JSB48: The Well-Tempered Clavier Project

I am embarking on the monumental task of exploring, performing, and recording the complete Well-Tempered Clavier of Johann Sebastian Bach. The Well-Tempered Clavier consists of a Prelude and Fugue in each major and minor key of the western scale, of which there are twenty-four. Because Bach tried this experiment twice, twenty years apart, there are two books of twenty-four Preludes and Fugues, each one brilliant in its own way, like the two testaments of the Bible. Performing or even recording these is not part of the typical piano player's path, because of their technical difficulty and length (an average complete performance takes nearly five hours). But predictably for me, I’m not interested in doing things the usual way: I am exploring this work in both traditional ways (a straight-up piano recording) and untraditional ways (remixing some of the music with electronic sounds; adding dancers, actors, performance artists, and set designs to live performances; turning parts and the entirety of the work into films and video art; and generally exploring the intellectual, philosophical, and poetic elements of the piece and its parallels to other works of art, literature, and music. 

This is a project I have been very slowly maturing for at least ten years. I have recently launched a Patreon page to help grow the support I now need to bring this concept into the world over the next few years. Each element of the project will be released to supporters of the Patreon first before the wider public gets access, so get on board! Because Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier represents, in so many ways, the alpha and omega of all music, Bach will not be the only composer I will be exploring, performing, and recording, but will be the soil from which all other music I play during this time will grow. 

Stay tuned.

Beethoven in my life

For me, Beethoven is the composer who most fully represents all aspects of human life in his music. I think in that way Bach and Beethoven have a lot in common. But Beethoven is more colorful, as witty as he is dramatic, and as bawdy as he is godly. Beethoven, even more than Bach, takes detours and takes time, analyses himself, the people and circumstances around him, and reaches for the heavens as much as he partakes in the good and the bad of existence. It could be said that Beethoven relishes the human condition, as much as he seeks to commune with higher powers. And there is an unabashed sexuality to Beethoven's music that, unlike that of Mozart's, is not coy, and is not hidden behind fans, lace and powdered wigs. Sex is woven into his music as a life force, but so is humanity's drive to overcome its own animalistic urges. 

Beethoven has permeated my life as a musician from my very first years studying piano, more deeply than even the music of Bach. Not only did I study Beethoven's music (sonatinas and bagatelles first, then sonatas and concertos) from the moment I could read music and without interruption since, but I connected with the story of his life, which seemed so vivid, in a way no other composer, as I could tell, was. It helped that his personal story was well known, that his portraits really gave a good idea of what he looked like, and that his music was plentiful and so evocative. It was easy for me to imagine stories for each of his pieces. My love of Beethoven led me to launch my career with his music, performing two of his sonatas for my first public recital in Paris when I was ten. 

I have performed more than half of his 32 Sonatas for Piano, his Diabelli and Eroica Variations, and most of his great chamber music for piano and strings. I have performed his 4th and 5th Piano Concertos many times and know his other three well. I have performed his Triple Concerto. I have dedicated many beautiful hours of my life listening, live and in recordings, to his string quartets and symphonies, to his opera and ballet, to his masses, to his lieder, and to all the other great and even insignificant pieces he wrote. I even had the honor of performing a world premiere of a piano trio that resurfaced nearly ten years ago (a recording of which is available here). 

Besides the above-mentioned recording, and despite my lifelong passion and frequent performance of Beethoven's music, I have not yet launched any recording projects of his solo piano music, but that is about to change. Interestingly, it is through my Bach Well-Tempered Clavier Project that this is made possible. Beethoven was an ardent "believer" in Bach and spent his childhood studying the Well-Tempered Clavier, which had a tremendous influence on his writing. For me, it is as if, without first digging deeper into Bach, I could not find the clarity of thinking I was looking for in order to address Beethoven the way I knew I wanted. Spending so much time with Bach recently has somehow unlocked a magic door into Beethoven's world that, as I crack it open, is revealing sounds and rhythms I had not noticed before. I therefore look forward to working on and recording Beethoven's Sonatas while I continue to explore Bach. It is a pairing I am really excited about. 

Debussy Project

This is a repost from the section of my website on my projects. 

Claude Achille Debussy is a composer who lives side by side with Bach and Beethoven in my personal pantheon of greatest composers. To most American, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic people, the culture that made a Debussy possible is so foreign, in a way so exotic, that the reaction to most of his music with a few key exceptions (who does not like "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" or "Clair de lune") is one of incomprehension or puzzlement. Many people don't hate Debussy, but neither do they fall under the spell of Debussy. Perhaps it is because we listen to Debussy through the lens of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms (or even Wagner), which constitutes the daily diet of classical music with which most people grew up with (if classical music was their diet). Perhaps we mentally sprinkle some of Monet's waterlilies onto our sonic interpretation of Debussy, or perhaps it is because the French-inflected greco-latin character in Debussy is lacking in the more full-blooded nature of the British Isles and lands north of the Rhine. But whatever the reason, Debussy is generally misunderstood and misheard. A shame considering the passionate depth of his soundscaped world, which is far from superficial and dainty. Not only that but Debussy in his own life even fought the application of the term "impressionist" to his music, aligned as he was with the symbolist poets and visual artists rather than with the more popular impressionists. Categories aside, I adore Debussy for the worlds he brings to life, for the internal conflicts he reveals, the constant uncertainties of life, and the occasional ripping of the heart, and the idea, expressed in his music, that time is both impossibly limited, and of no bearing. The limits and the limitlessness of the universe are all part of Debussy's world and he leads us to new, unexplored corners of our own selves if we give ourselves up to him.

I have recorded Debussy's Preludes once before, in 2007, with a camera crew filming as I went. You can hear some small extraneous noises in that recording if you listen carefully. The sound recording is available at the moment for streaming on SoundCloud, but I do plan on making a new recording of this masterpiece as well as recordings of more Debussy in the near future. I also plan to write a number of articles about Debussy, and about the French musical tradition.

Through The Stage Door Podcast Episode 2: Expo Chicago's Tony Karman

The second episode of the International Beethoven Project's new podcast, which I host, Through The Stage Door, is an in-depth interview with Tony Karman, Founder, President and Director of Expo Chicago, the International Exhibition of Modern and Contemporary Art. Now in its fifth year, Expo Chicago brings over 140 leading galleries from over 52 cities in 23 countries. Karman's vision for Expo Chicago is to create one of the best markets for art in the world while fulfilling a civic duty to engage with the city in full. In all his years of work in the art world, Tony Karman has learned that collaboration and service are key to genuine success.

As a side note, the introduction to the podcast unfortunately contains a couple of slight factual errors. Art Chicago was not the original name of Chicago's first art fair, but was the new name given it in the 90s. The original name of what was the first international art fair in North and South America was "Chicago International Art Exposition". Also, it was not launched in 1980 but in 1979.

Lastly, the music you here in the podcast includes a live performance of Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata I did at the Beethoven Festival in 2011, as well as a track by Lee Rosevere called "Say Something Like That".

Enjoy this episode, share with your circles, and let me know what you think!

On Patronage

This was also published on Medium.

Although this article focuses on artists and patrons, the concepts I lay out here can easily be applied to entrepreneurs and investors in addition to artists and patrons, as they dig into what moves people to take action on creative projects of any kind. It goes without saying that here we are merely scratching the surface of this immense topic. 

Beethoven once dreamed of a “music store” where he could deliver his compositions in exchange for all the things he needed to continue composing: paper and writing supplies, of course, but also candles, wood, food, coffee and wine, basic living expenses, and anything else he might need to live and work. His idea was that he should never have to worry about the commerce of music, leaving that to others, and instead spend all his energy on the production of music, which would amply suffice to justify the exchange of goods necessary to continue living without undue financial stress. In reality, however, he spent a lot of time on the business of music in order to survive as an independent musician. There was no “music store” then, and none today, but there are crowdfunding platforms, and I am convinced Beethoven would have jumped at the opportunity to use them if they had been available to him.

For the first time in my life, I myself have decided to use a crowdfunding platform to ask people to support me for a host of musical and creative projects I am intent on pursuing (check it out here). I am a concert pianist with an unconventional and multidisciplinary approach to art, and a cultural activist focused on improving the state of, and access to, the arts. This is a big step for me because I am much more at ease asking people to support someone or something else than I am asking for direct support of my personal creative projects. Yet I have, along with an amazing team, raised a lot of money for the International Beethoven Project (IBP), a not-for-profit I founded eight years ago in Chicago, an organization dedicated to keeping classical music relevant to the 21st century, and built on Beethoven’s legacy of creativity, courage, and compassion. IBP is about community, expanding audiences, and supporting the work of artists across many fields, causes I deeply believe in. While fundraising can be challenging, asking for money is a necessary part of this business model, and I have learned a lot in this process. Asking people to support me personally, however, feels even more challenging than asking on behalf of a cause that is bigger than me. Yet, what I have learned from my work on IBP is that successful fundraising requires absolute conviction in the cause at hand.

I am writing about this issue in large part to address the discomfort many artists feel with the act of asking, and also because I, too, need to be reminded to reach into my own well of inner conviction when doubt creeps in. The principles of successful fundraising are not just a means to a practical financial end, but are a crucial part of the artistic process itself, as they serve a critical role in fine-tuning our work. I am hoping my thoughts here can help others find their purpose, their fundraising groove, and give some focus to their quest, whether they be artists or entrepreneurs.

Asking for money, however, is only half of the equation. I also want to give those of you who have the means to lend financial support insights into why you should support artists, entrepreneurs, and other creative people in achieving their goals. Indeed, I believe artists and patrons must not only tolerate each other, but should actively collaborate in an essential partnership to fulfill society’s vital need for art and creativity.

The Artist as Entrepreneur

Beethoven’s “music store” would have simplified things for him. Without it, he was forced to stitch a living from multiple sources: teaching and performing (which he could not do regularly from about age thirty-five due to his increasing deafness), producing his own concerts and taking a profit if if he was lucky enough to have one, selling his compositions to publishers around Europe for a one-time fee at a time when royalty systems were not codified, receiving commissions from institutions or individual clients, and lastly, seeking patrons. Making all this work required huge dedication beyond the act of composing music. Organizing concerts, negotiating with publishers, venue owners, musicians, clients, patrons, and constantly writing letters and meeting with people at home, in coffee shops, taverns, princely homes, and at the imperial court, was his daily diet. But in the end, it was the patronage he benefitted from that made all the difference, representing at least fifty percent of his income in most years. Would we have Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” had he not had that kind of support? It is a question we can legitimately ask.

Most artists and probably plenty of entrepreneurs will recognize themselves in Beethoven’s hustle. I like his example because it is a realistic portrait of a working artist: patronage was not a luxury and did not give him a life of luxury. It helped him tremendously on his way to fulfilling his potential, and he was relieved to have the help. It also says a lot about how hard it was even for an artist of his calibre, one who was considered the successor of Haydn and Mozart, and who had achieved fame in his lifetime (twenty thousand people attended his funeral when he died), to have a financially secure life. The great Beethoven, the musical titan of his age, needed patrons to succeed. He had to find the humility, the confidence, and the courage to ask for help. His belief in his talent, along with plenty of grit, led him to receive the help he needed most of the time, though like all of us he endured his share of rejection, too. Ultimately, his self-confidence, backed by his work ethic, and proven track-record of accomplishment, attracted the patrons he needed in order to make his musical vision a reality.

The first rule for achieving anything noteworthy is having the resources to go for it. Without that, the game is over before it even starts, and no great artist would ever have a chance. A constant in most successful artists’ lives is a social and financial support network, especially in the critical early stages. For an artist, it is not just a matter of having food on the table and a bed somewhere. It is also about having the time, space, the means to create, and the supportive social environment to get the word out about the artist’s work.

Asking for help is painfully difficult at times, especially for something as potentially vague as art, and the artist must learn to articulate what she needs to reach her vision. Defining what it means to be an artist can be another issue complicating our relationship with potential supporters. It is challenging because there are so many ways to make art. For some, it is easier than others: being a painter, musician, or filmmaker, for example, are straightforward enough disciplines to explain. But what exactly is a conceptual artist, an installation artist, a performance artist, a sound artist, a multi-disciplinary artist, an avant-garde artist? The definitions get blurrier and can sound confusing and even plain ridiculous. Today more than ever, it is clear that artists everywhere are increasingly defying genre limitations, making it harder to categorize work with certainty. But being an artist is not a vocation conducive to tidy definitions. Supporters, however, need to connect with the artist’s work somehow, and one of the challenges of patron-artist relationships is finding a common language, a basis for understanding each other’s point of view.

Artists must be so obviously committed to art, that explaining what kind of artist they are becomes almost irrelevant to patrons. In my case, I know I am, at the core, deeply committed to art, because I cannot live life any other way than through art, and I continue, year after year, to have the incontrovertible urge to create. It is irrepressible, and I persist through highs and lows. It is a need and an instinct I cannot ignore. Being an artist is not, ninety-nine percent of the time, an easy life choice to make, though it enriches my life every day. The artists who have major commercial successes are few and far between, and even those rarely sustain their levels of material success throughout their entire careers. An artist cannot go into art with the goal of making money above all else; better to train for some other profession. The reward for the artist is, first and foremost, the ability to make art, and to send good work into the world. Artists are not, by and large, greedy. Money and fame are secondary considerations, and often come with their own pitfalls. Very simply, the key to happily being an artist is having what one needs to live and to make art; no more, no less.

The reasons art needs to exist often sound esoteric, but can anyone actually imagine living in a world without music, without visual art, without film, without stories, without good design, without good architecture? Over thousands and thousands of years, humans have pushed artistic expression in ever-evolving directions. It has been an essential part of our evolution as a species, not a luxurious afterthought. Art touches people deeply, brings consolation, adds empathy, and tightens communities. Art expresses every feeling, brings to light every pain, every joy, all the hate and all the love of our world. In its search for meaning, art tunes and harmonizes the world. But it also has the power to move people to take action, and lead us to a better, more just and loving era of humanity. How we use art is up to all of us. What is most clear is that we all need it in our lives (we are all art junkies in some way or another), and being an artist is wholly justified and essential. Artists should never feel guilty for being artists, whether to their parents, friends, or to society generally. And I would hope that parents, friends, and society would support artists entirely in their purpose.

This leads me to the crux of this entire thought process: society needs art and therefore needs artists. The world without art is not viable, and thus it is the inherent responsibility of artists to make art, while it is the absolute responsibility of society to support art and our creative instincts. We can debate the work of every artist out there, we can criticize artists and their art, but never should we brush aside our absolute need for art.

The Role of Patrons

Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, from whose name the French word for patron, mécène, is derived, was a political advisor and de facto culture minister to Octavian, Rome’s first emperor. He is remembered as one of the most influential, wealthy, generous, and enlightened patrons of the arts, and one who played a significant role in the success of the poets Horace and Virgil, among others. Most importantly, he provided a viable model for personal and political patronage that continues to hold sway. He was one of the first people to truly articulate, through his actions, the benefit that art can have as a culturally unifying force and as a tool of political influence. Rome’s impact in its own time, as well as over the last two millennia, stems not singly from its political and military power, but also from its poets and artists whose influence continues to be felt. Maecenas understood the important role artists played in the development of civilization. But he also genuinely enjoyed spending time with artists, and learning more about their art, in addition to the personal satisfaction he received knowing that his financial support improved their ability to do their best work. And though Horace and Virgil are the most famous artists he supported, they were but two of dozens or even hundreds, mostly forgotten today, who benefitted from his patronage, and were important members of the Roman art scene. Maecenas knew that there was nothing to lose in supporting even minor artists: all of them added something to Rome’s, and to his, glory.

Artists have always had to find a plethora of ways to survive and deliver on their skills and talents, as Beethoven did. Commerce alone has almost never been enough to sustain us; we have always needed patrons to make up the difference. But I have come to realize, and happily accept, that artists and patrons play an essential role together, which all should embrace with joy. Artists and patrons have indeed changed the world numerous times, and need to keep working together to continue on that path. In supporting artists, patrons can be assured of the good it does for the world, however big or small the impact. Together, artists and patrons participate in an essential act of civilization and community building.

Artists should never feel like beggars. We occupy a role the world needs us to fulfill, even if it does not always feel that way and we do not receive the recognition we sometimes feel we deserve. Neither should we allow ourselves to get cocky, or bitter, or disrespect those who can help us. We need to recognize that patrons are essential members of our team, working toward the same overarching goals we are, using the tools available to them. Whether you are using a crowdfunding platform, writing grants, or going directly to patrons, options are out there. Depending on your line of art, your social circles, and your general circumstances, you will find a way to connect funding to your cause, as long as you persist and are true to your personal mission.

In equal measure, patrons should understand how critical their role is to the world, and how much they can contribute to the arts as co-creators. Artists are where they are supposed to be for our common benefit, and they have only one goal: to make art. Without patrons, that art would rarely see the light of day. Anything patrons can do to help artists along is a net positive for this human experiment we are all in. Art is not a business in traditional profit and loss terms, even if some art fetches millions and can be very profitable for investors. Art, and the most creative projects some people are capable of coming up with, regardless of their cost and value, are a net positive for society.

Support art with your gut, with no fear of making a bad choice. Go where you think you can help most. Do not only support the largest arts institutions in your area, though they may also need your support. Diversify your portfolio, and contribute something to smaller organizations working hard to make a difference, or to individual artists, or art collectives, who are pushing boundaries every waking hour of the day and night. Help shape the emerging art scenes all around you by assisting artists who are still hungry (literally and figuratively). Make your city and your country havens for creativity and art. It makes a difference.

Today’s crowdfunding systems, in addition to traditional options, make it easier than ever for anyone to become a patron, regardless of wealth. Even contributing twenty dollars can have a positive impact on someone’s ability to make art, just as young professionals can contribute to creative work without a significant investment, learning the ropes of patronage early on. Even those on a small budget can support art, and there is absolutely no reason to stay out of the art world. And while wealthier patrons should play a big part in as many ways as they can, helping individual artists as well as organizations, most of us, regardless of wealth, can do something to advance the cause of art.

We can all be involved in this, wherever we are coming from, which is why this is such an exciting time for art. It is healthy for art when patrons across the spectrum of wealth are involved, and not just the top percent. That is the beauty of the online crowdfunding age, which has opened up patronage to the masses for the first time in history. If everyone were a patron, the world would be a more beautiful place. We all need to remember that the joint mission of artists and patrons is to make art thrive. Together, we are stronger and can make a positive impact on this fractured world. Beethoven and Maecenas both understood this and played their parts. May there be many more like them.

I am very interested in what you have to say about this topic, and what your personal experiences with it might be. If my thoughts generate a reaction, please leave a comment.

Thanks to all my current patrons on Patreon for helping me do this and other work. If you would consider joining this great group, check out my Patreon page here: www.patreon.com/georgelepauw

Check out the International Beethoven Project: www.internationalbeethovenproject.com

Through The Stage Door: The podcast

I’m pleased to announce the launch of “Through The Stage Door”, which is produced by the International Beethoven Project, but designed and hosted by me, George Lepauw. The purpose of this podcast is to freely explore the world of the arts, the people, the ideas and the principles that drive the creative fields. Through The Stage Door gives listeners unequalled access to the artists behind the art, to the leaders who shape the art world, and to the radicals past and present who continuously redefine art, and in so doing, our entire world. Through The Stage Door is your very own backstage pass, giving you complete behind the scenes access. And, this podcast is for anyone curious about the arts, whether you are an expert in an art field or just an onlooker. There may occasional expert speak, but these conversations are typically informal and designed for the general public of all ages.

Episode 1 is an in-depth interview with the piano duo and YouTube sensation Anderson & Roe, who have revolutionized the classical music video genre, producing nearly 50 high-quality videos of incomparable creativity, cleverness, and artistry. It's a little over 2 hours long, but I had a blast talking to these two brilliant minds and I highly recommend it to everyone remotely interested in music (of any genre), film and art. There was also lots of great life experience and wisdom shared in this conversation, lots of good things to reflect upon for just about anyone. 

This podcast is currently sitting on SoundCloud, a great platform for sharing anything audio. But the plan is to get it onto the iTunes podcast platform in September which will help connect to an even wider audience. 

Enjoy, and help spread the word on social media too! 

And by the way, I'm looking for sponsors to help support this podcast. Are you someone who might be interested and able to help with that? Contact me!

 

 

Redefining Classical Music

In 2007 I launched a magazine called The Journal of a Musician, the premise of which was to demystify classical music for fans as well as for all curious readers. I was interested in revealing the ins and outs of being a classical musician on stage and in life, using myself as an example along with many stories and interviews I collected or commissioned from around the world. As the title indicated, the magazine was not actually about music, but rather about how a musician perceived and interacted with the world. I wanted readers to connect to classical music through stories of emotion and humanity, to understand this art form as just another color in the palette of human expression, rather than as a secret society. Although the magazine does not exist anymore, its concept has permeated my approach to classical music ever since.

The presentation of classical music in our times, as a whole, finds itself mostly disconnected from contemporary concerns, which among other issues, makes it difficult to generate new audiences. I think this is in large part because, despite music’s high emotional content, it is typically presented as a historical artifact, the way art is in a museum: laid out in a cool and controlled environment. This is as far away as it can get from the emotional space that generates works of art in the first place. My time as a concert pianist, as a magazine editor, and as artistic director of the International Beethoven Project, has given me unique insights into the world of classical music and the challenges of keeping it alive and exciting for each new generation. 

I call myself a cultural activist because I wholeheartedly believe the status quo must be shaken for the sake of art’s continued relevance and impact. Unfortunately and perhaps inadvertently, we have completely anesthetized the power of classical music in the process of institutionalizing it. 

If we want to feel its full impact, a revolution is needed.

My goal is to explore and promote the idea that classical musicians themselves, with the help of other artists and forward-thinking audiences, can overcome the isolationist and cookie-cutter tendencies of the current operating system of arts institutions, in order to redefine classical music for the 21st century. 

To do my part, I will express myself in writing, in podcasts, and in videos, and I will continue to put into practice my ideals as a working musician and artistic director. There is a lot on the way.

I hope you will stay tuned and support my work by following me on social media (www.facebook.com/lepauw | www.twitter.com/georgelepauw | www.instagram.com/georgelepauw) and by contributing to my Patreon page (www.patreon.com/georgelepauw).

You can also learn more about me on my website: www.georgelepauw.com.  

Thank you for reading!