MOORE ON THE PIANO: Keyboard wizard thrives on collaborations with classical stars
On October the 9th there will be two world-renowned musicians performing on the stage of the Folly Theater. The fellow seated at the piano will be Bradley Moore, who studied with legendary teachers Maria Curcio and Claude Frank and has performed in most of the world’s major recital halls. Never heard of him? Just ask soprano Renée Fleming who he is: She’ll be the otherperson onstage that night, as the duo performs a recital of early-20th-century songs and other works as part of the Harriman-Jewell Series. Bradley is a collaborative pianist, as such artists are called these days, and he doesn’t mind living in the shadow of the famous folks he rehearses and performs with — not just Renée but Placido Domingo, Yo-Yo Ma, Eric Cutler, René Pape and for that matter most of the roster of the Metropolitan Opera, where he is pianist, vocal coach and assistant conductor. But although his job involves much more than just providing musical and moral support to his famous headliners, he says he has no problem with the word “accompanist.”
“The people who buy tickets are buying them to hear Renée sing a recital,” says the 39-year-old pianist, who was born in Mississippi and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. He spoke on the phone from the Metropolitan Opera’s vast lobby recently, during rehearsals for the Met’s upcoming Boris Godunovfeaturing René Pape in the title role. He says the artists he works with often ask his opinion about “how the music ought to go,” and with instrumentalists he must work in close collaboration to make sure the texture is evenly balanced.
“Generally I work with people one-on-one,” he says, though at times — as when dealing with Slavic languages — there is a language coach present. He is often also dealing with “the physics of singing.” With Renée there’s much talk of “the meaning of the text and other musical aspects,” he says, though he’s flattered when she occasionally asks him, “What do you think of this tone?” Nevertheless his duties vary from artist to artist, depending on the needs at hand. “I’ve had times with artists where we meet at the stage door and then afterwards say goodbye,” he says. With British clarinetist Julian Bliss he often stays in the same hotel and in general “hangs out.” On a recent tour with Denyce Graves that included a lot of community concerts, he was jack-of-all-trades, doing things like “making sure the lights were right in the hall.”
People come to Bradley’s profession from various directions, and some branch out later. In Europe, many conductors of opera begin as répétiteurs who coach singers in preparation for opera productions. “I was told by Maestro (Claudio) Giulini, ‘Play the piano until you’re 30, and then stand up and go to the opera house and do what they tell you to do,’ ” he said with a laugh. Bradley did indeed begin as a pianist, first in the church where his father was minister of music and later at the University of Maryland, Yale University and the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program. Along the way he studied with Maria — who also taught such pianists as Barry Douglas and Simone Dinnerstein — and has performed as soloist with the National Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic and other prominent orchestras. But he says he “always had a fantasy of being a conductor,” and has been assistant conductor at the Opéra National de Paris and the Los Angeles Opera. At the Salzburg Festival he’s been an assistant to Riccardo Muti and Kent Nagano and is a principal coach of the Young Singers Project.
To do what Bradley does, you have to be a “real pianist,” especially when accompanying the big operas like Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier (“and all those pre-World War I operas where the writing is dense and they’re throwing in six-voice fugues,” he says) or playing Brahms sonatas in which the piano part is as significant as the violin or clarinet part. “The foundation in piano playing is really important,” he says. “You simply can’t play the piano too well.” It’s also important to have a broad musical training, and “have the sound of the orchestra in your ear.” The recital here with Renée, for example, includes Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, which exist in both piano and orchestra versions. “I do try to sound like the orchestra,” he says, though sometimes it’s hard to quantify just how that happens — how, for example, you get an oboe sound by playing with stiff fingertips. “There’s some kind of alchemy that you can’t define.”
In vocal recitals he is often part of putting the program together, too, reading through dozens of songs to find the right combination. To prepare for the current recital, he says, “about a year ago, Renée and I took several days and read through a huge pile of German lieder.” The result is one of the most fascinating recital programs I have seen in recent years, including not only Mahler’s Rückert songs but also the Five Songs by Zemlinsky, Mehldau’s The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, Schoenberg’s Jane Grey and three songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. (But don’t panic, opera fans: They’ll also perform Puccini, Leoncavallo, Giordano and others.)
Working with Renée is always a partnership, Bradley says: He never feels like a “mere accompanist.” “From my musical partners I’ve never felt that they think of me as anything other than a pianist. It’s mainly other pianists who are aware of the categorical distinctions.”
The Harriman-Jewell Series presents Renée Fleming in recital with pianist Bradley Moore, at 8 p.m. October 9th at the Folly Theater. Call 816-415-5025 or to go www.harriman-jewell.org.
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