November 03, 08
Finally!! Pictures from Prague!
After struggling with guilt over enjoying all of our Prague photos floating across our Vista screensaver (gorgeously done, by the way - not EVERYTHING about Vista is bad;) i finally broke down and started to look into online photo sharing sites to make the sharing of happiness easier.
I've used Flickr for a few pictures, but frankly it looks pretty plain jane as a presentation tool. One other concern with "freebie" photo sites comes from the possibility that pictures could be deleted at a moment's notice (extreme circumstances, granted, but it's possible). Another concern is the limiting factor of upload quotas and size restrictions.
I've decided to go with SmugMug
, a photo site that seems to have the approval of Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal
. The only freebie option is an initial 14-day trial; basic service costs around $40 for unlimited photo uploads and ad-free presentations. I'm going with the power user account for about $60, which allows for more editing options as well as the ability to upload DVD-quality video files - again, with an unlimited amount of storage space!
I've uploaded 2 galleries so far - here's a link to the "Day 2 - Day 3" gallery slideshow.
You'll need to have Flash capability on your computer to view this. You can also click on the picture below to jump right to the slideshow:
Here's a link to the "Day 1" gallery
Coming soon: Day 3 and 4, containing the visit to the Prague Conservatory and a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Prague!
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February 05, 08
Visual Recital Workshop at the Hamilton School
i can't think of many teachers better than good ol' experience, and certainly this past week's Visual Recital workshop at the Hamilton School proved to be a gold mine of learning on all fronts!
The session began with an initial visit with a group of the school's 4th - 6th graders. Cellist Susan Babini and pianist Michael Mizrahi had been introducing the group to the first movement of the Sonata in F major, Op. 99 by Johannes Brahms. Realizing that we were going to have limited class time with the kids, i chose to "pre-empt" the design of the visualizations by selecting a general theme and creating the visual backgrounds ahead of time. I wanted to present ideas that would be as contextually familiar to the West Philadelphia students as possible, so Bonnie Slobodien and i brainstormed the idea of "Two Views of the Schuylkill River" (wow, you know you're from Philadelphia if you can not only pronounce that word correctly - "Skoo-Kill" - but also spell it from memory!!) The basic idea was to show contrasting elements in the music, such as:
The Schuylkill River is the main body of water that runs through Philadelphia, featuring a major highway on one end and a lovely park on the other. Initially i was going to stick with just a riverside highway scene and a blank riverside park trail background, with the idea that the students would be encouraged to draw things that move fast on the highway (cars, trucks, motorcycles and whatnot), and contrasting things that you would find in a peaceful riverside park (trees, flowers, clouds, ducks, boats, etc.) Analyzing the Brahms made me realize that almost 8 minutes of music comprised the first movement, and that there was plenty of opportunity to feature other contrasting sections. I eventually came up with the following added backgrounds:
the Fast scene, featuring the Schuylkill Expressway
the Slow scene, featuring Kelly Drive (the scenic route next to the river)
a busy street scene, representing a part of town that lies next to the river and under some big highway overpasses - this was going to be the "busy" theme
Boathouse row, a picturesque series of crew houses used by local universities and crew clubs right along the river - this would be the "peaceful" theme
The Art Museum - this would represent the "majestic: grand" theme
The Ben Franklin Bridge at night - this would represent the "majestic: exciting" theme, with the students primarily drawing fireworks for this scene
We had two back to back classes to work with, for a total of about 60 students. Given the time restraints, we kept the art medium simple: crayon pencils on white paper, to be cut out and pasted with glue sticks onto black construction paper backgrounds.
What an amazing output of creativity! Giving the students empty scenes to work with, they all vied to produce several items for EVERY one of them!
Note to self: i thought that pasting the cut out pictures on black paper would make it easier to isolate the images for transparent backgrounds, but it turns out to be actually more tedious. Time can be saved by eliminating the cutout/gluestick actions, and the scanned images can be "lassoed" manually, copied and pasted onto transparent backgrounds, and saved as PNG image file formats.
Unlike the Mad Cow visual recital workshop in Colorado, i at least had about a week to scan in the images and place them into the scenery. Well, a jam-packed week so it turned out, what with the Greenfield Competition finals, all the rehearsals in preparation for that, and Karate graduations for the kids and me...it was a challenge to find the time to get this all done (which led to late, late night programming sessions...which then led to - kaff kaff - this yucky cold i came down with...)
Primary programs used for creating the visual backgrounds:
ArtRage 2, a fantastic program that can realistically simulate paint, markers, crayons, pencil, and a host of other physical media - works exceptionally well with Tablet PC's
Inkscape, the open source vector drawing program. I really fell in love with the simplicity of use with this one - i had been a longtime CorelDraw user back in the old days, so this was like working in old familiar territory. The "technical drawings", such as the Ben Franklin bridge, the highway and the yellow dividers, and anything else that required symmetry or precision was best crafted with Inkscape.
Primary programs used for cropping, cleaning, and in some cases making animations with the students' pictures:
Macromedia Fireworks - i'm sure i could use GIMP to extract the scanned images and paste them onto transparent backgrounds, but i just work faster in Fireworks...
Macromedia Flash - several kids came up with pictures that were almost identical (sunshine, flags, etc.), so i took advantage of some simple Flash layering and alpha fades to make animated blends between the pictures and exporting them as animated GIF's
Initially, i was only going to have static backgrounds with all of the image "actors" moving in automated loops within each scene. The only trigger points would be to advance to the next scene. Fortunately, i was able to get some great help from the developer of Liquid Media to create an "unlimited ammo" trigger system. Using the X-Keys USB 12-port switch interface
, i was able to incorporate 3 pedals - one to advance the scene, and two others to be used by the musicians to trigger events within specific scenes. For example, in the Fast highway scene, there was an active background of the highway zipping along and cars traveling over it. If the cellist stepped on her pedal, a series of special cars would drive by at a faster speed. If the pianist stepped on his pedal, helicopters would fly by the sky overhead.
Here are some pictures from Monday's VR workshop:
Mr. Guy Cannon's music classroom setup at the Hamilton School:
Susie giving a cello lesson to a curious student:
Michael surrounded by eager pianists:
Our indefatigable director of Education and Outreach from Astral, Bonnie Slobodien, encouraging the students to "respect our friends by listening quietly" - well, that lasted for a few seconds at least...
The main man himself, Mr. Guy Cannon - a cooler music teacher i have yet to meet!
Michael and Susie prep the students for the world premiere of "Brahms on the Schuylkill River":
Michael demonstrates how the cars can be triggered to zip by on the highway scene:
Student balloons float over the Art museum and Susie's head:
Susie and Michael performing during the Boathouse Row scene:
One concern that Bonnie and the musicians had was having the visuals overwhelm the students' reception of the music. I think we came up with some great activities to balance the excitement of having one's own artwork animated to live music and the need to encourage stronger listening skills:
I came up with the "Ta-DA" game on the spot, where the students were challenged to recognize and count the number of times the "Ta-DA" theme was played - ie, the 16th note to tied quarter notes motif that runs throughout the theme (highlighted in yellow):
When the theme fragment returns at the beginning of the development section, the "Ta-DA's" turn into "Oh-NO's!", highlighting the change to minor and its resulting shift in mood:
The Ta-DA's come back at the end as "Hoo-Ray" (or something to that effect), reflecting the heroic final statement of the motif in the last few measures - we thought of the association with something proud, noble, and majestic - like fireworks!
Interesting to point out how a rhythmic fragment can change somewhat, turning from 16ths -> half notes into 8ths and quarters.
Another listening game involved everyone closing their eyes and the musicians playing a random section of the movement. The students would have to guess which scene the music was associated with, then open their eyes to see if their guesses matched what was on the screen. It was quite remarkable to see how quickly they matched the musical associations we established with their artwork!
The most fun was having two students at a time come up and press the pedals to trigger the action themselves in synchronization with the musical motifs. This worked so well that i'm going to try to design future Visual Workshops with more pedals so that larger groups of students can get involved in activating the visual triggers in conjunction with the elements they hear in the music.
(Another note to self: kids remember everything they draw. I mean, EVERYTHING - i fit in almost all the pictures, but had to contend with a handful of disappointed faces when i didn't have time to scan in this turtle or that car or that balloon...next time, put EVERYTHING into the Visual Recital!!)
I had several video cameras running, but no hands to actually push the "record" button - what with all the activity and excitement, i just didn't get a chance to lay down a lot of video or audio. What i need in the future is a team of interns to help me set up the documentary equipment...well, i'll go through the few minutes that i did manage to record and see if i can pull together a short clip. If not, i'll make sure that i plan the videotaping at the next Visual Recital workshop in Greenport, NY more carefully.
whew...quite a long-winded blog post today! Lots of exciting ideas, lots of stuff learned - i'm already excited about the next project!
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December 17, 07
Photo shoot with Christian Steiner
Anyone who is anyone in the classical music world knows that no publicity portfolio is truly complete without a Christian Steiner
photo. Some of the most memorable portraits of luminaries such as Pavarotti, Von Karajan, Itzhak Perlman, Leonard Bernstein, and countless others have been captured with Mr. Steiner's lens. Thanks to my recent Hebrew Melodies CD project with violinist Maurice Sklar
, i finally had an opportunity to experience a Christian Steiner photo shoot!
Many, many thanks to Maury - of all the CD's i've recorded, this is the first time the solo artist has asked me to be part of their publicity photo set. I'm usually relegated to the inner lining (if at all), so to be asked to be part of such a major part of the publicity is a rare and special honor. Here's a picture featuring Maury posing with Mr. Steiner:
i was struck with the small size of Mr. Steiner's apartment, and the utter simplicity of his studio setup. Somehow i had imagined a vast complex of vaulted ceilings with batteries of cameras, overhead lighting systems, and cavernous rooms with gargantuan backdrop movie studio sets. What a shock to see a basic living room with nothing more than a Bechstein "A" piano, 3 lights, and a 3-color (red, white and blue) paper backdrop frame!
There was a powerful similarity between Mr. Steiner's minimalist studio and Da-Hong Seetoo's sparse audio recording setup: both were masters using the simplest of tools to achieve the most incredible results, proving that artistic perfection lies with the eye and the ear, not with the complexity of the technology.
Mr. Steiner shoots his pictures digitally, each shot captured in a 95 MB RAW format on his Canon EOS-1D digital camera
His mastery really comes to life in the way he sets up his lighting, poses his subjects, and uses the psychology of a trusted musical colleague to put the artists at ease with his vast repertoire of stories and jokes, or in the way he will just gaze at you until he smiles and finds the perfect angle for the shot.
When it came time to do my solo shots, Mr. Steiner spent a good bit of time exploring all different angles of my profile before decisively concluding that he liked the left side of my face the best ("Your right eye is smaller than your left," he told me). My small eyes were quite a challenge (i've heard that from several professional photographers over the years), and to keep them from squinting closed he purposefully kept me from smiling too much. One neat trick that Mr. Steiner used was to elevate himself on a step ladder, forcing me to naturally open my eyes more to see him at that angle!
I never knew that Mr. Steiner was a pianist himself! That helps to explain the extraordinary rapport he is able to achieve with his classical music clients. In fact, one way that Mr. Steiner keeps an active hand in the performing world is as the founder of the Tannery Pond Concert Series
in upstate New York. Here is Mr. Steiner with Nikolai, the "Tzar of Tannery Pond", and his favorite toy:
All in all, it was a grueling 5 1/2 hour photo shoot with a few solo shots of yours truly snuck in for good measure (a much needed update for my own publicity picture portfolio!). I can't think of a more pleasant, inspiring, and artistically captivating photographer to work with! Can't wait for the contact sheets to see how the pictures turned out, bad hair day and all!
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October 17, 07
I oughtta be in pictures...
Now THIS was a real head-spinner -
What in the world was my name doing on a NY Times movie review page??
Upon further investigation (ie, clicking the link) it turns out that i make a cameo (i assume) in a film called, "Aaron Rosand: Celebrating a Life in Music".
I write "assume" because for some reason i can't open the link properly in my browser. Anyone catch the preview of the film? How does my hair look? Does my leg keep jumping around too much? Is my tie on straight?
LOL - somehow i don't think the Paparazzi will be hounding me on the PATCO high speed line anytime soon...congratulations to my esteemed colleague Aaron Rosand
on the release of this new film!
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October 15, 07
Greg Stepanich on Classical Musicians in the Video BlogosphereGreg Stepanich from PalmBeachPost.com
writes in his Oct. 12th post about the innovative ways classical musicians and institutions are marketing themselves, including an increasing wave of internet videos being used to educate and market classical music. Mr. Stepanich very kindly highlights the blog of "yours truly" as being "one of the most consistently interesting blogs out there..." (Why, thank you!) and points out my video interview with soprano Jacquelyn Familant
where she talks about the importance of self-marketing. He also mentions my link to Charles Griffin's website
and notes that Charlie is making PDF's of his scores directly available for purchase via PayPal. There's also a terrific reference to the Lynn University Conservatory of Music
making their master class and rehearsal videos available for viewing thanks to BandDirector.com
. We should see more conservatories following this model, a la shades of iTunes University!
Many thanks to Mr. Stepanich for recognizing the efforts of musicians trying to find innovative ways to share their art in a visual society!
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August 13, 07
April 12, 07
Spring Break on a Budget: Archery
With my new commitment to Dave Ramsey's "Debt Snowball" plan, we're not going on any unplanned or unbudgeted excursions anymore. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done when you have a house full of 3 very bored boys who are on Spring Break (too bad Curtis' Spring Break and the public school's break can't coincide...) Video games and TV only go so far - so to help break up the monotony of cabin fever, i've been spending some time teaching the boys archery.
For folks who have known me for years, they've noticed a pattern of obsessive hobbies that usually come and go in 2-3 year cycles. At one time, it was woodworking - another time, it was an obsession with baking and learning how to come up with the perfect loaf of handmade breads - archery happens to be one of my earliest obsessions, which took hold of me when i was still a teenager living at home. A mysterious impulse swept over me completely out of the blue - the desire to shoot a bow and arrow (maybe from all the paper and dice Role Playing Games i played?). I rushed to the local library and took out all the books i could find on the subject. I scoured the yellow pages (remember, kiddies, this was back in the Dark Ages before Google!) for Archery Shops and found one about an hour's drive away, where i got equipped and started taking weekly lessons. My first bow was a light recurve bow - after i got married, i happened upon another archery shop during one of my concert tours and picked up a nice junior compound bow. At one point i was shooting every single day - there is a powerful, meditative quality that comes with archery, as you need to control your breathing and focus all your concentration upon a single point in order to shoot with consistent form and accuracy.
Well, that obsession came...and went. Life became incredibly busy, particularly after moving into the city for a number of years. I would try shooting at my parents' farm in upstate PA, but our trips there were too infrequent to keep me in shape. When we finally purchased the house we're living in now, i brought all my archery equipment with me in hopes that i could set up a little shooting range in the backyard. Sadly, the bows and quivers just hung on hooks in the garage, slowly gathering dust...
...Until this week. As i was wracking my brain trying to come up with a fun, cheap activity (ie: FREE), the bows in the garage called out to me. It must be close to 8 years since i pulled a bowstring! I rounded up the boys and announced that our archery lessons were about to begin. Paul had some archery experience from his gym class, so he was comfortable with the idea. Timmy was excited without really knowing why - Eric, surprisingly, was very timid, as he was afraid of either getting hurt or inflicting damage...but once we got started, we all had a terrific time!
We set up an empty cardboard box filled with plastic bags as our target, strung up between two trees. The elasticity of the plastic bags help to stop the arrows from going through the cardboard. Timmy's main goal was to pull the bowstring hard enough to get the arrows to stick into the box!
Once Eric got the hang of the proper form and safety rules for shooting, he really got into the swing of it and became the most enthusiastic archer of the group:
Paul revealed a knack for archery - he has terrific aim, and was able to hit the target pretty consistently from the full length of the yard.
Feels great to be shooting again - especially as a family activity with the boys!
For a full picture gallery of our archery shoot, click here
. It's nice to see that sometimes the best 'vacations' don't cost a penny!
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April 02, 07
Happy 80th Birthday, Aaron Rosand!
This past Saturday i had the honor of once again performing with my dear friend, the legendary violinist Aaron Rosand
, in a special 80th Birthday tribute concert at Curtis. Aaron and i performed an all-Brahms first half, and a wonderful medley of students and illustrious alumni from Aaron's class performed the second half, including Alex Kerr
, Benjamin Schmid
, and Steven Copes
Want to see violinists geek out? Watch them pull out their instruments and talk shop! Worse than video gamers at an E3 convention! LOL
A lovely, heartfelt afternoon of camaraderie and a breathtaking evening of music-making ensued. I can't think of a more beautiful, fitting tribute to such an incredible master - Happy Birthday, Aaron, with hearty wishes for many more yet to come!
You can enjoy my picture gallery
from that festive day by clicking here
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March 08, 07
Concert at the Kravis Center
I just returned from West Palm Beach, Florida, after having played a recital with violin phenom Stephanie Jeong at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
Given our important Curtis
connections in the area, Charles Sterne III, our Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving, accompanied us during our Florida trip and was kind enough to chauffeur us from our motel to our various destinations.
Prior to the recital, we had a wonderful impromptu lunch and private performance for one of Curtis' most generous benefactors, Mr. Jack Wolgin.
Although the space where we performed was on the acoustically dry side, the audience was warm and enthusiastic. Stephanie did a fantastic job, and even our Chairman of the Board Gerry Lenfest and his wife Marguerite were on hand to enjoy the performance.
Too bad the Florida weather was a bit too windy for me to get any swim time in! More pictures from my Florida trip can be seen in the Picture Gallery.
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February 24, 07
Frankensteining the Perfect Digital Piano, Part 5
Here's a picture of Timmy helping me test out my new digital piano setup, complete with a brand new double keyboard rack:
Machines from left to right are:
Zoe, the Gateway M285-E Tablet PC with Core 2 Intel Processor and 2 Gig RAM, serving double duty as graphics processor for the Visual Recital components and controller interface for the Muse Receptor via Crossover Ethernet cable
Kaylee, the Fujitsu ST5022-D Tablet PC that serves as my main music score reader
Jayne, the Receptor by Muse Research, which holds all the hi-res piano samples and acts as an uber-sound synthesizer, connected to the Roland RD-700SX keyboard via MIDI cable. Jayne also has a direct connection to Zoe via the Crossover ethernet cable
In case the above picture is too dark:
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February 19, 07
The Sung Ski Bunny Ninjas
The recent frigid blasts of arctic weather gave us the perfect excuse to make a trip out to Blue Mountain
for a wonderful day of skiing this past Saturday. We've been skiing now as a family for about 4 years, and it's hard to believe that up until this point we really haven't skied on anything other than machine-produced snow - we simply haven't been able to coordinate our schedules with natural weather conditions. Suffice to say, now we know what a huge difference real
snow makes for ski bunnies!! Full picture gallery from the ski trip here
While it's been fun to watch the kids learn to ski (even Timmy had a great time during his first ski lesson a few months ago), it's been a particular joy to see Kyungmi really take to the sport. I think the first two years were absolutely terrifying for her, as she had never really done any high speed (relatively speaking) activity like this before, but somehow she persevered (bullied by her nasty husband, i suppose...) - last year she finally came around to actually having a good time, and THIS year SHE was the one biting at the bit to get out to the mountains at the first opportunity! After feeling the soft natural snow trails, she rapturously confessed to being totally addicted to skiing, and now wants to set her sights on a trip to Colorado!
My own ski story started when i was about 14 or so - i took a ski trip with my local youth group on a particularly icy day. No lessons, just got the rental boots, skis and poles, and had to figure out how to get down pretty much on my own. The only reliable method for stopping was to fall flat on my butt. Needless to say, the day was a mixture of terror and delight - well, mostly terror, i suppose. Uncontrolled high speed descents are NOT fun! The last run i took went particularly fast...once again, i had to fall back on my butt to stop myself before i careened totally out of control...but this time, my left hand was extended to break my fall, and somehow i twisted my thumb pretty badly.
Nothing was broken, but there was clear pain from the twist at the base of the thumb. I was already a second year student at Curtis, so i really had no time to rest or to take a playing hiatus - foolish, i know, but miraculously i didn't sustain any permanent damage to the thumb. I resolved at that point never
to go skiing for the rest of my life.
Funny how 20 years can give you a new perspective on things! I guess longtime friends - and perhaps readers of this blog - have noticed how i tend to jump into new projects and hobbies serendipitously! My love of archery sprang completely out of the blue as a teenager - my obsession with learning to bake bread, then my woodworking mania...well, finding some free time during winter holidays and wanting to have a family activity drove me to think about skiing. That, and some wonderful conversations with a colleague at Curtis who was also a ski fanatic got me really excited about giving the sport another chance. Lessons, lessons, nothing but lessons for the first two years - and that made such a huge difference!
I'm not ready for the black diamonds yet...perhaps never will be...but what a wonderful way to spend time with the family!
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January 24, 07
An Eye and an Ear in my Pocket - Micromemo and my DSC-T7
The best benefit to having your electronics small is that they become very companionable, finding ways to actually impact your life in helpful ways. The Micromemo Digital Audio recorder for the video iPod from XtremeMac
suddenly makes it very easy to record just about anything at any time, giving the serious musician a much needed 'virtual mirror' in which to assess his or her craft. Now, pair that with an extremely pocket-able digital camera like my old, trusty Sony DSC-T7, and you suddenly produce happy moments that sound sweeter like this bit of spontaneity:
January 17, 07
January 15, 07
Revving up the Marketing Machine
I've been mulling over a logo design for the Visual Recital concept for quite some time - i started with some basic sketches and doodles, playing around with ways to integrate the initials "V R" into a catchy semi-symmetrical design:
I tried playing around with some Logo design program demos like AAA Logo
and Logo Design Studio
, but those types of programs seem to be limited to manipulations of pre-fabricated clip art and text fonts. I then turned to my old (10 year old, to be exact) graphic CAD program, Corel Draw 7, a vector-based graphic design program from the mid 90's - still running just fine on my old desktop, albeit a bit miffed for being kept in digital mothballs for so long i'm sure!
Here's what i eventually came up with:
The Darlington Arts Center
in Boothwyn, PA has invited me to give a master class this coming Saturday and a performance of my Visual Recital the following Saturday (Feb. 3, 7 pm). They asked for some pictures to help advertise the recital - i promptly sent over the photos i received from the festival in Recife, but it turns out that the resolution is too low to make adequate flyers. Solution? Play around with Art Rage 2
Art Rage 2 has a fantastic image tracing feature that automatically selects the corresponding color for the palette. It took a little getting used to, but i think it lends a nice 'artsy' feel to the final image, which is a composite of 3 photos - here's the photo i used as the primary image model:
What marketing campaign would be complete without a catchy slogan? I'm sure professional marketers will get a real laugh at my pedestrian attempts at their craft, but this is what i came up with for a sample promotional poster, complete with slogan and logo (click on the image for the original size):
I'd love to get some feedback on this - i might try another version of the painting, as i'm not crazy about the 'lightning forks' and really want to get another shot at rendering my face better...but i'd still welcome any and all suggestions!
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December 30, 06
Brazilian Eye Candy
I just received a nice set of pictures from my Visual Recital in Recife, Brazil - i have to say, having an entire wall to project the visuals onto makes a HUGE difference!
The stage crew at the Teatro de Santa Isabel were really top notch! Fully equipped with a 3000+ lumen projector and all the necessary cables and power converters - they did a terrific job of helping me to bring the Visual Recital to life!
Several people commented on how helpful the visuals were in making the music better understood - younger audiences seem to grasp and enjoy this type of presentation immediately. Older audiences have somewhat mixed reactions - some enjoy it, others find the visuals distracting - but it's hard to deny the excitement generated by the audience's reactions and emotional impact of the show!
A brand new Steinway helped to provide a keyboard literature focus to the festival. What a wonderful way to open the festival, with a solo piano recital!
I love the way these pictures came out - i can't wait to show you the videos!
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