A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Aug 6, 2013
06:58 AMClassically Speaking
98 Years Young, Frank Glazer Amazes—and Teaches—at the Keyboard
The next time I hear a teenaged prodigy toss off a concerto like it’s a warm-up exercise, it won’t be the last. But hearing Frank Glazer at the piano Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos was the first, and perhaps, only time that I will experience a viable artist who is 98 years young.
I used the phrase “at the piano” deliberately, because words such as “performance” and “artistry” are mere aspects of a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Wisconsin native Glazer, about to start his thirty-first year at Bates College in Maine, performs, yes, displays artistry of course, but ultimately the afternoon was more about what a pianist of considerable reputation for nearly ninety years can teach us about hard work, thinking outside the box and never relinquishing the joy of sharing one’s passion and the life force of incessant curiosity.
And make no mistake: This was not an occasion where anyone in the audience needed to make concessions to Glazer’s age; the second half of the program was dominated by works of Liszt, and, like a baseball pitcher who gets stronger in the late innings, Glazer seemed to gain more agility and ease in the final finger-busting “Paraphrase on Rigoletto” by Liszt.
The entire event was drenched in a sense of living history. Farley’s House of Pianos is of course held in the highest esteem for their restoration work, and Glazer played on a restored 1885 Steinway. In a pre-concert lecture, Tim Farley explained the process, and emphasized that when the firm received the piano, it had all of its original parts intact. This was an instrument that could have been played by Liszt, or Brahms or Dvorak or Tchaikovsky—and as a young man, Glazer studied in Berlin with Artur Schnabel, whose early years overlapped the final years of those composers.
Glazer devoted the first half of the recital to Haydn and Brahms, and we learned a great deal about clarity, and not caution, but taking care. This was especially true in a Beethoven rarity, the Op. 77 “Phantasie,” but no less so in the late Op. 109 Sonata.
Glazer opened the second half with Samuel Barber’s delightful "Excursions," with its nod to boogie-woogie and “The Streets of Laredo” among other Americana. Glazer revealed new riches of harmony and timbre in the Liszt “Sonetto 104 del Petrarca.” The greatest revelation for one listener came in that composer’s “Franziscus Legende No. 1,” in which some remarkable tone painting and story telling unfolds. Liszt employs cascades of trills to depict songbirds, which are temporarily silenced, then transformed, by St. Francis of Assisi, who has taught them to focus their gift to glorify God.
Anders Yocum had introduced Glazer following Farley’s nuts and bolts insights, and related that Glazer has always credited his ability to continue playing at this level from a close study of Gray’s Anatomy, learning how to use one muscle instead of three, or to reduce tension in the forearm, e.g. I don’t know if that will help me write creatively if I reach my nineties, but Glazer’s example for all of us is to use each day to the fullest, and know how much we might yet still achieve. Thank you, sir…I expect to see you back at Farley’s next year.
Photo: Frank Glazer; courtesy Well-Tempered Ear.