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Sara Says - Sara Davis Buechner invites you to share in her reflections on music, matters artistic and non, and the creatively fun things in life. Be a part of the conversation!

Archive for July, 2014

Opera in the Bronx

Posted on: July 30th, 2014 by SDB 1 Comment

        

I am a former resident of the Beautiful Bronx, and to me the streets of the Bronx are a never-ending Opera. On the sidewalks of Fordham Road, the Grand Concourse, Crotona Park, Belmont, Mount Hope, Mosholu Parkway, Valentine Avenue, Burnside, Tremont, Bedford Park — such color in the names alone! — you can enjoy song and dance (hip-hop, mambo, salsa, merengue and more, bleating forth from apartments and stores and street boom-boxes and sometimes even live on street corners), share in innumerable passing personal dramas, smell the frying aromas of a hundred cultures, and taste in your footsteps the echoes of former generations who came to this part of the United States from far away, as a first port of embarkation on their voyage to the American Dream.

On my recent visit to New York City, I had the pleasure of staying in the newly renovated Bronx Opera House Hotel, on East 149th Street near Third Avenue. Once home to an historic vaudeville and motion picture theater, the exterior has been gloriously preserved while the interior has been re-created as a charming, boutique hotel (24-hour coffee machine on the mezzanine level). I am no fan of gentrification, yet the mere establishment of a tastefully-appointed hotel in the commerical Bronx district known as “The Hub” is reason to cheer, to celebrate the rising economic fortunes of a borough long battered by crime, arson and unfairly bad reputation.

Last Tuesday morning I walked from the Opera House Hotel west to the Grand Concourse and 149th Street, where sits the Bronx Borough Post Office marvelously adorned within by large murals by American portraitist Ben Shahn, celebrating the working-man of the mid-1930s. From there I walked north on “Da Kon-kowse” to 161st Street, past aging Art Deco apartment houses of splendid ornamental detail, to the Mussolini-esque Bronx County Courthouse and fortress-like faux Yankee Stadium replica (the real one having been criminally razed a few years ago in search of mega-profits), past Franz Sigel Park with its statue of Heinrich Heine’s “Die Lorelei.” It was a glorious, breezy, puffy cloud and blue sky New York day. Along the way I passed many friendly scenes of greetings and re-connections. “Yo, girl! howz it go? Howz yo Mami?” A teenaged music student with a violin case strapped to her back flashed high-fives with her classmate. Garbage-men at work, riding shotgun on the back of loud smelly trucks, waved to the superintendents of tenements holding their fresh first sips of joe in blue paper cups sporting New York City’s unofficial motto “We are Happy to Serve You.” Street peddlers laden with cheap cell phones and illegal T-shirts and African incense sticks filled the air with their cries: “Yo baby chekitout chekitout chekitout chekitout NOW.” A show of flash, of bravado, of humanity, of neighbors and lives shared in tight quarters and close experience, of the vivid dance we call Life. I love it all, this Opera of the Bronx.

El Maéstro German Diéz (1924 – 2014)

Posted on: July 9th, 2014 by SDB No Comments

 


With German Diéz at the Greenwich House Music School, May 2012.

News reached me this morning of the passing of the Cuban pianistic and pedagogic legend German Diéz (18 June 1924 – 9 July 2014). He had been chair of the piano department of the Greenwich House Music School in New York City for a remarkable 64 years, and had also taught at Bard College, SUNY-Purchase, and Brooklyn College, over the course of a long and influential musical life. He was a devoted and elegant friend, and I will join literally thousands of New York pianists who mourn his passing, and celebrate his artistic legacy.

His pianistic credentials were the stuff of legend. He was a pupil of Edward Steuermann, Carl Friedberg, and then Claudio Arrau, who asked him to become his trusted assistant. German (pronounced Hehr-mahn) played concerts all over Cuba, the West Indies, and the USA where he became renowned for his interpretive skill in contemporary music. But German’s greatest devotion was reserved for his own teaching of young people.

I often say that teaching in the Conservatory or University is an easy job. Older, advanced pianists come to play for you, and lessons begin on the higher plane of interpretive detail. But German Diéz taught young people — children, beginners, teenagers, young adults, of all levels of technical ability. He raised generations of them, transforming them from musical fledglings into professionals. Among his pupils were numerous international prizewinners, and they are spread all over the globe now. Such is the hardest teaching of all — training the basic mechanism of fingers, hands and arms; the laborious business of writing in fingerings and assigning metronome practice tempi; showing the workings of the pedals; designating progressively graded assignments. And German Diéz loved doing all that, as no one else I have ever known. He was a masterful teacher, and his proud pupils called him El Maéstro.

Masterful he was also, as a gentleman, a friend and a colleague. Whenever I saw German in New York, his conversation would burn as brightly as the Havana sunrise. Always some personal stories of Arrau, or Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, or the character of the Danzas Cubanas of Ignacio Cervántes; possibly a tale of some new teaching challenge; or the ongoing concerns of the Greenwich House Music School which was his first love as well as his family. He was elegant in his persona, suave in his speech, tropically dressed, a Grand Señor. I will miss no one greater than El Maéstro German Diéz.