Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for The Making of a Course

Recording the Pianists at The Great Courses – Part Three – True Professionalism

Ah, the idealized romance of the virtuoso pianist! A solitary figure sitting at a piano communing with her innermost thoughts and feelings through the medium of a repertoire second to none; wresting from the instrument its deepest secrets and sonorities while becoming one with the piano and the music. Yes! Yes! Yes, yes! (“I’ll have what she’s having.”) Her fingers no longer push the keys in some tawdry act of mere physical contact but rather, it is her very soul that animates and gives life to the piano! Thus carried aloft on a transformational musical wind that elevates her spirit, the pianist is rendered susceptible to divine revelation. Yes, well, whatever. A dose of reality, please. Pianists are people. People lead real lives. Real life can often be a challenge. Challenges require professionalism and grit, not idealized romantic cow flop. Case in point. Magdalina Melkonyan – who during her recording sessions appeared totally relaxed at the piano and played like an angel – had quite a week. Magdalina has two boys: Alex, who is 4 years old, and Andre who is 16 months old. On Tuesday evening May 28, Andre came down with a fever of 103.5 degrees. A trip […]

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Recording the Pianists at The Great Courses – Part Two

Today we had the opportunity to meet and hear the third of our three pianists, Eun Joo Chung. She recorded the excerpts for two great and most virtuosic works: Johannes Brahms’ “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel” and Aaron Copland’s “Piano Variations”. She was absolutely stunning. Some logistical info. The studio in which we are recording is a fairly large room, in which the piano is placed dead center in the middle. At any given moment, there are five or six people in the studio. First (and obviously), there is the pianist. Then there are three camera-people, operating, as one might expect, three cameras, which are arrayed around the piano. I am seated at a table to the side, from which I can talk to the pianist and monitor events. Finally, there is my Academic Content Supervisor Cat Lyon, who when called upon leaves the adjacent control room and joins us in the studio in order to turn pages for the pianists I would call your attention to the three camera people. My friends, it is a defining skill that good camera people (and I would tell you that The GREAT Courses employs GREAT camera people) are unflappable: […]

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Recording the Pianists at The Great Courses – Part One

As anticipated in my previous post, I have travelled to Chantilly, Virginia – HQ of The Great Courses/The Teaching Company – to oversee the recording of the musical examples for my latest course, “The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works.” The three professional concert pianists tasked with recording the excerpts are Magdalina Melkonyan, Woo Bin Park, and Eun Joo Chung. We began recording today and will continue for a total of five days. Each day – thanks to the cleverness of my producer, Jaimee Aigret – is divided into two parts: 8:30 AM to 1 PM, and 1 PM to 5:30 PM. Each “part” is assigned to a different pianist. Thus, we will record two pianists per day. They are recording on a Steinway “B”. (Sadly, the elevators here at The Great Courses could not accommodate a Steinway “D”, meaning a full concert grand. Having said that, our “B” is a molto fine instrument, which was last played – so we are told – by Harry Connick Jr. in a concert in Baltimore roughly three weeks ago.) This is what we are asking our pianists to do. Walk into a chilly (those with thinner blood might say FREEZING) studio and warm […]

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The Making of a Course – Part Ten

Tuesday, May 28th I return to The Great Courses/Teaching Company studios in Virginia to complete work on my latest course: “The 23 Greatest Solo Piano Works.” We recorded the actual lectures back in January and early February, a process well-documented on this site (scroll down for the blogs I wrote during the recording process and for various studio pix). This next week will be dedicated to recording the actual musical examples that will be heard (and seen) during the course. In the past, such musical examples were excerpted from recordings. This time around, we’re doing something entirely different. We have hired three wonderful, young concert pianists who will together custom-record our musical examples. Among the many advantages of doing things this way is that I will have some say over the interpretive content of the performances. We will also be video recording the pianists, so those who purchase the video version of the course will have the added advantage of seeing as well as hearing the excerpts performed. (And who doesn’t like to watch a great pianist in action? To my mind there’s nothing in the musical world quite as awesome as watching a great pianist perform: her hand speed […]

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