‘What Makes It Great?’ Rob Kapilow knows

 The Rawlins Piano Trio joins Rob Kapilow (at right) during the Nov. 21 NPR show “What Makes It Great” performed at the National Music Museum.  (Photo by Anthony Jones, courtesy of the National Music Museum)


The Rawlins Piano Trio joins Rob Kapilow (at right) during the Nov. 21 NPR show “What Makes It Great” performed at the National Music Museum.
(Photo by Anthony Jones, courtesy of the National Music Museum)

Rob Kapilow, the high-energy host of National Public Radio’s “What Makes It Great?” discusses the works of Beethoven at the National Music Museum Nov. 21.  (Photo by Anthony Jones, courtesy of the National Music Museum)

Rob Kapilow, the high-energy host of National Public Radio’s “What Makes It Great?” discusses the works of Beethoven at the National Music Museum Nov. 21.
(Photo by Anthony Jones, courtesy of the National Music Museum)

By Travis Gulbrandson

travis.gulbrandson@plaintalk.net

Of the things the National Music Museum (NMM) has in common with the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, one stands out for Rob Kapilow – they both have “room for it all.”

The National Public Radio personality brought his show “What Makes It Great?” to the museum on Nov. 21, where with the help of USD’s Rawlins Piano Trio he dissected Beethoven’s Archduke Trio to show the audience what makes it tick.

Beethoven’s work is about becoming, not being, Kapilow said.

“What Beethoven teaches us measure by measure, movement by movement and piece by piece is, what matters in life is not what we have, but what we do with what we have,” he said. “In piece by piece, Beethoven starts with utterly ordinary ideas and creates extraordinary music out of them.

“In a Beethoven piece … what matters is not where you start or what you start with, but where you end up,” he said.

What starts with the simplest ideas will end with the most complex, Kapilow said.

“Somehow, Beethoven’s world has room for it all,” he said.

That’s a view the NMM shares, Kapilow said.

“It’s an absolutely amazing museum in so many ways,” he said. “Not only is each collection so spectacular … it’s so wonderfully democratic. You look in this room, and there are brilliant Stradivariuses and Amatis, and you think, ‘OK, I’m in that kind of museum.’

“Then you walk around the corner, and there’s Elvis Presley’s guitar, and there are harmonicas, and all of them are treated equally,” he said. “There’s a wonderful message here, which to me is, ‘It’s all music.’”

This was Kapilow’s first visit to the NMM. He arrived Monday, Nov. 18, and stayed through the following Saturday.

In a Q&A that followed Thursday’s performance, Kapilow marveled at how examples of instruments from so many disparate eras and locations could be held in the same collection.

“Music is kind of a rage to express,” he said. “Every culture has this incredible need to express itself, and somehow the museum has it all. …

“To have it all ricocheting off each other makes this museum one of the most unique places in the world,” he said.

During the performance, Kapilow went over the Archduke Trio movement by movement to demonstrate how it was put together, and what makes it so effective to the listener.

Following a brief intermission, the Rawlins Piano Trio played the piece all the way through, without interruption.

Kapilow said he has done similar performances of more than 200 other full-length pieces live, and an additional 160 shorter pieces on NPR, ranging from classical to pop tunes.

He thanked the Rawlins Trio for their participation.

“They’re a perfect meter-less team,” he said. “The key to it is listening. Even though they do look at each other, what’s wonderful about it is, it’s really listening. It’s also moment by moment listening.”

The performers can never be 100 percent sure about what’s going to happen, and have to adjust their playing accordingly based on what the others do.

“That’s one of the wonderful things about live performance,” Kapilow said. “It can never be duplicated. It’s one time only.

“Because we’ve had so many recordings, we live in an era where interpretations are frozen, (and) we tend to think of music as a rock in the hand, like it’s a fixed thing,” he said. “I prefer to think of it like a Tibetan sand painting. In other words, you make a painting, and it dissolves as soon as you make it.”

The Rawlins Piano Trio consists of Susan Keith Gray (piano), Marie-Elaine Gagnon (cello) and Eunho Kim (violin).

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