We’re proud of all our IIYM students. But there’s a feeling of extra inspiration watching a former IIYM’er build an important career. Charlie Albright (First Place, IIYM International Piano Competition, 2005) has performed with Yo-Yo Ma (three times), and has been named the 2010 Gilmore Young Artist, as well as the First Place winner of the 2009 Young Concert Artists Competition in New York.
The Gilmore Young Artist Award is unusual. You are nominated by a leader in the field of music, and selected through a confidential judging process. Was it a surprise to find out you had won?
A huge shock. You can’t try out for it, and you don’t even know who nominated you. They come listen to you without you even knowing they are there. The Young Concert Artists Competition was more like a regular competition, with three rounds. For that one, I had swine flu for a week and cancelled at first. When the fever ebbed, they were kind enough to let me reschedule.
The prizes for each competition are a little different. The Gilmore gives you a cash prize and money to commission a new work. The Young Artists carries no cash, but I get management for three years and several concerts. Both are very cool.
How do you handle all the work? You were the first pianist accepted into the joint Harvard University-New England Conservatory B.A./M.M. program, so you’re working on two degrees at once.
It gets insane. In the four weeks of October I had five concerts (two on the West Coast, one in LA and one in Washington), gave a masterclass at Western Washington University, had four tests, two papers and one concert with Yo-Yo Ma. I do a lot of studying in airplanes and hotels.
I started the program with the feeling that I needed a more broad kind of education. I felt that the conservatories were too narrow for me at that time. But I might study at a conservatory next.
What do you think has led to your success?
It’s not entirely practice. I think it’s also really liking playing the piano and keeping it in perspective. I never go into a competition thinking “I have to win this” or “I have to play this piece perfectly or something bad will happen”. That viewpoint would put too much pressure on me. I try to enjoy every minute of it.
Do you want to have a career as a concert pianist?
I’m playing a lot of concerts now, but I know that I am far off from having a real concert career. I guess it depends on what opportunities come. So the answer is “yes”, but I also know how hard that can be. That’s one reason I chose the joint degree program. No matter what, I’ll have a degree from Harvard.
Internationally renowned IIYM Artistic Director Jack Winerock has been an integral part of the Summer Music Academy for many years. He received his undergraduate and masters degrees at the Julliard School of Music and his doctorate from the University of Michigan. Jack has performed all over the world, from Paraguay to Poland. A noted teacher, he recently received a Kemper Teaching Award from the University of Kansas.
As the founding Artistic Director of the IIYM International Piano Competition, what were your main goals in helping to create one of the great pre-college piano competitions?
The life of a young pianist includes active engagement in competitions. Often, students feel rejected or disappointed unless they win First Prize. We wanted the IIYM competition to be more than just winning. We wanted students to compete at a very high performance level, but we also wanted to offer them a post-competition opportunity to improve their performance. Ultimately, the competition becomes only the first step to becoming a better pianist.
You've been a faculty member for most of the IIYM Summer Institutes in the past two decades. How does spending the summer with a younger age group differ from your successful career teaching collegiate students at Kansas University?
I love the daring and courage of young pianists. Often college students are worried that everything has to be polished and "ready." I find that young pianists are often more willing to take chances.
International Institute for Young Musicians sees many students come back year after year. You've seen a number grow as musicians over many summers. Can you share some experiences seeing these young people turn into fledgling artists?
A number of students attend IIYM when they are very young. We are delighted to welcome them and appreciate their talent. We hope that listening to older students will inspire them and that studying with our extraordinary faculty will help them improve in the coming year. Most importantly, the network of peer support encourages students to work harder and more creatively during the year. When they return the following year, we are always delighted at how much they have grown artistically (and they often return taller then I am).
Amir Khosrowpour spent his pre-college years as a student of Scott McBride Smith, IIYM President, before coming to study with you. During his time as a student with you at Kansas University, he won first prize in the MTNA National Collegiate Piano Competition. What advice do you have for students preparing for major piano competitions?
This is the key question. The first is to choose competitions where the student will be successful. The second step is to plan well in advance and choose repertoire that accents the student's strong points (and disguises their weaknesses), because every phrase must score points. Finally, the student must have many opportunities to perform in small and large venues, with excellent and less-than-excellent instruments, on short as well as long notice, and in friendly and sometimes less than friendly environments.
You gave the premiere performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in China and have appeared in concert on almost every continent. What are some of your most memorable moments performing?
My most recent incredible experience was two weeks ago in Singapore. I was told that the hall and the piano were exceptional. However, I have been told that before. But this time, it was absolutely true. I was very nervous, because all the circumstances were ideal, and I wanted to do my best. The day after the concert I gave a master class at the National Conservatory. During the question and answer period, one of the non-piano professors commented that he had rarely heard a concert with such a variety of color, sound, and poetry. He asked how do I teach that to students? After a lengthy and detailed answer, I thanked him profusely for his compliment and have been on Cloud Nine since then! (I should have asked him to be my manager!)
As a cheese connoisseur, you have been exploring the cheeses of the world for some time now. Do you have a favorite?
I am a "cheddar nut" - for me it's Australian Cheddar.
I hear the only exercise you get is ballroom dancing. Is that true?
Yes, and my favorite is salsa.
University of Kansas, Lawrence KS
3 Week Session - July 11-31, 2010
2 Week Session 1 - July 11-24, 2010
2 Week Session 2 - July 18-31, 2010
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World Science Festival 2009
Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates
the Power of the Pentatonic Scale
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