I've been so busy with poetry that I stopped having time for music! So I only listen to classical recordings while driving, and I have developed this indelible association of Chopin's Etudes with going 80 miles per hour on an empty freeway with a full moon above me and black hills contoured ahead. Try it some time, make sure you are alone and sing along, if you can!
Finally, an invitation came from an old friend, Roza Kostrzewska-Yoder, an amazing piano teacher, whose children, three young men, are all pianist. Her husband is a pianist, too, and they have a private piano school, Chopin Academy in Los Angeles, that turns out one prize winner after another. On Sunday, July 31, 2022, their two younger sons, Kasper, age 16.5 and Dominik, age 19.5 were to give a recital somewhere else, but the host fell sick so the concert was moved back home to the lovely salon. The interior is very welcoming, in the style of old Polish manor houses, with interesting works of art, antique furniture, and striking old wooden beams in the ceiling.
I still remember that house when this piano studio did not exist and the house was standing on huge stilts on a very steep slope at the turn of a very curvy, narrow mountain road. I was shocked by the apparent danger of living in a house that was attached to the ground only just barely, with one side, while the rest of it was supported by thin metal column of 20 meters or so. But the danger was more imagined than real, my hosts assured me. Just in case, I did not sign up my daughter for piano lessons with Roza. Ania did not want to practice anyway and now sings in a choir while working as a chemical engineer, researcher with patents to her name...
At the family concert, the audience included music lovers from the Polish American community and fellow pianists with families. Dominik played an early Beethoven's Sonata Op. 2 No. 3, and Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2, while Kasper filled in the middle of the dramatic musical sandwich with Chopin - Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op. 44, and three Etudes (the Revolutionary, Op. 10 No. 12, and two from Op. 25, No. 12 in C minor, and No. 1 in A-flat major) in the first half, and the B-minor Prelude by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The biographies of both wonderful young pianists are below.
They both have impeccable technique and long-fingered pianists' hands - that fly above the keyboard with the speed of light, it seems at times. Dominik's playing is more intellectually robust, bringing out the symphonic colors from Beethoven's early sonata and the the thunderous darkness of virtuosic Rachmaninoff, with the obscure intensity of a Russian soul. He would be great in Liszt's most "diabolical" concoctions; reminded me a bit of the superb young Liszt interpreter, Peter Toth I heard years ago at the Paderewski Festival in Raleigh, N.D. In contrast, Kasper's interpretations strike me as truly romantic, with a gentle touch and rich timbres even in the most dramatic sections - these versions appealed to my poetic sensibility. Except in the tragic and dark Polonaise in F-sharp minor. To play it with the intensity of trauma that the music calls for, the pianist must live through unbearable pain. I do not wish it upon him, so let him play other Polonaises, with more zest for life and more vivid, brighter emotional colors!
The "Ocean" Etude Op. 25, no. 12 was as intensely cobalt-hued in the hands of Kasper Yoder as the music calls, for with its overarching waves of chords and arpeggios. Nicknamed by American audiences, this etude is also a favorite with music theorists interesting in cognitive psychology and human ability to create large-scale patterns. I'm thinking of "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter here, but maybe I'm wrong and he does not mention Chopin at all. Alas, I read it so long ago. In another life, perhaps. . .
I did not buy flowers for the artists, so I grabbed postcards I made as I was leaving house, with new words to the "Hymn of Light" by Sibelius. I thought I'd write poetic thank you notes to both musicians after the concert. This, I did. Then, I read the brief poems to the audience, and everyone was pleased. When I came back home, I combined the two miniatures into a longer poem with a new ending. The music was so vivid and intense, it just called for a flight of imagination. Hearing the piano so closely reminded me of what George Sand used to do when Chopin was playing at Nohant. She'd lie down under the piano and luxuriate in the sonic avalanche falling on her from above... We were comfortably seated around the room, but the intensity of real sound, not the tinny little distortion from a loudspeaker, a real sound played by a real person. Magic, indeed.
On Hearing Chopin Etudes
~ for Kasper and Dominik Yoder
Cobalt waves of thick chords
spread out under charcoal skies.
A sudden ray of gold sunlight
pierces dark clouds into bliss.
Under the pianist’s fingers
massive thunderbolts of arpeggios
change into sweet arabesques
and dissipate into the air.
A question mark lingers.
Did we really miss it?
Did the door to Paradise
The piano pleads for us
while we remain immobile,
immersed in a sonic avalanche,
transfixed by its beauty.
The room resonates with each forte.
Sforzato shakes us to the core.
“Oh, to be a young pianist, again.”
Night falls outside with a sigh.
Be still, my heart”- said the poet.
How to be still when the music
floats high above us like magic
rabbit pulled out of the hat?
The 23rd of July
... is the day of clearing karma
untying knots on the thread of fate,
breaking enchantments, reversing curses.
Look at the moon, blood-red and broken
above the hilltop, huge like ancient pain
passed on through generations.
It follows you, as you drive home
after resting in the silver mist of the ocean,
its waves - turquoise and jade - always
moving, yet always the same -
Look, the moon hides behind the black ridge
of despair, only a soft spot remains, shimmering
on alien indigo sky. The road turns, you fly along
80 miles per hour, singing a Chopin's Nocturne -
its lustrous cascade of notes split apart
by a sudden apparition - a majestic, white
platinum orb, suspended in darkness.
You remember that rust-red, once-in-the-lifetime
moon of prophecy, the fox moon that foretold
disaster as it led you back from Paso Robles, Solvang,
Santa Rosa, on the way into disillusionment and regret.
It was hard to understand. Harder to believe
in the existence of such twisted, demonic
selfishness masquerading as affection. Pitiful.
Yet the healing was real.
The lesson's learned.
The karma's cleared.
It is done.
The moon now floats high above the valley
in its bright halo, distant and indifferent.
You've discovered the virtue of detachment.
You've seen how desires of the heart
led you astray. Your life - an illumination.
Like a moonbeam, glowing on cobalt waters
of the Pacific, your path ahead is straight - clear
- dazzling - brilliant -
A Starchild, born to shine, you are blessed
by the moon's radiance on this magical
summer evening of July 23rd. You are home.
The New Age has just begun.
Dominik Yoder began studying piano at the age of three. He was awarded the Gold Medal in the 2018 Kosciuszko Foundation Competition for Young Pianists in Washington, D.C. Dominik also received: First Prize in the 2017 MTAC State and CAPMT State Competitions and the 2017 Parness Concerto Competition; Honorable Mention and a Special Prize from the jury in the 2015 San Jose International Piano Competition; Second Prize in the 2014 MTAC Pasadena Music Competition; and First Prize at the 2013 CAPMT State Level Honors Auditions, the 2012 Long Beach Mozart Festival, the 2012 Southern California Junior Bach Festival (Gold Medal), the 2009 SYMF Competition, the 2009 CAPMT Sonata Competition, the 2010 CAPMT Honors Auditions, and the 2011 CAPMT State competition. He has also been a prizewinner of the Glendale Piano Competition and Cypress Piano Competition. Dominik has performed in Żelazowa Wola, birthplace of Frederic Chopin, and for Polish radio and television. He has given concerts in the United States, Germany, and Puerto Rico. Dominik has also performed with the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and the Southwest Youth Chamber Music Festival Orchestra. He currently studies under Róża Kostrzewska Yoder. Dominik enjoys surfing and rock climbing.
Kasper Yoder began playing piano at the age of three, and received First Prize in the 2018 International Chopin Competition in Hartford, Connecticut, First Prize at the 2019 MTAC State Piano Concerto Competition, First Prize at the James Ramos International Video Competition, First Prize at the 2017 Pasadena Theme Festival, Second Prize in the 2015 San Jose International Piano Competition and a special jury prize, Golden Cup in the 2012 Junior Festival, Second Prize in the 2012 Lianna Cohen Festival, Gold Medal in the 2013 California Junior Bach Festival, and the First Prize Dance Theme Festival MTAC Pasadena. He has performed for Polish television, and has frequently concertized in Poland and Germany. Kasper also won Liana Cohen Grand Prize this year, 2nd prize at the Hartford International Chopin piano competition 2022, 2nd prize in the prestigious MTAC State finals of Piano Solo Competition, Gold medal for State level Bach SCJBF in 2021.
It seems that Kasper Yoder collects prizes like people used to collect stamps and has a sizable array of awards and trophies to his honor. He also enjoys photography, soccer, reading, and dancing in a Polish folk-dance ensemble. He studies with Róża Kostrzewska Yoder.
Here he is four years ago playing the same Etude op. 25 no. 1 we heard on Sunday:
And here is Kasper playing Artur Malawski's Tryptyk Goralski: