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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the October 23, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Robert Taub, Speaking from a New Base
Pianist Robert Taub has developed a model format for
concert programs, and his new post as director of performing arts
in music at the Lawrenceville School gives him a green light for bringing
his scheme to the Princeton area. His three-concert Musica Viva series
debuts Friday, October 25, with Taub’s pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m.,
preceding his 8 p.m. concert in the Allan P. Kirby Arts Center at
the Lawrenceville School. The program consists of Beethoven’s Sonata
Op. 53 ("Waldstein"), Bartok’s Piano Sonata, the Schumann-Liszt
Concert Paraphrase of Rigoletto, and Schumann’s "Davidsbundlertanze."
A post-concert discussion follows.
For the concert Taub plays a new Steinway D concert grand selected
by him and others at the Lawrenceville School. "We had seven or
eight gleaming keyboards to choose from," he says. "This is
one of the best pianos I’ve ever encountered."
Other events in the Musica Viva series are a performance for two pianos
and percussion on Friday, January 24, and a string quartet performance
on Friday, May 2. Taub participates in all the concerts. In addition,
a two-day Beethoven festival featuring orchestral and chamber music,
lectures, and informal discussions, takes place in June. The small
price tag for this bounty is $10 adult admission per concert or $25
for the series of three.
"I’ve found that there is a real yearning for communication between
the public and artists that goes beyond the performance," Taub
says in a telephone interview from his Lawrenceville office. He yields
to the accepted wisdom that intimate interchange between performers
and audience makes a memorable concert, and invites all Musica Viva
performers to participate both before and after their concerts. "It’s
unusual in that the performers do all the talking," he says, distinguishing
the commentary in his series from the usual pre-concert lectures given
by an expert musicologist, rather than the performing artists.
"I love to share interpretive insights beforehand — " Taub
says, "why I might have changed my mind, the things that I’ve
rejected, and why I do what I do. After a performance, sometimes there
are questions that are very involving, for instance, how to decide
on a tempo. Answering that question could take a long time. With the
varied repertoire at Lawrenceville, and the different instruments,
I anticipate complicated questions."
Taub used his model format when he was performing the Beethoven sonata
cycle in New York. "People came with scores," he says. "At
intermission the audience continued to discuss the issues I brought
up in the pre-concert discussion. They almost came to blows. I think
it’s important to discuss these issues with as much fervor as possible."
Taub credits a question about tempo with giving him the momentum to
spell out his thoughts in his recent book, "Playing the Beethoven
Piano Sonatas" (Amadeus Press, $24.95). "Being forced to articulate
an answer to a question from the public led me to put down on paper
what was sparked by the question," he says.
Analyzing his mental processes on the way to accounting
for his interpretation, he explains, "The initial decision has
a heavy intuitive component. Then I ask, `Why do I feel it that way?’
The next question is, `What was the composer’s musical vision?’ Then
I ask myself, `Why did the composer write it in the first place?’"
In "Playing the Sonatas," Taub writes, "my goal is to
share my thoughts from living with these works for many years, getting
them into my hands, committing them all to memory, performing them,
thinking about them some more, hearing them in my sleep, and bringing
them to life again and again — in front of audiences and microphones
— with interpretations that evolve through time and experience."
As artist in residence at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study,
he exhaustively examined and performed the Beethoven sonata cycle
over a three-year period (U.S. 1, March 12, 1997).
"Each time I play the sonatas I try to invest them with fresh
musical drama," Taub says. Now in the second year of a five-year
appointment at England’s Kingston University that requires his presence
four times a year, he is committed to performing Beethoven sonatas
at concerts each December and May.
Meanwhile, Taub’s base is Lawrenceville, where he revels in
the abundant facilities of Clark Music Building, the Lawrenceville
School’s newest facility. At his disposal is a plethora of Steinways
assembled for Lawrenceville students interested in solo piano repertoire,
duo-piano literature, or chamber music works. He has introduced a
chamber music course into the Lawrenceville curriculum and plans to
teach a performance survey course called "Bach to Babbitt."
Born in Metuchen, Taub is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Princeton,
Class of ’77. He earned a doctoral degree at New York’s Juilliard
School. His principal teacher was Jacob Lateiner.
At Lawrenceville, with his Musica Viva series, Taub finally reveals
himself as a presenter of concerts. Nevertheless, concert management
may have tantalized him for some time. In response to the question
of how he came to be an impresario, he jokes, "I always have been
an impresario. Sol Hurok and I go way back."
— Elaine Strauss
Lawrenceville, 609-895-2044. Pre-concert talk at 7:15 for program
that opens with Beethoven’s "Waldstein" Sonata. Www.MusicaViva.info.
$10; $25 series. Friday, October 25, 8 p.m.
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