Seymour Bernstein is about to add a movie to his list of artistic conquests. A documentary produced and directed by Ethan Hawke is in progress, and who knows, it might land an Oscar.
Seymour is so multi-talented that it’s difficult to limit a blog about him to one area of his mega creative expression.
That’s why my NYC stopover at his place a few days ago, was just the beginning of a getting-to-know-you journey that begged for more time spread over at least a decade.
I first stumbled upon Seymour through you tube channels. He’d posted a series of 1980s era piano teaching videos, one of which explored the “undulating wrist.”
It was part 4 of a series, and it led to my scoping out his bio, You Tubography, published writings, compositions and more.
Before I knew it, I’d posted 4 blogs covering Seymour’s well regarded book, With Your Own Two Hands, his pedagogy, philosophy, performances, and published music.
Birds, a contemporary treasure was instantly engaging. Wrapped in Seymour’s love for nature it resonated with ear-catching, avian expressions. Many albums sprang from Seymour’s infatuation with animals of all sizes, shapes and they bore witness to his kindness and compassion for a group of furry friends who happened to provide neighborly company at his Maine summer home on the cliffs. Gently, he lulled squirrels and chipmunks to hop from a stick into his lap for munchies. These touching scenes came to life on You Tube against an oceanic backdrop that lifted up Seymour’s soul along with his growing cyberspace audience of admirers and followers.
As it happens, Seymour’s fall and winter home, a studio apartment off Central Park, is another reflection of his joie de vivre and appreciation of human artistic expression. A personal tour of his sanctuary revealed objets d’art, priceless wall hangings, and a centerpiece Steinway B piano bestowed by “a patroness.”
Can you believe that Seymour possessed among his treasures, the mold of Chopin’s hand that he’d acquired in Warsaw Poland? Uncannily, it fit his own to a tee and by a twist of fate Bernstein’s mother shared her birthplace with the great Romantic era composer.
Who could overlook a tea kettle passed on to Seymour that belonged to Clara and Robert Schumann! The following described its history:
“Clara had 7 children and a governess took care of them when she was on tour. When Clara died, the eldest daughter gave the tea kettle to the governess (the design is Biedermeier). The governess left it to two German friends. They in turn gave it to a gentleman who was a professor at Rutgers University in NJ where my friend Helen Thomas studied. Finally, Helen Thomas left it to me. She lived almost to the age of 100. She was a marvelous pianist and composer and had studied with Carl Friedberg (he was a pupil of Clara Schumann) and Percy Grainger. A paper within the tea kettle has a note from the professor to Helen Thomas:”
Panning around Seymour’s sanctuary with a camera, I noticed extraordinary paintings by an artist named Erna Friedlander (b. 1895 d. 1987) and a Japanese scroll that was originally a gift to Bernstein’s teacher, Alexander Brailowsky, (The pianist was one of the first to tour Japan in the 1920s. According to Seymour, the Emperor of Japan’s brother gave Brailowsky this scroll from the Imperial Treasury.)
A Korean artistic masterpiece mounted on the wall above Seymour’s sofa was painted for a Korean King. “It depicts eternal life, a sort of heaven. The crane and deer are symbols of longevity, and the name of the flower that the deer is eating translates from Korean to “Live Forever.”‘
Finally, Seymour’s Steinway B, a beauty to behold, “felt” perfect to the touch and “sang” like a nightingale.
It was the most expressive repository of the afternoon, especially when Seymour shared his priceless thoughts and ideas about playing Bach and Mozart.
Part 4: A Lesson with Seymour Bernstein, “You and the Piano.”
PHOTO CREDITS: Aviva Kirsten