Nowadays, when improvisation is mentioned in relation to classical music it is easy to presume that a mistake has been made. Today’s classical pianists or cellists would probably break out in a cold sweat if asked to improvise in front of an audience. Most artists seem to prefer taking less risks in performance in order to reach a perceived ‘perfection’. The highly advanced technical processes available now also allows the opportunity to make the ‘perfect’ recording – building music like a puzzle, note by note. However this at times can lead to a loss of authenticity, freshness or continuity in performance. From the emergence of western classical music until the first half of the 20th century, most composers and many performers possessed great improvisational ability. Composing ‘on-the-spot’ was considered standard, highly entertaining and was well respected as a precious skill.
Pianist William Goldstein & Cellist Maksim Velichkin have compiled a crossover collaboration of instant compositions or improvisations on an album called “INTENSITY”, which blends both classical and contemporary styles. The only exception on the album being an emotional arrangement for cello and piano from the academy award nominated song by Justin Hurwitz, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land. The 10 pieces on the album fuse natural expressive gestures with learned musical gestures, nurtured by deep knowledge of harmonic, textural and motivic structure, as well as each piece’s desired stylistic context.
Both William Goldstein & Maksim Velichkin lean toward the side of expressivity over technical perfection for its own sake, and there is a pragmatic case for this preference to be adopted more widely. Considering performance as a creative act rather than an act of reproduction seems to bring significant benefits for the listener’s experience as well.
There can be no doubt, listening to pieces such as “Across the Plains”, “Chaconne” and “Intensity – Live”, or especially “Cinema Agitato” that the improvisatory approach to the performances here produce auditory experiences that sound palpably more adventurous and more emotionally engaging to listeners. In particular, I think that listeners without any formal classical knowledge would empathize more with this form of creativity than the strictly pre-planned performances built around reproduction.
The spontaneous sensitivity that accompanies poignant tracks such as “The Letter” and “Courting” would appear to bond an audience with the players in a shared sense of anticipation, empathy and enthrallment. The ephemerality and intimacy displayed here is rare indeed. William Goldstein & Maksim Velichkin’s assured presentation of improvisation draws heart and mind into the landscapes they inhabit.
Indeed, there is something instinctively interactive and responsive about their artistic expressions, its space allowing you to become involved, to visualize imagery, and to feel like you’re participating. “INTENSITY” requires a certain quiet solitude to fully appreciate its fluctuating nuances of sound and restraint. But you’ll know when you’ve connected.
William Goldstein is a 3 time Emmy nominated composer of more than 50 films including the TV series Fame, Motown recording artist, innovator of instant composition, and creator of the first computer sequenced score. His most formidable gift has always been his ability to sit at a piano and create “instant composition.” He has gained a reputation as a unique keyboard improviser, spontaneously creating ballets with dancers of international renown, improvising complete scores to films that he is seeing for the first time; all in real time and in concert. William is a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, a director of the California State Summer School for the Arts, and serves on both the music branch executive committee, and foreign language committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Maksim Velichkin is an accomplished cellist, pianist, and harpsichordist who has been active as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestra artist among an international circle featuring venerable conductors and headlining classical stars. Maksim’s performance and recording career includes credits with noted musical celebrities Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Billy Childs, Burt Bacharach, Bobby McFerrin, Dwight Trible, Bitter:Sweet, Chris Botti, Bob James, Josh Groban, Red Elvises, Bernadette Peters, Natalie Cole, Alan Silvestri, Richard Thompson and many others.