Saturday, June 30, 2018

Remembering Kee (2): The Solo Viola

I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to study for two years with Piet Kee at what was then called Sweelinck Conservatorium Amsterdam. (Unfortunately, the name of the great Amsterdam composer disappeared from the name of the school following a merger with the Hilversums Conservatorium in 1994.)

Many fellow students, back then or later, often privately (as students do), sometimes very publicly, have expressed dissatisfaction with Kee as a teacher. “It must always have been a tremendous burden to him,” I remember one excellent former Kee student—now a very prominent Dutch organist—saying, back in the day. Another very prominent international student has stated rather publicly that Kee, while evidently an excellent musician, could not teach at all. I humbly disagree, and here is one small example of how Kee taught in a manner that, at least to me, was fascinating, beautiful, and highly effective.

Many Kee students studied the Prelude to the Pange lingua by Zoltán Kodály in their first year at the conservatory. (Kee had recorded the Prelude himself at St. Bavo’s; I don’t recall having ever heard another organist play it in concert, but it is a very beautiful short work that is worth revisiting, I think.)

It was admittedly not so terribly easy to play this colorful work beautifully at the 1950s Flentrop in Amsterdam South (where Kee famously taught for many years, presumably because he particularly liked the action of the instrument). Moreover, I had really no clue what to do with a Neoclassical work with elements reminiscent of, say, Ravel. On the top of the last page, there was a rather high solo in the left hand, which I obviously had difficulty with.

“Look,” said Kee. “Such a beautiful little solo! Think of it as a viola solo in an orchestral piece.” (As always when I cite Kee here, please note that I cite from memory after many years; moreover, I do my best to translate citations into idiomatic English.)

At 18 I found that such a beautiful and enlightening remark. I remember smiling; Kee, of course, observed my reaction. “I see that appeals to you,” he said, I suppose not altogether displeased. “Why don’t you play it one more time.” I did, and of course it now was so much better (not that I noticed that myself, but I noticed very little back then).    

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