Monday, January 25, 2016

Jazz and Classical Highlights China Solo Tour 2015

Jazz and Classical Highlights China Solo Tour 2015
Dedicated with love to my mother, Pnina Katsenelenbogen

            My mother, Pnina (Cherashni) Katsenelenbogen, passed away on Saturday, October 31, 2015. She was born on Wednesday, October 20, 1926 and was eighty nine years and eleven days. I was blessed to have her in my life for fifty years and twenty six days, and she will stay with me forever.

 For the last week before she passed away, I played the piano every day for my mother. It was the most meaningful and rewarding musical experience I have ever had. She was in bed, gently conducting the music with her fragile hands. When my father approached and asked her if she hears the music, she nodded and whispered “Wonderful, wonderful…!”

            For the first time in my life I sensed the healing power of music. Playing for my mother was a spiritual experience. It wasn’t sad. I played for her songs like “Tea for Two” and “Cheek to Cheek”, and many Israeli songs that she has always loved. My friend Rafi gave me a small pocketbook, and I listed in it every day the songs that I would play for her the following one. One day I was playing for her “The Eucalyptus Grove” - one of the most well-known Israeli songs by Neomi Shemer. It starts with the words “When mother came here, beautiful and young, then father built her a house on a hill”. As I was playing, my father approached her and gave my mother a gentle kiss. They got married on February 12, 1946 in Metzudat Ze'ev on 38 King George Street in Tel Aviv, and were married for seventy years, eight months and twenty days. He told me that she was fourteen when he saw her for the first time, and that he knew then and there that they will spend their life together.

            When I was three or four years old, my mother took me to the kindergarten for the first time. I did not want to go and they had to drag me inside holding me up in the air by my arms and feet. Fifty years later, music allowed me to take my mother by her hand to heaven, and like she left me in that kindergarten, I left her in heaven and came back to earth.

            My mother always spoiled me. I have to confess that this was one of the things I always liked the most about her. She always made me feel privileged. Being her fifth and youngest child meant that I mostly heard the word “Yes” coming out of her mouth during my childhood. Because of this kind of upbringing, I turned out to be a free spirit - a pianist specializing in improvisation and working with other music students on their free artistic expression. Everyone deserves a mother like her - one that always puts your needs before hers. And her selfless kindness didn’t change also throughout that final week, when she spoiled me one more time.

            She waited patiently in her bed until I arrived from the U.S. She stayed conscious throughout the week to listen to my music. I got to decide what will be the last piece of music I will play for her, and got to play that final note. I did not want to end with a particular song and somberly remember that song as our last one, so instead I improvised a new song which I made up on the spot. I only remember that I liked it very much and was so pleased with it. I think it was in f minor.

            On Thursday I played for my mother. Then I kissed her on her forehead and said “Mommy, I’m going”. A couple hours later she was already running a very high fever. On Friday I flew back to the U.S. I arrived around ten at night and went to sleep. On Saturday morning I went to the conservatory to teach. At two thirty in the afternoon, while I was in the middle of a piano lesson, she passed on. I did not stop teaching. The last student for the day brought “How Insensitive” by Jobim to work on throughout our lesson. In my last concert in Israel during the summer of 2014 my parents were in the audience, sitting at the first row of the balcony. I played “How Insensitive” at that concert and dedicated it to them. I couldn’t have been happier to finish that teaching day singing the melody of this beautiful song while my student was practicing the chords. I also have recorded it in June of 2014 for my next album.

            I dedicated my Jazz and Classical Highlights 2015 solo tour of China to my mother. The tour started on November 12, 2015 with a flight from Boston to Beijing with a connection in Detroit. In Beijing, I met Jason who would accompany me for the duration on the tour. Together we boarded a flight from Beijing to Lanzhu. The trip from Boston to Lanzhu took about thirty hours, and I did the same trip in reverse twenty six days later when I came back to the U.S. after the end of the tour, on Dec. 7.

Jazz and Classical Highlights 2015 solo tour itinerary:

Nov. 14: Concert 1 in Lanzhou at the Jincheng Grand Theater
Nov. 19: Concert 2 in Fuling at the Fuling Grand Theater
Nov. 20: Concert 3 in Chongqing at the Cathay Pacific Arts Center Concert Hall
Nov. 21: Concert 4 in Xiamen at the Hong Tai Center in Xiamen
Nov. 22: Concert 5 in Jiaxing at the Jiaxing Grand Theater
Nov. 24: Concert 6 in Yichun at the Yichun Culture and Art Center Grand Theatre
Nov. 26: Concert 7 in Xuzhou at the Xuzhou Concert Hall
Nov. 27: Concert 8 in Dezhou at the Dezhou Grand Theatre
Nov. 28: Concert 9 in Wuhu at the Wuhu Grand Theatre
Nov. 29: Concert 10 in Yangzhou at the Yangzhou Concert Hall
Dec. 2: Concert 11 in Foshan at the Foshan Golden Horse Theatre
Dec. 3: Concert 12 in Wuhan at the Wuhan Traditional Opera Hall
Dec. 4: Concert 13 in Nanchang at the Qingshanhu Jiangxi Arts Center Concert Hall
Dec. 5: Concert 14 in Hangzhou at the Hangzhou Theatre
Dec. 6: Concert 15 in Guangzhou at the Guangzhou Opera House

            This tour has been immensely inspiring for me. It was not easy. As a self-confessed lazy person whose prime artistic mastery is the art of procrastination, I usually associate easy with good and difficult with bad. This tour was hard and wonderful! Physically, I was still in recovery from a herniated disc injury that affected my feet, and I was very limited in walking. It was worsened by the recent traveling to be with my mother. Throughout the tour in China, I used the left foot for pedaling during rehearsal time, and “kept” the right foot only for the concerts. On top of that, I had Sinusitis and Bronchitis throughout almost all of the tour. But these challenges only made me more adamant about performing well, and made me more focused on completing it successfully. In retrospect, they only made me play better.

            On the emotional side, the tour started less than two weeks before my beloved mother passed away. But again, while this may sound like a challenging obstacle, there was nothing better for me to do than to play these concerts with her in my mind. On Tuesday, November 24, I woke up at ten minutes past 2 am. While I was sleeping in my room at the Dehe Hotel in Yichun, my mother came to me in my dream in the most realistic way. I felt her presence in the room truly as if we were meeting again. We hugged a wonderful long hug of pure love. There is no love like a mother’s love and no hug is like a mother’s hug! I can still feel it in my chest since that night.

            Like it was during my tour in 2014 with my friend, pianist and composer Tal Zilber, I was deeply impressed with the level of planning and organization of the Jazz and Classical Highlights 2015 solo tour. The venues were absolutely wonderful, and the pianos were simply great. China is a pianists’ heaven: it offers the opportunity to engage with wonderful audiences, including many children, in optimal performance settings. I would like to express my gratitude to the many people who came to my concerts and to those who brought their children with them. It was a true pleasure to play for them and to meet many of the audience members following each concert. And I am most grateful for my friends and colleagues Lewis, who conceived and planned the tour and Jason, who accompanied me throughout it and made sure that it ran smoothly. Their careful planning and meticulous organization helped me perform at me very best.

            Some Fridays I light a candle for my mother. It makes me feel her presence looking after and protecting me. I believe that the love she gave me would last for a lifetime.

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