Pianist Julian Jenson

Julian Jenson


Simone Dinnerstein: Hello, I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Tonight we have a program of Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, and more from an extremely special pianist Julian Jenson, here on the Young Artists Showcase.


I am so thrilled to bring Julian onto the Showcase, which is generously supported by the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation. Back in 2020, Julian Jenson began his studies as my piano student at the Mannes School of Music's master's program. As it was still during the height of the pandemic, we spent that entire academic year having lessons over Zoom. I remember Julian was living in New Jersey with his wife Susie, during that time, and he had a lot of problems finding places to practice. He had neighbors that didn't like him playing on his piano in his apartment, and he was practicing in churches and schools and all sorts of places. I want to start the program by listening to a recording he sent me during that period of him playing the prelude of Bach 1st English Suite.

[MUSIC - J.S. Bach: English Suite No. 1 in A Major, BWV 806: II. Allemande]

Simone Dinnerstein: Wow. I have to say that recording really blows me away every time I hear it. I periodically go back and listen to that recording. That was Julian Jenson, our guest today, playing Bach's Prelude from the 1st English Suite on a really not-so-great piano in a church in New Jersey that he recorded back during the pandemic when he was studying with me. Julian, welcome to the show.

Julian Jenson: Thank you so much for having me.

Simone Dinnerstein: That first year, it's almost a blur thinking back. You started studying with me in I guess September of 2020. I think you did that recording in the spring of '21. Is that correct?

Julian Jenson: That's right.

Simone Dinnerstein: Tell us like where did you make that recording?

Julian Jenson: I actually made that at the place of my employment, a small Reformed Church in the middle of New Jersey in Middlesex County. This was one of the jobs that kept my wife Susie and I afloat during that initial year of the pandemic. The piano is a Kawai Baby Grand. It's not the greatest thing in the world, but it serves their purposes.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. Well, it was fine, but also during that time, it was so hard to get pianos tuned.

Julian Jenson: Indeed.

Simone Dinnerstein: I think that that was one of the issues going on there. I remember we would have Zoom lessons. I remember teaching you on that piano and seeing you in that space, and then sometimes I see you in another church or in a school, always alone because nobody was around. When I think back to those times with you, what I remember also was being so struck by the fact that you were able to make this incredibly lyrical spoken sound and a varied sound on whatever piano you happened to be playing on. The pianos often had this slightly tinny and antiquated quality to them, and it made me think of the fortepiano. Even back then, I was thinking, "I wonder if Julian would be drawn to playing on earlier pianos."

Julian Jenson: Yes. You suggested I contact a colleague of yours Audrey Axinn who teaches at Juilliard and Mannes. I established contact with her. She permitted me into an early piano festival up in Hunter, New York that happens every summer. Since then, I just dove straight into the deep end of this stuff, and it's what I call my major now at Temple University.

Simone Dinnerstein: That's so great. Fantastic. Well, let's start by listening to you playing a little C.P.E. Bach. Tell us which piano you'll be playing on.

Julian Jenson: This is a 1790s Viennese-type piano.

Simone Dinnerstein: Okay, Great.

[MUSIC - C.P.E. Bach: Rondo in C minor, Wq. 59/4]

Simona Dinerstein: That was our guest, Julian Jenson, performing C.P.E. Bach Rondo in C minor. By the way, Julian, you used the word early piano. I've always referred to them as forte pianos. Tell us which one is the correct term.

Julian Jenson: There isn't one correct term. It has gone by many names over its 300-plus years of life. I just choose early piano because I think it's more-- it just cuts directly to what it is.

Simona Dinerstein: Right. That makes sense. When you were studying with me, we were talking about a lot of aspects of sound to do with the modern piano, and how to produce using different kinds of touch, different types of sound. Tell me a little bit more about what did you explore with Audrey when you started studying with her.

Julian Jenson: The first thing Audrey explored with me is just that the paradigm of music was different in the old days because the instruments were designed for smaller spaces, whereas we currently train to project our sound in a big hall. In Mozart's day, you would play in a living room with friends, so that allows you to explore more of an intimate, quiet character and find the variety within the softs. That's one of the most significant lessons she taught me among many.

Simona Dinerstein: Wow, that's so interesting. How do you deal with that when you play an early piano in a modern concert hall?

Julian Jenson: Well, they can be put into modern concert halls, but they're generally not because they don't fill the sound as much just because they're smaller. Again, they weren't designed for that time, these are pre-industrial instruments. Through the magic of recording and microphones, we can still all hear these essentially as they were at the height of their care and Mozart's time and Beethoven's time and whoever.

Simona Dinerstein: The piece that we're going to hear next is a Mozart Fantasia, which was kind of modeled after the CPE Bach Rondo that we just heard. You're going to be using a piano of Audrey's, right? Audrey Axinn?

Julian Jenson: Yes. It's actually the same piano as the--

Simona Dinerstein: Oh, it's the same piano?

Julian Jenson: Yes.

Simona Dinerstein: Okay, great. Well, let's listen to this Mozart.

[MUSIC - Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K. 475]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was pianist Julian Jenson playing Mozart's Fantasia in C Minor K. 475 on a replica of a 1790s Viennese piano built by Paul McNulty. You're listening to The McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase on WQXR. I'm Simone Dinnerstein, and today we are in WQXR studio with pianist Julian Jenson. It's time for a quick break now, then I'll be back with more piano shenanigans here on The McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase. Welcome back. Tonight we are in WQXR studio with the fabulous pianist and early pianist Julian Jenson. You were talking a little bit about the kind of sound that you explored with Audrey. Now you are currently pursuing another degree in historical performance practice at Temple University, correct?

Julian Jenson: That's right, yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: What is the degree program?

Julian Jenson: My degree program is DMA, Doctorate in Visual Arts in Historical Keyboard performance.

Simone Dinnerstein: I see. Who is your teacher there?

Julian Jenson: Dr. Joyce Lindorff.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. In that program, you're exploring not only different types of instruments and how to play those instruments, but you're also exploring performance practices such as improvisation.

Julian Jenson: Yes. That's really become a lens through which I've seen a lot of the music I've loved since childhood in a new light. Especially when it comes to Chopin.

Simone Dinnerstein: We're just about to hear some Chopin, are we not?

Julian Jenson: We are. I grew up listening to my father, who's also a pianist, play Chopin. I have strong feelings about it. What this lens has helped me do is come at it with a fresh perspective and realize that Chopin was not just a great performer, an improviser, but also a teacher. I relate to that quite strongly. He cared about his students developing comfort with the instrument in a singing way, in a natural way. Just like how you teach. I remember that quite strongly about your own teaching, is that.

Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. Of course, everybody taught like that, like Bach was known. He wrote many pieces for his students.

Julian Jenson: For his children too.

Simone Dinnerstein: For his children who were also his students. [laughs]

Julian Jenson: Exactly. These Nocturnes were modeled as teaching pieces and Chopin left for some of his students alternative ornamentation that you can put into the music. In other words, you're changing the notes that are written and making it your own.

Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. We're going to hear these two Nocturnes now which you're playing on another replica instrument, correct?

Julian Jenson: Yes. This is Dr. Lindorff my current teacher's piano. It is a Viennese piano from the 1830s. It's a replica built by Rodney Regier.

Simone Dinnerstein: In these performances, you are doing your own improvisations? Not just ones that were alternatives written by Chopin?

Julian Jenson: Correct. Yes. It's going to be a fun game to try to figure out which is which.

Simone Dinnerstein: I think I have figured out, but I'll let the listeners figure out too. Now let's listen to these two Chopin Nocturnes in B Flat Minor and E Flat Major Opus 9.

[MUSIC - Chopin: Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op. 9 No. 1, and Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2]

Simone Dinnerstein: Such beautiful and imaginative performances of Chopin's Nocturne in B-flat minor, and E-flat major, Opus 9, played by Julian Jensen.

Julian Jenson: Thank you so much.

Simone Dinnerstein: I love listening to your improvisation in there, and I won't be nerdy and go into exactly what you did, though. I did hear quite a lot of octaves that I never have heard before. [laughs] The final piece that we're going to listen to is the first movement of Beethoven's second Piano Concerto which you performed on a modern Steinway at Temple University with the orchestra there, conducted by Jose Luis Dominguez. In this performance, you also do some improvisation, do you not?

Julian Jenson: Yes. This is about taking the lessons we learn on early keyboard instruments and applying them to the modern tools we have now. I'm playing with the orchestra. I am playing with essentially the baseline and improvising cadenza because that's what Beethoven did when he premiered this as a kid, not too far from my own age.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, really? [laughs]

Julian Jenson: Yes. In Vienna, trying to prove his medal.

Simone Dinnerstein: I see. When you say you played with the orchestra for the listeners, I'm just going to explain a little bit that usually when you hear concertos today, the pianist sits quietly while the orchestra plays the opening tutti, and in different spots in between when the orchestra plays by themselves. The pianist is usually just sitting there. In Beethoven's time, Beethoven would've played along, right?

Julian Jenson: Yes. It was almost like a rhythm section in a modern day jazz quintet or something, where the keyboard and the drums and the basses are really locked in together and creating the musical meaning together through the whole thing.

Simone Dinnerstein: I actually was very excited to see you do that because not only was it fun to hear the piano playing, but I feel you inflected a certain energy into that line that affected the people in the orchestra themselves too. You were feeding back to them some energy that then you could use later when you played your solo line.

Julian Jenson: Yes. Although, I want to point out, it was always a collaboration. The orchestra were so gracious, they were excited and enthusiastic about what we were creating together. Especially the conductor Dominguez, he was super happy that I was trying all this stuff. He was jumping in his conductor podium have that practically.

Simone Dinnerstein: Well, they do a fantastic job here. It's a wonderful, wonderful recording. I'm very excited to share this with the WQXR listeners this live performance. When was it made?

Julian Jenson: In the end of September 2023.

Simone Dinnerstein: 2023. Let's listen to the first movement of Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto.

[MUSIC - Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat, op. 19, I. Allegro con brio With the Temple University Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jose Luis Dominguez] [applause]

Simone Dinnerstein: That was a really exciting and electrifying performance of the first movement of Beethoven's second Piano Concerto played by our guest Julian Jenson with the Temple University Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jose Luis Dominguez. Julian, I have to say it was particularly special for me listening to that because I do remember teaching you that piece during our Zoom year of the pandemic.

Julian Jenson: Yes.

Simone Dinnerstein: I heard a lot of things that we worked on in your performance as well as, of course, many things that you've done since then that-- the whole point of being a teacher is you want to give your students tools for them to go out and become their own people and you certainly are your own person, but it was very special for me to hear some of those beautiful sounds that we really worked on together.

Julian Jenson: I just want to thank you again for inspiring me and helping me build a really solid foundation on which to try new things.

Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, thanks. Well, you've been listening to the exquisite playing of Julian Jenson on a variety of forte pianos and modern pianos, and that completes this week's edition of The McGraw Family's Young Artist Showcase. As we close the show, you'll hear a bit more Beethoven from Julian, the Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 126 No 1. First, I'd like to thank the Harold W. McGraw Junior Family Foundation for their continued support of The Young Artists Showcase. Here's Terry McGraw with more.

Terry McGraw: Good evening, everyone. It's great to be with you, and it's always great being with The Young Artists Showcase and to hear these really wonderful and inspiring musicians as they continue to share their incredible gifts with us every week. I can't wait to hear the fabulous talent coming up on the showcase, and I am so pleased to be able to support the series all through its well over four decades on WQXR, and there's so much more to come.

Simone Dinnerstein: Thank you, Terry, and special thanks to Laura Boyman, our wonderful producer of The Young Artist Showcase. Many thanks again to the Harold W. McGraw Junior Family Foundation. I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Good night.

[MUSIC - Beethoven: Bagatelle Op. 126 No. 1]

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