Returning to the Princeton campus for a third visit, the Golandsky
Institute peppers its mission of promoting master musicality at the
piano with a full program of lectures, master classes, and
discussions, as well as a set of six evening concerts that display the
dividends of moving well at the piano. Taking place from Saturday,
July 15, to Sunday, July 23, the institute carries on the work of
Dorothy Taubman, who lives in Brooklyn and is approaching 90.
Taubman developed her approach to the keyboard in the 1940s. It is
based on coordinated movements at the piano that reduce the danger of
injury and free the pianist to produce an unusual depth of sound with
Edna Golandsky, who founded the institute that bears her name in 2003,
studied with Taubman in the 1970s, when she was a Juilliard student.
She was part of a triumvirate that in 1977 established a summer school
to disseminate Taubman’s teachings. The school met successively at
Rensselaerville, New York; Amherst, Massachusetts; and Williamstown,
Massachusetts. Taubman chose Golandsky to deliver the daily summer
lectures, which systematically presented her thinking.
A similar history was endemic among the young artists who typically
turned to Taubman or Golandsky for help. They tended to be talented,
disciplined, and zealous. Recent graduates of leading conservatories,
they worked hard in pursuit of major careers, practicing for long
periods to prepare solo recitals and appearances with orchestras.
Within sight of their professional goals, they began to notice a
weakness in a particular finger, or an unexplained stiffness, or a
nagging neck ache. In some cases, their physical problems became so
severe that they could not even place their hands on the keyboard
without excruciating pain.
Using the Taubman method, they relearned how to play the piano and
weaned themselves from physically damaging habits. They ended up able
to play with more virtuosity and musicality than ever before. Their
re-education saved their careers.
Yet, it is not necessary to be young or injured in order to benefit
from Taubman’s insights, as evidenced by Yehudi Wyner, winner of this
year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for his 2005 piano concerto. Wyner
appears at Princeton’s Golandsky Institute in two separate events. On
Thursday, July 20, the Brandeis emeritus professor joins Harvard’s
Christopher Hasty, Juilliard’s Edward Bilous, and Princeton’s Barbara
White in McCormick Hall at 4:30 p.m. for a discussion of contemporary
music. On Friday, July 21, he accompanies soprano Dominique Labelle in
Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall for a program that includes selections
from his composition "The Second Madrigal." He also gives the
pre-concert lecture at 7p.m.
Wyner was a well-established composer and an uninjured performing
pianist in his 50s when he began piano lessons with Golandsky.
Interviewed by telephone from Arezzo, Italy, Wyner says, "I knew
nothing about Taubman until I met Sylvia Kahan in the mid 1980s. She
was an accomplished pianist and a student at Tanglewood, where I was
on the chamber music faculty from 1975 to 1997. She made me aware of
her work with Dorothy Taubman. There seemed to be something
interesting in it. I could do whatever I wanted on the piano, but I
was struck by its very natural, very unstrenuous approach."
After attending Taubman master classes at New York’s 92nd Street Y
Wyner was captivated. "Above all, I was intrigued by her idea that the
hand had a natural position. In a lot of training, the hand is
subjected to a lot of unnecessary strain. Why and how a child of eight
or nine with a talent for music can play technical war horses by Liszt
and Chopin was a paradox that Dorothy Taubman addressed. A child that
age is not strong. So the idea of developing strength and agility is
erroneous. I thought that was a good observation."
An added impetus for Wyner came because he was letting his piano
practice slip, and Taubman’s ideas promised a panacea. "As a composer
and teacher, I didn’t have the discipline to maintain a constant level
of piano playing," he says. "Every time I gave a concert, I had to go
through the same drill of taxing calisthenics. I was in my 50s, and I
thought, `As I get older this is going to get harder to do. With the
Taubman approach I can sit down at the piano and play effortlessly.’
"When I approached Edna (Golandsky), she told me I would have to wait.
Perhaps she was reluctant to take on a person with my reputation.
There was the question of how much can you learn, and how much can you
unlearn. I gave up performance dates in order to work with her. I was
determined to absorb what was there."
Wyner says his progress was slow because he didn’t practice much.
"When I composed, I was constantly reinforcing bad habits. Still,
almost from the beginning, my wife, who has the ears of an eagle,
sensed a transformation of my sound. There was a new roundness, an
unforcedness, a poise, eloquence, and warmth. There was an effortless
evenness." Wyner’s wife is soprano Susan Davenny Wyner, for whom Wyner
has written many compositions. Their three children are now in their
"One of the things that I loved was this: Here I was, a really
significant teacher, having to go back and accept the authority and
genuineness of another teacher. I just kept my mouth shut and did what
I was told. It was helpful to me as a teacher because it put me in
touch with all those negative reflexes that students have when their
teacher tells them what to do."
Savoring the economy of movement that he learned, Wyner says,
"Increasing the physical efficiency leads to increased flexibility and
variety in your sound. Solving technical problems liberates the sonic
imagination. So there’s an interpretive payoff."
Born in Canada in 1929, Wyner grew up in New York City. His father,
Lazar Wiener, was a composer of Yiddish art song and liturgical music.
Before graduating from both the Juilliard Institute and New York’s
Professional Children’s School in 1946 Wyner had performed a Beethoven
piano concerto with the Juilliard orchestra.
Attracted to Yale by the presence of composer Paul Hindemith, Wyner
discovered that Hindemith did not take undergraduates. After earning a
Yale bachelor of arts degree in 1950 Wyner worked with Hindemith as a
graduate student for a year and earned a bachelor of music degree.
When Hindemith began alternately spending a year in Switzerland and a
year at Yale, Wyner took himself to Harvard for a year and collected a
master of arts degree. He returned to Yale when Hindemith did, earning
a master of music degree in 1953 after working with Hindemith.
The Rome Prize in Composition in 1953 enabled Wyner to spend three
years at the American Academy in Rome, composing, playing, and
traveling. "Those were years of profound change," he says. "One of the
things that made a deep impression on me was the jumble of Rome. At
first I thought Rome was unacceptable as an urban center because it
had no stylistic unity. It took a while before I could reconcile
myself to the fact that Rome had a different idea of how to put things
together. I realized that there was a richness in putting a baroque
facade on a Romanesque church. I learned to accept mixtures and
chaos." While at the Academy, Wyner wrote his Concert Duo for Violin
and Piano, the piece that established his reputation.
Upon returning to America Wyner embarked on a professional trajectory
that included performance, composition, teaching, directing two opera
companies, and serving as an academic dean. Asked how he prioritized
the various aspects of his career, Wyner says, "I didn’t prioritize.
Some people said, `You’ll have no reputation unless you concentrate on
one thing.’ But I wanted to see all aspects and never could
concentrate on just one. My most difficult years were when I was dean
of music at Purchase [part of the State University of New York
system.] I was temperamentally unsuited to the job. I wasn’t born to
be the boss of others. I undertook it in good faith but I never
mastered it." In his resistance to setting priorities Wyner was
applying his love for Italy.
"The three years in Rome established a passion about Italy that has
never waned," Wyner says. "I go every year and stay from two weeks to
a couple of months. In Italy there is a generosity, a living spirit,
and an acceptance of life in its many guises. It’s different from the
American attitude that declares `You shall do this; you shall not do
that.’ There are similar strictures in music.
"Those years brought a personal change about what is acceptable about
life and art in every way. It was as if I was changing from a northern
Puritan mentality to a Mediterranean mentality. In Italy there is a
strong, unapologetic connection to the past. The past is seen as
something to be treasured and built on, not obliterated and negated."
Wyner’s Pulitzer prize piano concerto, "Chiavi in Mano" was largely
written in Italy, while he spent two months in a residency at the
American Academy of Rome. The 20-minute work was commissioned by the
Boston Symphony for performance by Robert Levin. "What emerged was
something odd," Wyner says. "I was writing in Italy but I never wrote
a piece so characteristically American. It was full of things
suggested by rock and roll, or boogie woogie. These musics are part of
my background. I used them for their exuberance. In essence, the piece
is very joyous, positive, and physically playful. Sometimes it’s
frivolous. There’s a lot of variety – from being very pensive to being
agitated and passionate and dreamy and thoughtful and aggressive and
"Something that occurred to me after I wrote the piece was that the
reason I included rock and roll and boogie was because I felt the
necessity for affirmative musical expression. There is an intrinsic
affirmative aesthetic statement to jazz, and by extension, to other
pop music. That’s one of the reasons they are so universally
Wyner continues: "Much American affirmative music is primarily
triumphal, aggressive, and characteristic of Hollywood. I find that
repellent. Most of that desire to be affirmative rings hollow to me.
It was possible for Beethoven and Brahms to be affirmative, to be bold
without being vulgar, or suggesting a bloated power structure. I
intended to make an esthetic statement with `Chiavi in Mano.’ I didn’t
intend to make a political statement. But, on reflection, I see that a
political implication can be inferred."
In "Chiavi in Mano" Wyner also makes a statement about piano technique
and the application of Taubman’s principles. "It would lie easily
under anybody’s hand," he says. "It’s manageable, and, playable for
any really accomplished pianist. If you can play late Beethoven
sonatas you can play this piece. And if you play piano using the
physically effective techniques that the Golandsky Institute explores,
you have an added interpretive edge and an increased level of
Summer Piano Festival, Sunday to Saturday, July 16 to 22, Golandsky
Institute, on the Princeton University campus. 877-343-3434,
www.golandskyinstitute.org. $20; $100 for festival pass (six concerts
for the price of five).
All concerts take place at Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall.
Kuok-Wai Lio. Register. Sunday, July 16, 8 p.m.
Ilya Itin. Register. Monday, July 17, 8 p.m.
Chamber music concert. Meagan Miller, soprano; Alex Richardson,
tenor; and Thomas Bagwell, piano, comprise the group "Art Song Now."
Register. Tuesday, July 18, 8 p.m.
Janice Weber. Register. Thursday, July 20, 8 p.m.
Dominique Labelle, soprano; and Yehudi Wyner, piano. Pre-concert talk
at 7:00 p.m. Register. Friday, July 21, 8 p.m.
Festival finale. Presented by the Herskowitz Rozenblatt Project, a
collaboration between jazz pianist Matt Herskovitz and drummer David
Rozenblatt. Register. Saturday, July 22, 8 p.m.