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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the May 16, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Goode is Back in Mind, Body, and Music
A thoughtful pianist, Richard Goode is a connoisseur
of the architecture of concert programs. Talking about a forthcoming
recital, he illuminates a purposeful program structure. Each element
contributes to a unified whole; each is essential for balance. What
he describes is not a list of disparate items, but an organic entity.
Goode plays Bach, Chopin, and Beethoven at McCarter Theater on Tuesday,
May 22. His remarks in a telephone interview from his Manhattan home
are a stimulating preview of the performance, laden with provocative
ideas and a wealth of musical acumen. The program, in order, consists
of Bach’s French Suite No. 1; Chopin’s Nocturne in E Major Op. 62,
No.2; six of his Mazurkas; his Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60;
Bach’s Partita No. 1; and Beethoven’s Sonata No.31, Op. 110.
"I wanted no Bach side by side, for esthetic reasons," says
Goode. "And I wanted to make a connection between Bach and Chopin.
It’s very suggestive to put the two together. It brings out the contrapuntal
side of Chopin. Then, I like playing Bach’s dance music [both the
French Suite and the Partita are collections of dances] and Chopin’s
dance music [the mazurka is the national dance of Poland]. There are
good historical reasons for including Bach and Chopin on the same
program. Chopin revered Bach; he grew up on Bach and Mozart."
To select for performance six of Chopin’s more than 50 mazurkas was
difficult, Goode says. "I chose them for their variety, the key
relations, and for esthetic reasons. I have 45 or 50 favorites, and
it was hard to choose."
"I end with Beethoven," says Goode, who has performed and
recorded the entire Beethoven cycle. "and one of the rare sonatas
that has a fugue." The monumental fugue with which Beethoven’s
Op. 110 Sonata concludes, along with the notably contrapuntal Allemande
from the Bach French Suite, which opens Goode’s program give the evening
an audible symmetry.
A performer who manages to infuse his performances equally with intellect
and with emotion, Goode tops off his reasoned account of the McCarter
concert by a summary that shows his feelings. "I didn’t really
have such a big plan," he says about the program. "These are
all pieces that I love."
Goode has finally returned to performing after besting physical problems
that led to his canceling concerts for well over a year, to the dismay
of devoted audiences who bask in his exceptional combination of analysis
"The injury took about 18 months to get over," he says. "It
started in September, 1998, and was rather sudden. There was a certain
tingling in the fingers and some discomfort. It was a little hard
to pin down, and it made playing uncomfortable. It was subtle and
generalized. But by 18 months later I was able to play the Mozart
concerto that I had had to cancel." It was Mozart’s K. 453.
"I was helped chiefly by David Bersin, a Feldenkrais practitioner
in Doylestown, Pennsylvania," Goode says. "He helped me posturally
and muscularly. I was helped also by others, but Bersin’s help was
the most dramatic. He comes to the concerts sometimes. But really,
he’s more a Pete Seeger man."
The Feldenkrais method is named after Moshe Feldenkrais, who developed
mind-body techniques for maintaining flexibility, improving coordination,
and reducing pain and fatigue. The holder of a doctorate in physics
from the Sorbonne, Feldenkrais developed his method after a serious
knee injury threatened to confine him to a wheelchair.
During the time Goode did not play in public, he continued to play
privately. "I kept on with music," he says, "teaching
and reading, and I saw friends much more than in previous years. I
learned a lot about things I had neglected, physical things. Before,
I was thinking about everything else. A pianist can easily lead a
very sedentary life. I still do, but now I do exercises."
The time away from the stage was no major turning point for Goode.
"Except for a certain anxiety," he says, "I felt it was
not a major incident. Since I enjoy not playing concerts, as well
as playing them, it was not really a bad time." A performer for
whom an audience evokes a certain uneasiness, Goode told U.S. 1 (May
14, 1997), "I wish that most concerts would be at noon. Then I’d
have the rest of the day to live."
This time around, he turns to an anecdote involving Emanuel Ax to
emphasize an artist’s reluctance to perform. "Manny Ax likes to
tell a story about someone who heard him complain about playing concerts
and asked him, `So why do you play them?’ And Ax answered, `I think
it’s a little bit worse not to play concerts than to play them.’"
Approaching 58, Goode was born in New York City. By
the time he was three, he was singing along with Bing Crosby recordings.
Recognizing his musical talent, his father, a piano tuner, who had
once played violin, thought that the son ought to study violin. In
preparation, he started the boy on piano lessons with a neighborhood
teacher when he was six. The violin study never materialized. Goode
went on to study piano with Claude Frank, Nadia Reisenberg, and Rudolf
Serkin. After graduating from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, he
settled in at New York’s Mannes College, where he studied conducting
with Carl Bamberger and theory with Carl Schachter.
A founding member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in
1969, Goode devoted himself primarily to chamber music for almost
20 years. Finally, he made a splash as a soloist in the 1987-1988
season playing the Beethoven Sonata cycle at New York’s 92nd Street
Y. Eventually, in 1990, at age 47, he got around to a Carnegie Hall
debut. In recent seasons he has given solo recitals, performed with
orchestras, and appeared in chamber music. An active collaboration
with soprano Dawn Upshaw has resulted in both concerts and recordings.
An exclusive Nonesuch recording artist, Goode has a discography of
more than two dozen recordings. His most recent release, of February
2000, is a volume of Bach Partitas, Numbers Two, Four, and Five. A
second volume, with the remaining three Partitas, is his next planned
Goode is an enthusiastic concertgoer. "You have friends,"
he says, "and you hope that you still love music. I enjoy concerts.
It’s time consuming to give concerts and practice and travel all the
time So it’s difficult to go to concerts. I did a lot of concert going
when I couldn’t play. When I got more nervous about my own playing,
I went to fewer concerts. I felt, here are people doing things that
maybe I won’t be able to do."
Having listened to Andras Schiff performing Bach in New York, Goode
says, "Andras is very free pianistically. One of the obstacles
to pianists’ playing Bach is the feeling that they don’t own the music.
Harpsichordists do. Andras takes the view that Bach’s music is greater
than, and independent of, the instrument. I found his sense of freedom
and invention exhilarating. He gives a feeling of thinking and feeling
in a creative way, of improvising. That should be a goal for all of
"Maybe recordings have taken us away from this improvisatory ideal,"
Goode says. "Because the composer has fixed the notes in a certain
way and has set the text, doesn’t mean that a performance should strive
for the same definitiveness. A performance should be like lights playing
over a landscape, showing the landscape in a new light. There should
be fluidity and changeableness in a performance. It would be terrible
for a performance to be frozen." Goode’s carefully selected McCarter
program gives him a chance to let the searchlights of his vast musicality
reveal attractive vistas to his audience in new ways.
— Elaine Strauss
609-258-2787. The Grammy Award-winning pianist performs Bach’s "French
Suite No. 1 in D," and "Partita No. 2 in B-flat," Chopin’s
"Six Mazurkas," and Beethoven’s "Sonata No. 31 in A."
$33 and $36. Tuesday, May 22, 8 p.m.
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