A single lifetime isn’t enough to explore the fantastic breadth of the piano literature. Many pianists—like Oberlin professor Peter Takács, who has recorded all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and is in the midst of a three-recital survey of Beethoven at Carnegie Hall—spend their careers immersing themselves in a single composer and never stop discovering “new gold,” as Takács says.
But in Warner Concert Hall on Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6, audiences will experience a wide sampling of the profound, delightful, virtuosic joy that is the piano repertoire. Over two days, 82 performers from Oberlin’s piano department—faculty and students—will play music spanning four centuries in 10 recitals, ranging from Bach to Chopin to Debussy to Kapustin and many others.
The recitals represent one of numerous signature celebrations taking place throughout 2015-16 in honor of the Oberlin Conservatory’s 150th anniversary. Related festivities include a composition for English horn that was commissioned by the conservatory to be premiered by professor Robert Walters and the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall this month. In late January, the Oberlin Orchestra and Contemporary Music Ensemble will perform at Chicago’s Roosevelt University and Symphony Center in addition to taking part in various outreach events in the Chicago area.
Piano has always been an integral part of Oberlin. George Whipple Steele, the first director of the conservatory and one of its founders, was a pianist. By 1877, Oberlin was an all-Steinway school, and its collection now numbers 238 of the world-class pianos. Many of the conservatory’s chief administrators have been pianists, including current Dean of the Conservatory Andrea Kalyn and Emil Charles Danenberg, who also served as president of the college.
To help celebrate that history, three retired piano faculty—Joseph Schwartz, the Robert W. Wheeler Chair in Performance from 1960-98; the long-tenured Sanford Margolis (1972-2015); and Frances Walker Slocum, (1976-91)—will return to perform with nine current piano professors in the weekend’s closing concert at 8 p.m. December 6.
In addition to the faculty, all 70 of Oberlin’s current piano students will perform in one of nine concerts organized by class throughout December 5-6.
“The programs will showcase the bountiful talents of our students, the richness of the piano repertoire, and the diverse interests these young musicians posses,” says Associate Professor of Piano and Chair of the Piano Department Alvin Chow.
The talent of Oberlin’s piano students is borne out by the success they enjoy in their careers. Alumni have won prizes in some of the world’s most prestigious competitions, founded innovative ensembles, been awarded Grammys, received awards such as the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, and held academic positions around the world—including at Oberlin: Professor of Piano Robert Shannon graduated in 1972 with degrees in both the college and the conservatory.
Shannon is not the only Oberlin pianist who felt drawn back.
“Former students returning for a visit often reflect that their years at Oberlin were among the most valuable and happiest of their lives,” says Chow. “There is no better proof of the magic that Oberlin still engenders to this day.”
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