Simone Dinnerstein: Hello, I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Tonight we are featuring piano students from the Mannes School of Music in New York City on this edition of the McGraw Family's Young Artists Showcase.
The Young Artists Showcase, which is generously underwritten by the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation has presented talented young pianists since its first broadcast in 1978. It shares that history with the Mannes School of Music, which has a long tradition of interesting and thoughtful pianists and piano faculty who have passed through its doors, including Murray Perahia, Bill Evans, and Richard Goode. I happen to be on the piano faculty of the Mannes School, and I'm incredibly proud of the talented piano students that we will be hearing tonight. In fact, there are so many wonderful piano students there at the moment that we will be devoting two programs to featuring their artistry recorded here in WQXR's studio.
We will begin tonight’s program with Chinese pianist, Yang Gao. Yang was an undergraduate student of my friend Awadagin Pratt at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and is currently pursuing his Master’s degree at Mannes as a student of Vladimir Feltsman. He was a recipient of a 2022 Gilmore Piano Festival Fellowship, and is being featured in the Rising Stars Series at Portland Piano International this season. Tonight, Yang will perform the first movement of Brahms’s Piano Sonata No 3 in F Minor, Op 5.
MUSIC – Brahms: Sonata No.3 in F minor, op.5, Allegro maestoso
Fantastic. That was Yang Gao playing Brahms’s Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op 5. The first movement, Allegro maestoso. Yang. That was a terrific performance. Really wonderful.
Yang Gao: Thank you so much.
Simone Dinnerstein: Uh, have you performed it before tonight?
Yang Gao: Uh, yes. I have just played in my graduation recital, and that was my first time to play the whole piece.
Simone Dinnerstein: Wow. That's a scary thing, right?
Yang Gao: Yeah, it's very challenging.
Simone Dinnerstein: It's a huge piece of music.
Yang Gao: Yeah.
Simone Dinnerstein: And it's, uh, I, I, thought that when you played it, you had a real sense of the architecture of the whole movement while being able to be present in all the details of each moment. That's hard balance.
Yang Gao: Thank you. Yes.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. And also, your, your sound, your big sound was wonderful because sometimes, um, you can hear people playing the sonata and it sounds a bit brutal.
Yang Gao: Yeah. I think the Sonata, especially the first movement is very symphonic, so.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yes.
Yang Gao: Yeah.
Simone Dinnerstein: And did you work on that aspect of it with Mr. Feltsman, your teacher?
Yang Gao: Oh yes, of course. And also there are few parts. I think for me it's quite clear. It can be like different instrument, not piano, can be like winds or cello like in some parts of the movement.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. And did you look at some of Brahms's symphonies?
Yang Gao: Yes.
Simone Dinnerstein: To think about that?
Yang Gao: Yes, of course. Yeah.
Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful.
Yang Gao: Yeah, the fourth symphony was my favorite and I got a lot of inspirations from that symphony.
Simone Dinnerstein: There is a lot to be inspired by in that. Yes. And I understand you were just accepted to Peabody for the doctoral program.
Yang Gao: Yes.
Simone Dinnerstein: That's exciting.
Yang Gao: Yeah. That's exciting.
Simone Dinnerstein: Well, good luck with your future studies there.
Yang Gao: Yeah, thank you so much.
Simone Dinnerstein: Thank you.
Next up we will hear the wonderful composer/pianist A Bu. A Bu is currently pursuing a double Master’s degree at Mannes as a composition student of Lowell Lieberman and piano student of Pavlina Dokovska. Welcome, A Bu!
A Bu: Thank you very much.
Simone Dinnerstein: So I know that you've, you have an interesting history having both played, uh, piano and composed and played jazz. Right?
A Bu: Right. But actually, composition has been a quite recent interest. I mean, because as you know, in jazz, most of the content is improvised rather than composed.
So, and also this is my only and first degree in composition.
Simone Dinnerstein: I see.
A Bu: So, yeah.
Simone Dinnerstein: So in your undergraduate studies, which were at Julliard?
A Bu: I did at Julliard.
Simone Dinnerstein: You did it. That was just for piano.
A Bu: I did everything just in piano until I was at Mannes.
Simone Dinnerstein: I see, I see. And when you were at Julliard, did you also study jazz or just, just classical?
A Bu: I took some lessons.
Simone Dinnerstein: Mm-hmm.
A Bu: With the faculties there, but I started to play jazz rather young much earlier than the Julliard years.
Simone Dinnerstein: Hmm. What got you interested in it?
A Bu: Probably mostly because of my father. He's a big jazz fan, but he doesn't play any instrument and he always wanted me to play.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.
A Bu: So I guess I took on his, uh, wish, you know.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, that's nice. And he must be very excited by how you've developed over the years.
A Bu: Well, yeah. And he's the one who keeps telling me that I, you know, I couldn't abandon either of classical or jazz, you know, he really pushes me on that side.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah.
A Bu: Um, which I guess is fine.
Simone Dinnerstein: It's very good because it's easy to get sort of, um, you know, a one track mind where you just feel boxed in into one category.
A Bu: Yes.
Simone Dinnerstein: So it's great that you're expanding. And I know that you've had relationships with some interesting jazz artists, such as Nikolai Kapustin.
A Bu: Right, with Kapustin, but it's quite difficult to say if he's a real jazz musician.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. Yeah.
A Bu: But yes, with Kapustin, that was a very, I would say, a very important aspect of my music journey, I would say. Because when I found out he was still alive, it was like a miracle, you know?
Simone Dinnerstein: Ah-huh.
A Bu: Because, the composers we encounter every day, usually they're not here anymore, but Kapustin was, he was around 78 years old when I, uh, connected with him.
Simone Dinnerstein: Okay. And then what happened when you connected with him?
A Bu: I played his variations. That's Opus 41, one of his very famous pieces and when I knew that he was still alive, I just tried every way that I had to send him the recording that I played at school. And, and, and therefore I did. And surprisingly, he liked it very much so um, so he listened to my recording and he thought it was good. So we connected by email, but we were only able to, to write in English because I didn't speak Russian.
Simone Dinnerstein: Right, right. And did you go on to make your own edition of his music?
A Bu: I edited the first Chinese edition of Kapustin's piano music that was released in China last year.
Simone Dinnerstein: Amazing. And may I just ask how old you are at the moment?
A Bu: I'm 23 years old.
Simone Dinnerstein: 23. So that's pretty great that you have that kind of mind.
And I, I know the next piece you're, the piece you're gonna play with for us was just published by Schott Music, right?
A Bu: This was published last year. It's a composition of mine actually done in about the same time last year in April.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, okay.
A Bu: Yeah. This is called Fantasie and the subtitle is Sleeping In A Dream. This is dedicated to my teacher, Mr. Hung-Kuan Chen. At Julliard.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yes.
A Bu: Uh, actually you will hear the first three notes of the piece. Actually, it's the combination of notes that stands for his room number at Juilliard.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, that's a very composerley thing to do. Well, I can't wait to hear it.
MUSIC - A Bu: Fantasie “ Sleeping in a Dream”, op.7
Simone Dinnerstein: What a beautiful and moody performance of A Bu playing his own fantasie, Sleeping in a Dream. Our next pianist, Jacob Kelly Levitan is an undergraduate student of Yuri Kim. Welcome Jacob.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: Thank you.
Simone Dinnerstein: I understand that you transferred from Skidmore College, which is a very interesting college.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: I did. Yeah.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: It was great. Originally, I was studying, in addition to music there with a wonderful pianist, Pola Baytelman. I was also studying English Lit and poetry writing, which were really great influences for me and, along with the music helped propel me toward Mannes. In fact, one person who keeps me up to date on all my literature is my current piano teacher, miss Yuri Kim.
Simone Dinnerstein: Uhhuh.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: Who really inspires me and all of her students, not just in her vigorous and and uncompromising teaching style, but last semester she just texts me, read, Herman Hesse, Siddhartha, that's your homework for the week.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, that's good.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: Because I was playing Beethoven, she said German music requires German lit.
Simone Dinnerstein: Ah, so what did she have you read for the piece you're about to play? Tell us what you're, what you're about to play.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: I'll tell you it wasn't lit, but the piece I'm about to play is by Frédéric Chopin Opus 19 Bolero. And it's a piece. Mainly a polonaise, almost a polonaise fanatsie. A lot of disparate elements. And I was having a lot of trouble at my first lesson on this piece, marrying all those elements together into kind of cohesive story. And she just, you know, sits with the music for maybe a minute and she says, you know what this is, this is Bizet's Carmen.
And she just starts to narrate each section, play through, oh, we have the opening. The curtains are being drawn and the brass with these big octaves, and then you have this town and bustling people everywhere, and then it, it flows on and and, well, the opera doesn't end very well.
Simone Dinnerstein: No.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: I, I, I like to think that this piece ends a little more triumphantly, but...
Simone Dinnerstein: Well, that sounds like a wonderful lesson.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: Oh, it was.
Simone Dinnerstein: Well, I'm looking forward to hearing you play this now.
Jacob Kelly Levitan: Yeah. Thank you.
Simone Dinnerstein: Thank you.
MUSIC - Chopin: Bolero
Simone Dinnerstein: Fantastic. That was Jacob Kelly Levitan performing Chopin's bolero. It's time for a quick break now. Then I'll be back with more performances by these young keyboardists here on the McGraw Family's Young Artists Showcase.
Welcome back. Tonight is the first of two shows featuring piano students at the Mannes School of Music.
Now we are going to meet a native New Yorker, Nico Giacolone, who is currently pursuing his master's degree as a student of Jerome Rose. He will play Mozart's Sonata in B flat major, K. 333 the first movement Allegro.
MUSIC – Mozart: Sonata in B flat major, KV 333, Allegro
Simone Dinnerstein: Beautiful what wonderfully characterful Playing by Nico Giacolone of Mozart's Sonata in B flat Major K. 333. The first movement Allegro. Nico, welcome to WQXR.
Nico Giacolone: Thanks for having me.
Simone Dinnerstein: And you're a native New Yorker. So you grew up with WQXR, right?
Nico Giacolone: Yes, I did. I've been listening all my life, so it's really an honor to be here.
Simone Dinnerstein: Nico, I saw that your very first piano studies were at a school in Manhasset called the Bottazzi School of Music. I'm curious to know more about that.
Nico Giacolone: Yes. So, um, when I was a kid, uh, we had a piano in the house and I was, you know, banging away on it with nowhere, with all of what to do whatsoever. So, um, the piano's cool. The Bottazzi International School of Music was two blocks from my house.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh.
Nico Giacolone: And so we figured it would be perfect if I started piano lessons and um, I really got attached to it. Um, I did my first solo recital when I was 10 years old. And from that moment on, I knew that this was what I wanted to devote my life to.
Simone Dinnerstein: Oh, fun. That's wonderful. I mean, our earliest teachers are really some of the most profound experiences for us as musicians, I think.
Nico Giacolone: Absolutely.
Simone Dinnerstein: So it's great if you have somebody in the beginning that really inspires you.
Nico Giacolone: Mm-hmm.
Simone Dinnerstein: And now you're studying with Jerome Rose at Mannes.
Nico Giacolone: Yes.
Simone Dinnerstein: And you're in your first or second year?
Nico Giacolone: I'll be graduating next month.
Simone Dinnerstein: Excellent.
Nico Giacolone: So, um, looking forward to that.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah. And then you'll be going out into the world or trying to go on to another program.
Nico Giacolone: So basically what I have in mind is I've started a studio of my own in Manhasset. I've grown a studio of about 12, 13 students. And so the idea is to build the business bigger than that.
Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. And I mean, the fact that you're playing with such, um, integrity and elegance, that's so important to have teachers who are passing that on to the next generation. So...
Nico Giacolone: That's our job as teachers.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yes. So good luck with that.
Nico Giacolone: Thank you very much.
Simone Dinnerstein: Moving on to another native New Yorker, we will hear pianist Nicholas Fanara, an undergraduate student of Thomas Sauer.
He's going to play seven of Chopin's preludes Opus 28 for us now.
MUSIC - Chopin: 7 Preludes from Op. 28
Simone Dinnerstein: That was pianist Nicholas Fanara playing seven of Chopin's preludes from Opus 28. That was fabulous. Thank you, Nick. So are you currently preparing all 24?
Nicholas Fanara: Yeah, I, uh, I began these back, uh, last summer and I had worked on them at the Summer Festival, Vivace. Um, and I've continued them, uh, with my teacher, Thomas Sauer, uh, there was a class offered a course at Mannes, which was taught by Yuval Shapira, and it was for the Chopin Preludes just analysis score study and performance. So I would say that was like a big... it really pushed me towards learning all 24.
Simone Dinnerstein: Wonderful. It's such an incredible set. And, um, and that's great to hear that a class opened up your ears to, to learning it, so. Well, it was great to hear you and I look forward to hearing some more of you. Uh, and next year you have one more year left, right?
Nicholas Fanara: Yeah. And then I'm, then I'm off.
Simone Dinnerstein: Then you're off.
Nicholas Fanara: To where, to wherever.
Simone Dinnerstein: Yeah, to wherever your future takes you. Mm-hmm. Okay. Thank you. That was Nicholas Fanara. And now we will conclude tonight's program by welcoming back Abu to play a short improvisation for us.
MUSIC - A Bu: Improvisation
Simone Dinnerstein: That was pianist and composer A Bu. Giving us a short improvisation to conclude this program featuring piano students from the Mannes School of Music.
That completes this week's edition of the McGraw Family's Young Artists Showcase, which is generously underwritten on WQXR by the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. 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 Artist 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. Next week we're going to hear more pianists from the Mannes School of Music in the second part of this two part series devoted to their artistry. Many thanks to WQXR program producers Laura Boyman and Max Fine.
Our session engineer is Irene Trudel and our generous program underwriter is the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation. I'm Simone Dinnerstein. Goodnight.
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