[From left: Keith Emerson, his girlfriend Mari Kamaguchi, Jeffrey Biegel]
On April 13th, 2008, Keith Emerson made a rare public appearance to be in the audience for his Piano Concerto no. 1, written in 1977. At 63, the legendary rocker still looks exuberant, youthful and spirited, and eager to get his new cd out and be part of my revival of his piano concerto. I have known Keith for several years after Daniel Dorff, the composer and director for publications at Theodore Presser, introduced Keith’s concerto to me. After several years of faxes, phone calls, we finally met in San Diego in February 2008 when he attended my performance with the San Diego Symphony with Jahja Ling conducting Lowell Liebermann’s Concerto no. 3. The performance of Keith’s Concerto was performed with Steve Larsen conducting the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra in Illinois. They did a splendid job, and Keith introduced the concerto to the audience. His first observations were to make sure the piano would not fly and spin around, as he did when he toured with his group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
It is an unusual feeling as an artist to perform works by composers who attend your performances, to say the least. But I was not nervous, rather, inspired to give the man who wrote this truly fine work, a chance to experience another artist’s rendering of his composition. The benchmark performance is Keith’s own recording with the London Philharmonic on the ELP album, ‘Works’. In the 1970s, 1980s, and perhaps into the 1990s, programming or offering a work as such would have proved fruitless, unless in an isolated situation. The piece was performed in Kentucky in 2000, and in China more recently. I plan to blanket the orchestras with this concerto, for I believe in its merits and accessibility to audiences–especially those who were raised on ELP.
Here is a story about Keith and his visit:
Here is a review of the performance:
April 15, 2008
C-U Symphony, pianist sparkle in season finale
“Leroy Anderson’s Piano Concerto is like everything by this great composer of light music, full of glorious tunes and wonderful twists of orchestration. Biegel clearly loves this piece and played its stormy and tender passages from the heart.
[Keith Emerson's Concerto no. 1] is refreshingly bold and saucy. Emerson is impatient with transitions, and there are many clashes of keys and moods, as well as wild endings to the first and last movements. The ghost of composer Paul Hindemith, of all people, turns up near the beginning, and the propulsive start of the finale owes something to the Khachaturian concerto.
Biegel played with his usual brilliance, and during curtain calls, Emerson loped onstage to embrace Biegel and [Steve] Larsen.”
It will be a journey to take Keith Emerson’s Concerto on the road, and to see who will find it attractive to program. It is a special work with its own sound, harmonic language and melodic invention. I think it’s time has come.