A Log for End of Summer

Beth Levin

[October 2002.]

After the Fringe Festival in August I barely touched the piano. The Fringe had been fun, a solemnly classical Edinburgh transformed into Mardi Gras. No cup of coffee could be savored without a street mime or silent Geisha inching over to hand you a flyer. The streets were a blend of the medieval to cutting edge, jugglers to rappers. If you don’t care for that sort of thing, I suggest you seek elsewhere for the arts of summer.

I’m a poor reporter in that when I go to a place to perform, I spend half my time rehearsing and the other half fretting. Copious intakes of food and drink factored their way in as well. And I’m hardly Fringe material. I like my furniture seamed up the sides, my purses edged, and I don’t sport bangs. Musically, I was there to perform Britten, Barber and Ravel with a soprano, the epitome of all that is un-Fringe-worthy. But I’m not really being fair. A contrast of periods defined the festival, and I suppose we qualified as performers enabling our fringe of the Fringe to exist.

Each day the Gazette reviewed the events of the day before. The result was that people strove to attend well-reviewed performances. I am certain that many worthy venues went unnoticed, and I was told that often audiences were small. Celebrity venues were instant sell-outs as when Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins performed a play about 9/11.

Our concert took place at St Andrew’s and St George’s Church and on a rainy Sunday afternoon. About 75 people showed up. I suppose we should feel blessed. The following day I took a train for London to meet the artist Bill Mudie and have a pure vacation.

The end of summer moved me profoundly, the cool air hinting at fall, but the green grass still smelling of summer. I don’t know how people get anything done in such weather. One morning WNYC radio contacted me about a performance / interview in December and relit my work burner. The thought of having to perform and speak about Schumann sent a trickle of fear down my spine and I realized, luscious summer or no, that I had better do some practicing. I also decided on a recital program consisting of the Beethoven 32 Variations in C minor, the first and fourth Ballades of Chopin, a work by Scott Wheeler, and Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze.

I think when a pianist chooses a program for the year ahead, he or she is constructing an artistic context in which to live. I know that the coda of the Fourth Ballade, for instance, will propel me out of bed every morning, and, worst luck, having made me lose sleep the night preceding.

Teaching has begun again and serves as another structure of a musical life. I have 13 pupils this year and try to help each one along their own path — hardly work for the faint-hearted or anyone trying to stay on the fringe.

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