Archive for January, 2008

Last night’s concert with the Charleston Symphony was perhaps the most emotionally charged of any I have ever performed. David Stahl led his orchestra so splendidly. We had a double rehearsal the day before, and it was a rather long day’s wait until we performed the piece after intermission at 9:15pm. After I went through countless passages on a Yamaha upright in the Green Room, I sat down to play the piece, and felt this amazing focus of emotuional energy take me over–before the orchestra even began. When the first notes sounded, I could feel my eyes well up a bit. Sure, there is a history of the Rach 3 and me. I learned it in 1981, and in 1982, I studied it with Adele Marcus, who has taught it to all of her best prize-winning students. There was a concerto competition at Juilliard, and Rach 3 was one of them. Adele didn’t wish for me to enter, and said, ‘I know how you will play this someday, and now is not the time’. I was crushed, of course, and did not enter. Fortunately, the year after, I won the concerto competition for the Prokofiev 2nd Concerto. In 1984, I entered a major competition in Europe and missed the finals by a half point–Rach 3, again. I witnessed another pianist play itn in the final round and take second prize. Fortunately, though, I won the Kapell competition in 1985 with the Prokofiev 2nd concerto. But the stigma of not getting this opportunity to play Rach 3 would haunt me. It was finally in 1996 that this opportunity came not once, but twice. I played it with my friend George Del Gobbo conducting the Lake Forest Symphony–first time for me! Shortly after, with my Bulgarian conductor friend, Ivan Anguelov, with the Istanbul State Symphony. Two years later, with my friend (and quasi brother!) Stuart Malina, and the Greensboro Symphony, which cemented our long-lasting friendship. Stuart suggested me to David Stahl, and here we are, ten years later, performing Rach 3 in Charleston!

I had found out just two hours prior to the concert in Charleston through a google search that an older friend had passed. He was Neil Levenson, who wrote ‘Denise’ (recorded by Randy and the Rainbows and later, Blondie) and other pop songs. Deeper than that, Neil was one of the best pianists I ever heard. He studied with Moritz Rosenthal and his wife, of the old world pedigree, and could sit down and play anything like a seasoned artist. He studied with me briefly, and traveled often to Israel and basically lived off the royalties of his songs. Oddly, my son asked my wife what ever happened to Neil Levenson just two weeks ago–he passed, unknown to us, on January 7. How strange for my son to ask at that time. Not sure what made me reach out to find out how he is–perhaps he was sending us messages. Perhaps then it became part of my experience performing last night. The audience screamed and jumped to their feet–Iwas overwhelmed–my cup runneth over. I am sure Neil was there too–along with Adele Marcus by my side.

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Here’s a press release for the release of the Leroy Anderson Concerto–I really love this delightful concerto, and am happy to share it especially in this centennial year of Leroy Anderson’s birth:

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel has been a strong advocate and dedicated fan of Leroy Anderson’s ‘Concerto in C’, composed in 1953. Following a hearing of the concerto in 1991, Mr. Biegel approached the family of Leroy Anderson regarding the concerto. Mr. Anderson’s widow, Eleanor Anderson, sent a copy of the handwritten two-piano score along with a cassette copy recorded from radio of the concerto’s world premiere from Grant Park, Chicago, in 1953. The premiere featured Eugene List at the piano, with Mr. Anderson conducting the Grant Park Festival Orchestra. This furthered Mr. Biegel’s interest in the concerto. In 1994, he brought the concerto back to the Grant Park Music Festival for the first time since the premiere in 1953, as well as to Carnegie Hall in New York City, for the New York Premiere of the concerto with Skitch Henderson conducting his New York Pops.Since then, Mr. Biegel has brought the ‘Concerto in C’ throughout the USA, and as far as Izmir, Turkey. He recently recorded the concerto with Leonard Slatkin conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra. The cd sees its release in January, 2008– the first of five cds featuring the complete catalogue of the music by Leroy Anderson, also marking the centennial of Leroy Anderson’s birth in 1908. More information about Mr. Anderson can be found at his web site, www.leroyanderson.com. Mr. Biegel’s web site is www.jeffreybiegel.com. More information about Naxos is available at www.naxos.com

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While flying into Charleston, South Carolina, I realized that in bringing the mercurial ‘Rach 3′ (Rachmaninov Third Piano Concerto) to Charleston, I had done the same in 2005 for the same weekend in January to the El Paso Symphony–which, by the way, has always been a top-class orchestra. Perhaps it is karma; I should make sure to book Rach 3 the same weekend every year! I am indeed excited about this collaboration with David Stahl, music director for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. It is actually Stuart Malina, music director now of the Harrisburg Symphony (and one of my best friends of all time!) whom I need to thank. After we did the Rach 3 in Greensboro in 1998, he told me he was suggesting me to David Stahl, as he was assistant conductor in Charleston in addition to his duties in Greensboro. Finally, ten years later, we will meet later today and rehearse the Rach 3. Maestro Stahl had called me from his cell phone from Germany, where he he conducts regularly, and said, ‘I hear you play the best Rach 3, and we must do it together!’ Of course, I said many pianists deliver a beautiful Rach 3–it’s hard not to, such amazing music. I agreed on the spot. I’ll report back after the experience, which I am looking forward to immensely. I was particularly taken by the beauty of the city of Charleston. Reminds me a bit of New Orleans, due to the history, and King Street, at times, reminds me of a mix of Flensburg, Germany and the Hamptons of Long Island! Very special, with a Euro-American feel. Shops closed at night, and streets were empty, much like in Europe.

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During the holiday season, I have been asked by many choral directors to compose a new Hanukah piece. There is, by far, a wide ratio between Christmas choral music and Hanukah music. As a result, I composed a ‘Hanukah Fantasy’ for SATB/piano (with an eye to get it orchestrated as well) during the holiday season and would be happy to send the Finale files with a written request via personal email requesting to see it. My email address is sharpnat@aol.com.

‘Hanukah Fantasy’ includes ‘Maos Tzur’ (in Hebrew), ‘The Dreidel Song’ (in English and Yiddish), ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ (in Hebrew), and, ‘O Hanukah, O Hanukah’. (In the last piece, the piano part has a short excerpt of ‘Se-vi-von’ juxtaposed to ‘O Hanukah’). Since it is in Finale format, if you do not have the Finale program, you can download Finale Note Pad gratis to view and print the files. It was great fun to compose, especially in giving the familiar tunes a fresh harmonic palette and choral flair. When I was in high school, I remember the brilliant Robert Shaw arrangement of ‘Ezekiel Saw de Wheel’ with the vocal effect of the spinning wheel. I made a bold attempt to create a spinning dreidel effect in my piece too.

Happy and healthy New Year to everyone!

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