Performance highlights summer piano workshop

A highlight of the Edward Auer Summer Piano Workshop was Wednesday evening’s guest recital, given in Auer Hall by Winston Choi who, not so many years ago, earned two degrees from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

A winner of major keyboard competitions and very active performer in recital and with orchestras cross-country, Choi also serves as head of piano studies at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, a division of Roosevelt University.

He happens to be a highly gifted pianist, having studied with two outstanding teachers: Menahem Pressler at IU and Ursula Oppens at Northwestern. His command of the instrument is extraordinary, and he exhibited it from beginning through encore on Wednesday, focusing heavily on the impressionism of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

As a commissioner and promoter of contemporary music, Choi also included two recent compositions. One is a 20-minute piece premiered last year, “Europa,” by Choi’s close friend and fellow IU slum, Jonathan Howard Katz (a commission). The other is “Agalma” (a promotion), written in 2008 by French composer Jacques Lenot.

The whole of the concert must have been taxing, to say the least. But Choi seemed energized by the self-imposed challenge. He spoke in behalf of the contemporary works and, when Katz’s “Europa” was about to be played, he first switched the spotlight to Katz for a composer’s perspective. The title “Europa,” he explained, refers to Jupiter’s moon, “one of the prime candidates for the existence of extraterrestrial water,” a substance that apparently interests the composer for its qualities and mysterious presence here on earth as well as on that distant orb. The music, heavy on ripples and scales, suggests something liquid and a touch elusive. And if you can imagine the piano works of Debussy as updated a century in dissonance and stylistic quirks, you might come close to capturing the sounds so impressively made manifest by Choi.

Lenot’s “Agalma” approximates so much of the music composed several decades ago featuring plinks, plunks, short trills, if I remember correctly, and carefully timed silences as punctuation. It’s not music this reviewer particularly cares for. Choi played it with all the necessary skill and attention to detail, but he didn’t win me over.

From the works of Debussy, Choi chose the seriously challenging Series 2 of “Images” and the very popular “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune.” Whatever was called for – transparent textures, fluid arpeggios, floating in-the-air sonorities, flutters and ripples – Choi produced with elegance. His strong technique and his sense for control made a listener’s journey a joyful privilege.

The similar demands and qualities called for in Ravel’s piano music — “Jeux d’Eau” (“Play of the Water”) and “Gaspard e la Nuit,” three musical poems based on literary poems by the French writer Louis Bertrand – also profited from Choi’s expert pianism and the introspective and expressive performance he added. Responding to enthusiastic applause, Choi returned to the stage to perform an encore, another work requiring finger acrobatics, Debussy’s Ballade. Radiantly beautiful it was.

Copyright Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer

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Cohen Plays a Masterful Brahms Piano Concerto in D Minor with the San Diego Symphony

by Ken Herman

As San Diego’s Upright and Grand Piano Festival pulls into the home stretch, it was fitting to feature a mighty Romantic piano concerto on the San Diego Symphony’s concert at the Jacobs Music Center Friday (January 29). Music Director Jahja Ling has always favored the popular piano concertos by Russian composers—Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev—but this time he selected Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15.

Arnaldo Cohen [photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony]

Arnaldo Cohen [photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony]

It proved an inspired choice, with Ling and the orchestra boldly complementing guest soloist Arnaldo Cohen’s intuitive, commanding take on this towering concerto of the Romantic canon. According to my records, Cohen last performed in San Diego in December of 2011, a highly successful solo piano recital for the La Jolla Music Society. The Brazilian pianist’s refined, masterful technique realized Brahms’ flamboyant displays with confident assurance, but, more importantly, he portrayed the poetry in the concerto’s reflective forays with soulful insight.

Although the D Minor is Brahms’ youthful piano concerto, we benefited from the maturity of Cohen’s interpretation. After the first movement’s extended, symphonic introduction, which Ling conducted with unrelenting drive and dark determination, the piano’s subdued entry theme can sound underwhelming, but Cohen’s deep touch and resonant sonority gave it the gravitas of the composer’s late Intermezzos. I appreciated that Cohen crafted clear intention into every phrase, and his linear clarity served Brahms’ classically oriented Romantic style well.

Ling underscored the serenity of the Adagio, finding with Cohen a mystical quality the composer’s sober character too rarely portrayed, and they unleashed finale’s assertive rondo with a disciplined vigor that brought the audience instantly to its feet at the final cadence.

Cohen offered Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz as his encore.

Ling chose Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastorale,” to open his program, apparently not wanting to steal any of the Brahms Concerto’s thunder. Especially in the Symphony’s first two movements, the orchestra’s string sections produced that warm, polished sound we associate with the great Central European orchestras, a trait Ling has averred on numerous occasions to be an important goal he hoped to accomplish during his tenure at the San Diego Symphony. This velvet sound, combined with Ling’s joyous, unhurried tempos, allowed these movements to unfold gracefully, replete with noble solos from Principal Flute Rose Lombardo and Principal Bassoon Valentin Martchev. The solid horn section energized the Scherzo, and the first violins and violas reveled in their solo moments in the final movements.

Unlike the other Beethoven symphonies, which end with climactic, dramatic flourishes, the “Pastorale” ends quietly, simply folding up its tent and walking into the sunset. Ling continues to champion this anomaly in the Beethoven symphonic canon, and I can only salute his commitment.

Arnaldo Cohen Bio

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Arnaldo Cohen shines in SD Symphony debut

Piano virtuoso fills in for Horacio Gutiérrez Friday and delivers dramatic performance


©The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Franz Liszt Mini-Fest a hit

ALS performers 620-21Karen Shaw, chair of the Department of Piano and president of the American Liszt Society IU chapter, recently presented “Franz Liszt, Master of the Piano Transcription” in two concerts featuring IU alumni pianists, on June 20 and 21 in Auer Hall. Fifteen guest pianists appeared in solo and duo-piano repertoire, with a finale of a two-piano, eight-hand arrangement of “The Grand Galop Chromatic.”

The festive event drew capacity audiences, and both concerts were received with standing ovations!

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Alumnus Krishna Thiagarajan named chief executive of Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Krishna-Thiagarajan-600x321Jacobs alumnus Krishna Thiagarajan has been named chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO).

Thiagarajan earned both his B.M. in Piano Performance and his M.M. in Piano Performance from the Jacobs School of Music, studying with Leonard Hokanson. In addition, he taught as an associate instructor of piano at the school.

Read the RSNO release.

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Emile Naoumoff attends the UK premiere of his Sacred Concerto for Piano and Choir

Emile Naoumoff travelled to England last week to attend the UK premiere of his Sacred Concerto for Piano and Choir, presented at the Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral by the  Colchester Chamber Choir. The performance was conducted by Roderick Earle who was the initiator of the concert. Naoumoff’s former student Yau Cheng undertook the challenging piano solo part.

Watch a video of the moving performance below!

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Emile Naoumoff & Yau Cheng release new album

Gouvy: Sonatas for Piano Four Hands

Emile Naoumoff & Yau Cheng


emile naoumoffFeaturing pianists Emile Naoumoff and Yau Chang, this Grand Piano release showcases three Sonatas for piano four hands by the prolific composer and eminent member of Frances musical establishment in the later 19th c., Louis Theodore Gouvy (1819-98).  These works, all written in the 1860s, reveal considerable technical command as well as flowing elegance, some of it reminiscent of Schubert and Schumann.  Gouvys considerable uvre, including a large body of four-hand piano music, has been undergoing critical reconsideration and something of a revival on record in recent years.






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Jacobs professor inducted into Hall of Fame

By Alison Graham & Audrey Perkins


Jacobs School of Music professor and pianist Andre Watts has been inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

Located in Cincinnati, the American Classical Music Hall of Fame was founded in 1996, according to its website. The organization “seeks to build and sustain enthusiasm for classical music in America by celebrating diverse facets of classical music excellence.”

Past inductees include Gustav Mahler, Antonin Dvorak, George Gershwin and Yo-Yo Ma.

Andre Watts

Andre Watts

Watts has played before royalty in Europe and heads of government in nations all around the world, according to the organization’s website. Watts received a 2011 National Medal of Arts, given by the President of the United States to “individuals who are deserving of special recognition for their outstanding contributions to the excellent growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”

Watts first entered the music world at 16, according to the organization’s website, when Leonard Bernstein chose him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic in its Young People’s Concerts.

The concert was broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV. Two weeks later, Bernstein asked Watts to substitute for Glenn Gould at the last minute in performances of Liszt’s E-flat Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. This moment, according to the American classical Music Hall of Fame, was when Watt’s career launched in storybook fashion.

Watts joined the music school in 2004 as a faculty member, according to the school’s website.

Watts is an active musician and continues to give numerous performances around the world. He makes regular visits to major summer music festivals, including Ravinia, Tanglewood, Saratoga, the Mann Music Center, Mostly Mozart and the Hollywood Bowl.

The pianist joins fellow professor and pianist Menahem Pressler, who was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame on Sept. 9.

Watts received his honor during his concert Oct. 24 at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, according to the Jacobs School of Music.

“What a pleasure to accept something given to my trio, which I still dearly, dearly love,” Pressler said in a press release. “And knowing that André also received it makes the award even sweeter and more 
important to me.”

Watts was also awarded the MacDowell Medal at the Oct. 24 concert from the Cincinnati MacDowell 

The Cincinnati MacDowell Society is the oldest group honoring American composer Edward MacDowell, who composed during the Romantic Period and died in 1908.


© Indiana Daily Student 2014



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Menahem Pressler on the Adventure of Practicing

by Monique Mead


It was during a performance of the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler that I stopped wondering how it would feel to be in the presence of God.

menham presslerNo, it was not the pianist’s imposing stature or powerful performance that invoked images of divine grandeur — quite the opposite, in fact. I was witnessing the diminutive figure of a 90-year-old whose artistry transcended the parameters of music: notes, phrasing, and technique dissolved into a realm of subtle magnificence, connecting me with the very essence of music.

The baggage of my musical life fell away and I was reawakened to the powerful emotional imprint of my earliest musical experiences and my consuming passion for learning the violin. Once again I connected with why I had wanted to become a musician.

Having heard thousands of concerts in my lifetime, the significance of this experience was not lost on me, and I could not let him leave without finding out the source of his magic. Where was he coming from? What was he connecting with that I was not?

Fortunately, Mr. Pressler was gracious enough not only to speak to me privately, but also to share his “secrets” in a taped on-stage interview. I publish it here (linked below) with his blessing, in hopes that others will also be inspired by the extraordinary spirit of this great musician. After speaking with him, I came across a quote that encapsulates him perfectly: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  –Mahatma Gandhi.


On making a career in music (Listen to the quote: 2:10)

“You don’t have to be a concertizing artist…you can sit in a small town and teach and find not only satisfaction in teaching, but feeling that when you transmit music to someone else and reach their lives you have really done something in your life. Therefore, your life is important because you bring so much.”

On teaching amateurs (Listen to the quote: 4:19)

“Amateurs – the word come from “amare,” from loving – that means they love music. I wish that all the professionals would love music….It is real, it can touch you, it can move you. It can inspire. Life is out there, there is a great deal missing….But the truth is, the real greatness in living is being able to feel, when you are able to feel you feel friendship, you feel love, you feel connection.”

On practicing (Listen to the quote: 6:33)

“Practicing I think is a wonderful thing. I must admit I belong to the very few who love to practice….really practicing is an adventure. Really practicing means to find out. Practicing is what to a scientist is research, to what a writer is research. Or to an architect is looking at other buildings and coming to his own conclusions. Practicing is not drudgery. It is difficult sometimes – especially if you’re married, if you teach. You find the time. Yes, you have to find the time. Yes, you have to somehow sacrifice in finding it. Practicing is very solitary, you are not a social person at that point. You are there, devoting yourself to be able to find the answers for yourself….”

Where does Menahem Pressler go for inspiration?

Pressler’s response was not what I was expecting! Listen to his quote at 6:00….

Follow the link to listen to the full interview!

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Two Pianists appear on Silvemine Artists Series

Matt & MeeyounMatthew Gianforte (MM ’02, DM ’09) and Meeyoun Park,(who holds her Master’s of Music degree, Performer’s Diploma, and Doctoral degree in piano performance under the guidance of Karen Shaw at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music)both graduates of the Jacobs School of Music, and students of Karen Shaw, appeared in a program on Oct 26th of both solo and duo-piano repertoire.

Both young artists serve on the piano department of Murray State U., in Kentucky.

The Silvermine Series is directed by Karen Shaw, and located in Norwalk, CT. Ms. Shaw often engages Jacobs School of Music alumni to perform there.

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