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
May 2, 2017
I could not be happier with the sound of my Steinway concert grand, now that it has been tuned for the first time in Arizona by the best local tuner, according to the Steinway dealer. It actually sounds much better than in Hawaii. And it is definitely richer than the sound of Steinway’s largest concert grand – Model D – which I have played both here and in Hawaii.
Tony, the piano tech agreed who did the tuning, agreed. He is also an excellent pianist. So he knows the instrument both as an engineer and artist – from the left and the right brain.
“It’s the dry air,” both Tony and I agreed. But that also poses new challenges. We will need to try to increase the humidity inside the house to prevent the wood from shrinking too much. And the piano will have to be tuned a couple of more times before the end of year before it gets fully acclimated to the desert.
After Tony had left, I sat down to put my Steinway through its paces. I did not plan the pieces I ended up planning. I just played. And Mozart and Rachmaninoff took over and did the rest. So now you can judge the quality of its sound for yourself.
* * *
UPDATE MAY 3, 2017
* * *
It’s interesting how life evolves in cycles,. Like a spiral staircase to heaven. With some detours here and there are we generate karma that blocks our upward thrust.
This evening, I was compelled to record Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on my Steinway, newly reunited with me here in the Arizona desert.
I don’t know exactly. I have recorded this piece of music many times before, including some rather unorthodox orchestrations. Such as with the Tibetan bowls and the wind and the bird calls in Maui (on Feb 24m 2011, for example. Which connected the East and the West – http://altzar.org/Music/Concert34_Beethoven_TibetanBowls.html).
With tonight’s recording, however, I think it was going back to my roots. Or at least my roots here in the Arizona desert.
* * *
In December 2007, however, had the innards of my antique piano completely replaced. It cost more than I had paid for for the whole piano originally. But I figured, if I am going to play again, I had better do it on an instrument that at least sounds relatively good.
That was the start of my musical renaissance. When I got my restored piano back, circa early Feb 2008, I started to play again. This is what it sounded like in Apr 2008, for example, when I recorded the “Autumn Leaves:”
https://youtu.be/NRxtmQoOqBY [music video]
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was the first “serious” piece of classical music I learned to play. And as easy as it now seems, I struggled with it.
I remember flying from Phoenix to New York in Feb 2008, for example, for one of my frequent business meetings in the Shitty. I was seated in first class next to a man who was flying to Kiev, Ukraine, for a premiere of his new composition. He was going to conduct there the Kiev Symphony orchestra.
I confided in him about my difficulties in playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He tried to comfort me that it’s really not that hard. He must have had a good laugh inwardly.
Now in hindsight, when I think about that conversation, I have to chuckle. Because the Moonlight Sonata is probably the simplest and the easiest pice of music I have recorded since back then. A piece of cake compare to some other Mozart, Rachmaninoff or Schubert pieces. And yet it is still also one of the most beautiful.
That antique piano was the one I had eventually shipped to Maui, and later traded it in for my Steinway (in 2010), along with my Mercedes “rocket ship” – the SL 600. Not literally. I used the money I got for my Mercedes to buy the Steinway.
And with that as a preamble, here is now…
BEETHOVEN’S MOONLIGHT SONATA RETURNS TO THE DESERT – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – May 3, 2017
APRIL 24, 2017
This morning, after traveling more than 3,000 miles across the Pacific and overland from California, my Steinway concert grand piano arrived at its final destination – our Scottsdale home.
The first music I played on it was Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March). Elizabeth was there to record this short excerpt – just so you can hear its sound in addition to seeing what it looks like.
Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” excerpt on my Steinway in Arizona – Apr 26, 2017 – a video clip by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – filmed by Elizabeth – [VIDEO CLIP, 42 secs]
* * *
The piano is a bit out of tune, but it is still a superior sound to any other instrument I have played, including the bigger and more expensive Steinway Model D’s. On Monday, I am having it tuned by a Steinway piano tuner. And then it will be perfect in its pitch as well the richness of the sound.
YEAH! Welcome to the desert, you “jungle kid.” 🙂 Great to have you back.
Here are some still shots Elizabeth also took this morning:
(For those of you who are new to this Steinway adventure, I have had it shipped from Hawaii to Arizona – see the story below)
* * *
APRIL 24, 2017
‘My Steinway concert grand and I are reunited after a 5-month separation. And it FEELS GREAT! Yeah!
When I decided to put my Maui property, the Rainbow Shower, back on the market in early December 2016, I had shipped my grand piano to the Steinway dealer in Honolulu on consignment. We were both hoping for a quick and mutually profitable sale.
When that did not happen by the end of March, I invoked the Plan B: Have my piano shipped to Arizona.
Shipping a Steinway grand piano is complicated affair even for a local move. But doing it across the Pacific ocean for 3,000 miles is an experience onto itself. In the process of doing, I learned so much that I feel I can now qualify for a piano dealer. 🙂
Anyway, my grand piano arrived at the Scottsdale Steinway dealer’s warehouse last week while Elizabeth and I were in New York. Today, the dealer and his crew of 3 uncrated it and reassembled it.
They were amazingly efficient. In less than an hour, I was sitting at my Steinway playing Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March). It’s my favorite piece to run a piano through its paces.
When Kevin, the dealer heard it, he asked me to play the same piece on his Model D – the biggest concert grand Steinway makes. Which was conveniently sitting right next to mine.
After I did it about four times, moving from one piano to the other, we both concluded that my piano had a better,, brighter sound. Yet the Model D is a more expensive instrument.
So now that my Steinway is out of the box, literally, they will deliver it to, and reassemble it at, my Scottsdale home on Wednesday. Then we will be finally and irrevocably reunited.
More than a quarter century since I thought I was finished with my theatrical experiences, THE PROFESSIONAl, a play I translated and adapted for American and English stages in June 1990, has come back to life. This time, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, courtesy of Michael Staley, the play’s director, and a group of Colorado theater enthusiasts.
Here’s a message I just received from Michael:
“Hi Bob! I hope that your trip is going nicely? Thank you so much for adapting “The Professional” and sharing your experiences with us! We had great fun and really gave our audiences something to think about! Best, Michael”
“I am currently enjoying your adaptation and translation of “The Professional.” We first staged it in college in 1996 and now I’m bringing it back to the Chief Theater in Steamboat Springs, CO (we are putting it on again later this month).”
Michael asked me if I could offer him some “words of wisdom” or comments about my work on this drama so he could share them with the cast and the audience. I sent him the link to the story about my FIRST SIX BRUSHES WITH THE THEATER WORLD.
I was amazed. Earlier the same day I had mentioned my work in the theater world and THE PROFESSIONAL to Elizabeth. It was serendipity on steroids! I had not thought or talked about this play for years. Maybe decades. The last premiere I attended was in New York in 1995.
And I thought that was it. I had moved on to other endeavors in my life.
Evidently it was not to be the end. Because this weekend (Sep 21-23, 2017), THE PROFESSIONAL was revived again in Colorado.
Here are some more pictures Michael has sent me from that performance.
An excerpt from…
My first brush with the theater world took place in January 1990, on my second visit to Yugoslavia, after a voluntary exile from its communist government for nearly 20 years. Getting involved in theater was the last thing on my mind when I agreed to attend a premiere of a new play, THE PROFESSIONAL, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. on January 10, 1990.
Back then, Yugoslavia was still a communist country. So the theater was full of important government officials on the opening night. I had just met the playwright the day before, who invited me to attend and said he would make sure I get a ticket even if he “had to take it out of the hands of a politician.”
The play moved me to tears. Here’s what I wrote about that unforgettable experience six months later, on July 4, 1990:
“It was a typical cold January (10th) night in Belgrade. At 19:30, Miodrag Perisic, editor of “Literary News,” his wife Zhanetta, a teacher of world literature, and I met for a prearranged cab ride from Studentski Trg (the Students’ Square) to the Zvezdara Theater. Earlier that day, Perisic had given me a message from Dusan Kovacevic, the author and director of the play Professional.” He said he’d get me a ticket to tonight’s opening performance “even if he’d have to lift it from the pocket of some high-ranking politician.”
At the time, I had no idea who this “Kovacevic” was, what the play was about, or why I — an American and a Yugoslav emigre who had not been back to his country of birth for nearly 20 years — should rank higher than a local politician. I agreed to go to the premier basically for two reasons. Because I’ve always liked theater, and because I felt a sense of allegiance with Perisic, the person who invited me and who, as I had just found out, like myself, faced Tito’s Communist police and the army during the 1968 student uprising at the Belgrade University.
Chief Players’ Cast:
Teya – KIRK AIGNER
Luke – CHAD McGOWN
Marta – SARAH LAPING-GARLAND
Lunatic – HOWARD BASHINSKI
Gypsies – AVERY CAVENDER, CHRISTIAN NIEVES
Chief Players’ Crew:
Director/Producer – MICHAEL EDWARD STALEY
Stage Manager – ROBIN DAVID
Production Designers – DANNY DAVID, A.J. JENNINGS
Scenic Artist – ANNA BAGLEY
Technical Wizardry – LOCK McSHANE
Carpentry – KYLE NOBLETT, CHAD McGOWN, & CHRISTOPHER WADOPIAN
Artistic Executives – SABRINA STEWART, BETH BLASKOVICH
Additional Costuming by – SANDY PUGH
Make-Up Artistry by – CAROLINE WILSON
Properties – AMANDA MARQUART, AVERY CAVENDER, HOWARD BASHINSKI, MAGGIE WHITTUM, MICHAEL EDWARD STALEY, PEGGY AIGNER, ROBIN DAVID, THOMAS MILLER, RYAN FLEMING, SABRINA STEWART, HARWIGS, & CHAD MCGOWN
Poster – TORI NICKLES
Program – SHANNON PARKER
Theatrical Producer – SCOTT PARKER
*”The Professional” (complete with didascalias) opened in San Francisco, CA in July 1992, in London, England in November 1992, and at the Off-Broadway Circle Repertory Theater in Manhattan, New York in May 1995.