A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Aug 6, 2013
06:58 AM
Classically Speaking

98 Years Young, Frank Glazer Amazes—and Teaches—at the Keyboard

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.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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