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The Joy of Barbara Nissman

September 26, 2014

Much of our conversation in the School of Music these days has to do with music and musicians of the future.  Almost every conversation begins with a tip of the hat to our glorious past, the recognition that “without chops, nothing else matters,” and then we proceed to talk about the future. We talk about how to develop and to engage an audience and what the audience of today has come to expect.

On Wednesday evening, Barbara Nissman gave one of the most captivating and joyful recitals that I have ever witnessed. As I watched and listened in rapt joy and amazement, I came to realize that this is what the audience of to today should expect: music, engagingly introduced and masterfully performed– performed with a conviction and passion reserved for only the very highest expressions of mankind.

It was an amazingly challenging program– Bartók, Liszt, Prokofiev and of course, Ginastera– all performed with a level of mastery that seemed to imply that these works were no more difficult than the John Thompson’s First Grade Piano Book. I watched the first half of the recital from house left so I could see her hands but was far more taken by my seat during the second half, from house right, where I could watch her joyful expressions as she brought this music that she so obviously adored to loving life. At one point, I watch a look and of anticipation on her face as she was about to introduce a second theme. She ushered it in, smiled at its character and then seemed to laugh as that theme was engaged by all the life around it. At another, I watched her pained expression as she prepared a moment of tension in the line and then the joyful release of that tension as the line found its resolution.  Hearing Barbara Nissman is a great treat; watching Barbara Nissman while hearing is a rare moment of musical bliss.

This is what audiences should expect, and if we can give it to them consistently, classical music in America will be just fine.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Barry Wallace permalink
    September 27, 2014 11:28 pm

    I love this interpretation. Musicians speak to an audience through music with the intent of evoking an emotional reaction, whether it’s joy, sorrow, or whatever. The best musicians let the music speak to them as well, at the same time, and those emotional reactions are expressed not only through their hands or voice but visible through facial expressions and body language. These serve to magnify the emotional impact the music is conveying, and so on and so on. The magic of music is cyclical, participatory and self-perpetuating.

  2. Jonathan Cavendish permalink
    October 3, 2014 5:35 pm

    Barbara is a friend of mine. She sent me the blog because she knows I am always interested to see how her interpretation of great music is taken in various areas of the country. Come to find out, we are both from West Virginia, and so is Mark McCoy, who served as Dean in one of our wonderful higher education institutions-Shepherd University for many years. His extremely accurate accounting of her concert tells me she was on point for the whole time. However, I knew that, as she is on point all the time. They say that Horowitz was the last of the great romantics. He’s gone. This gal is next in line for that moniker.

    Nice blog, Mark.

    Jonathan Cavendish

  3. October 8, 2014 9:57 pm

    I too was completely blown away by this stunning performance–fell all to pieces during the Liszt–and found it hard to understand why I had never before heard the name of such an amazing artist. One of the really lucky things about teaching here at DePauw: the chance to walk across the street on a random weekday and hear a world-class concert. Thanks to all who made this possible. Meryl Altman (English and Women’s Studies)

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