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INTERVIEW WITH SARA DAVIS BUECHNER

 

Q: JAPANESE BASEBALL - KABUKI - CONNECTING TO LISTENERS

As mentioned before, I love baseball, and I am always profoundly impressed by artistry in any venue. To see the immortal Ichiro Suzuki warming up before his turn at bat, or to watch the sizzling slider of Kei Igawa, is to be impressed by the ability of the human body to transcend itself. So, I suppose, I feel when I view the great kabuki theatre of Kyoto. The acting, dancing and incredible music of that experience leaves no doubt upon the viewer that you are sharing a rare kind of precision and artistic achievement. How can anyone fail to be impressed to see such things?

I’m not sure these extra-musical loves give me an extra edge when “connecting with my audience,” but it sure makes for interesting conversation. And when I do step to the front of the podium to talk to my audience, usually to provide some historic or personal insight into the music I’m about to play, it’s helpful to have a rich variety of analogies in your pocket. Many people do not know a lot about classical music -- they are, alas, rather scared of it, and feel they do not have the necessary education to understand it. Many decades of snobbish performance practices by the classical music business have contributed to that unfortunate perception. Often I have to chat with the folks in the seats, to inform them about what it is that I do, and why it’s OK for them to relax and approach the music on their own terms. Then they are able to share in the music on the best of terms. Listeners often come to my concerts with preconceived notions of what a classical music recital SHOULD be -- long, a little dull, and good for you (like castor oil or vegetables). When I start a story by mentioning something so vastly removed from music as, say, pinball, they are wrenched out of their perceptions and forced to reconsider what the evening is all about. Mozart and Beethoven were human beings too, and what they have to tell us AS human beings is what the audience is there to share -- not just to dress up, sip wine and look sophisticated.

Sara: My favorite forms of chamber music are with Dancers and Motion Pictures. Shortly before I joined the piano faculty of the University of British Columbia I was invited to become Music Director of the Mark Morris Dance Group -- a great honor which I hated to turn down. Morris is, of course, one of the world's greatest choreographers, and his troupe consists of incredible artists. This is one of them, Maile Okamura, sharing airs and champagne with me at a reception given for us by the Governer of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia
Q: NEW MUSIC

Again you mention a long list of composers and collaborators whom I have known and/or whose music I have played. Comparing any of them as creative artists is a bit like ranking apples and oranges, so I can’t really tell you which of them was the most enjoyable to work with. There is one gentleman on that list whose music I will never play again, because of his abhorrent personal rudeness quite apart from his musical gifts -- I’ll be polite and not mention his name. I never imagined that, when I underwent gender transition, that any fellow musical artists would turn away from me. But they did, many more of them than I ever anticipated. Anyway, that fellow is on the list and I still put him there because I am proud of the good job I did playing his very difficult music.

Certainly I can say, sadly, that Nori Nke Aka is the person from that list I miss the most. He was a brilliant artist -- Nigerian-born, trained as an opera singer at the Eastman School, an amazing dancer, choreographer and story-teller, also to my astonishment a gifted painter. One of his last sketches, of a Nigerian tribal woman, adorns my studio. He mailed it to me with a heartbreaking letter in the last months of his life. Nori and I collaborated on some ingenious stage presentations of Portuguese songs by Villa-Lobos, which incorporated some of his folk story-telling and wild dance around the piano. I have never forgotten those times. I think of Nori as a Schubert of our time -- he was that gifted, with such a level of genius. And sadly, like Schubert, he left us young, at age 47 from stomach cancer. I think not one day goes by that I do not think of him, and it’s been five years since he passed away. Many New Yorkers remember his concerts there, and I pray that some day a DVD of his work will be released. He was an important man.

Q: FILM MUSIC

It’s probably from my mother that I inherited a love of the movies. She was quite passionate about them as a child and I think she spent much of her childhood in the local darkened movie houses of Baltimore (where I grew up). Naturally I gravitated early on to the music underscoring the old films we watched on television. Miklos Rozsa was one of the first composers whose name I learned from film credits, and shortly after, Bernard Herrmann. Anyone can attest to the power of their music, and how integral a part it plays in the movies they scored. These men are, in my estimation, very important composers of the 20th century.

CONCERT REVIEWS
"Buechner has it all -- intelligence, integrity, and all-encompassing technical prowess." (Tim Page, The New York Times)

" this was clearly pianist Sara Davis Buechner's shining moment. She leapt and swayed and bobbed through this concerto as if riding a bucking bronco....an entertaining romp tailor-made for the virtuoso. The standing ovation for Buechner was well-earned." (Peter Bates, Boston Fine Arts Reviews)

"Buechner's performance had a beauty that might have taken even Mozart's breath away." (Joseph Banno, The Washington Post)

"This performance had everything - style, technique, taste and originality...each work was carefully chosen and struck a fine balance between accessibility and sophistication...Buechner made every phrase an event, placed every voice as if setting crystal on crushed velvet, and calculated every tempo fluctuation with keen dramatic timing." (Philip Kennicott, New York Newsday)

"There was old-fashioned grandeur in Buechner's performance, a sweep that pianists like Rudolf Serkin Used to summon....extraordinary lyric playing." (Ron Emery, The Albany Times-Union)

"Buechner brought effortless technique and a lyrically fluid interpretive approach." (Alex Ross, The New York Times)

"Buechner is one of those rare ones who obviously has won her imposing list of major awards for the right reasons. She plays the piano lovingly, the tone and phrasing beguiling and grateful, the facility fluent. Her musicality was persuasive as she shaped this music of quiet but deep-thought passion with its flickering play of feelings .... A very satisfying and elevating performance." (Robert Commanday, The San Francisco Chronicle)

"Buechner's brilliant performance was a reading that Rachmaninoff himself would have relished." (The Milwaukee Journal)

As I began to become curious about movies and their history, of course I read about and watched silent movies. Even as a teenager I liked to play LP recordings while watching Chaplin shorts on my 8mm movie projector (a much-begged-for 10th birthday present). As an adult I was given the opportunity to play music for some silent movies and I enjoy doing so tremendously. Clearly I was born too late. Had I been a child of the late 19th century instead of the 20th, I would no doubt have made a fine profession of being a movie theatre pit pianist.

 

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