The Oberlin-Como Piano Academy, a program of study that attracts astounding young pianists from around the world to Oberlin, was created in 2016 as a partnership between Oberlin Conservatory and Italy’s International Piano Academy Lake Como. Each year, esteemed master teachers from both institutions work with three students selected from an international pool of candidates. Como teachers hold weeklong residencies on campus throughout the year, an arrangement that benefits not just the program’s students—called Oberlin-Como Fellows—but all Oberlin piano students.
New for 2021 is the Oberlin-Como Piano Festival, a virtual series conceived in response to worldwide pandemic restrictions—and one that will deliver the Oberlin-Como Academy to a worldwide audience for the first time ever. In place of artist-teacher residencies on campus, the festival unfolds online over five evenings from July 13 through 17 and is broadcast free of charge through Oberlin Conservatory’s digital performance platform Oberlin Stage Left.
At the heart of the Oberlin-Como Academy are the program’s world-renowned master teachers, which this year include Yefim Bronfman, William Grant Naboré, Dang Thai Son, Robert Spano, and Oberlin-Como Director Stanislav Ioudenitch.
The 2021 Oberlin-Como Fellows—Xiaoyu Liu of Canada, Leonardo Pierdomenico of Italy, and Anastasia Vorotnaya of Russia—are all impressive young pianists who have performed with prestigious orchestras and toured internationally. They will participate in the festival’s master classes with five current Oberlin Conservatory piano students, each with their own notable achievements: JJ Bui, Yangrui Cai, Leo Choi, Daniela Jiménez-Ochoa, and Allison To. All performances were recorded in locations around the globe, and the teaching segments were conducted over Zoom.
The themes for the master classes, chosen by each artist-teacher, encompass a broad range of topics and perspectives along with masterful works by renowned composer-pianists:
• Dang Thai Son’s “Conversations with Chopin”
• Yefim Bronfman’s “Piano Concerti of Beethoven and Brahms”
• William Grant Naboré’s “The Marvel of the Baroque on the Pianoforte”
• Stanislav Ioudenitch’s “The Golden Age of Piano Virtuosity: Legacy of Lake Como”
• Robert Spano’s “Performing Piano Concerti: A Conductor's View”
This year’s festival format offers the unique opportunity for audiences to hear from each master teacher in an interview segment that opens each evening’s program. Each 20-minute interview is intended to offer a window into the personality and aesthetics of each artist.
“They talk about their lives, beginning with when they started playing the piano and touching on experiences from throughout their careers,” says Thea Boyd, Oberlin’s director of artistic programming and external relations. “These interviews are about how they became the person they are—including their teachers, their influences, and their mentors.”
Each day’s program begins at 7 p.m. ET with a master teacher interview, followed by a student performance and master class. At the same time, three additional master class segments from that teacher also will become available for viewing. These programs will remain available online indefinitely.
To watch the festival, visit the Oberlin-Como Piano Festival website, which includes a complete lineup of events and links to each broadcast.
This past year was a difficult one for the International Piano Academy Lake Como, and not just because of the pandemic. The academy lost three of its founding members: legendary pianists Leon Fleisher, Dmitri Bashkirov, and Fou T’song. Ioudenitch dedicates the Oberlin-Como Piano Festival to these “extraordinary people and their legacies.”
“We are grateful to the master teachers and students, and everyone involved, for sharing their time and talent and making a wonderful event out of unusual circumstances,” he says. “We are hoping that as the world reopens, we will all be able to come together in person for next year’s festival.”
Stephanie Manning is a bassoon performance major from McLean, Virginia. She writes for the Office of Conservatory Communications.
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