The recital stage would be extra lonely if not for the presence of an accompanist. A partner-in-musical-crime, pianists who accompany other instrumentalists and vocalists—more equitably called “collaborative pianists”—provide musical camaraderie. But their roles are frequently overlooked. Accompanimental piano parts are often virtuosic and, at times, exposed. The pianist must attend to their performing partners’ every breath and push-and-pull. In addition: They are all too often asked to do all this at a moment’s notice.
But on Friday, March 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall, four members of Eastman’s collaborative piano faculty will step into the spotlight for a Faculty Artist Series recital titled “Once Upon A Time…”. Featured faculty members are Chiao-Wen Cheng, Soojin Kang, Irina Lupines, and Priscilla Yuen—all assistant professors of collaborative piano at Eastman. This time, the collaborative aspect will be on display with four and eight-hand piano repertoire of fairytale-inspired music. In works by Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Ibert, Rachmaninoff, and Bizet, hands will dart, fly, and crisscross over the keyboard with startling accuracy and maximum humor. Professor Emerita Dr. Jean Barr narrates the musical stories in a prism-style format, where each work seamlessly blends into the next.
“This Collaborative Piano Faculty recital is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with each other in piano ensembles and to be on stage at the same time,” says Lupines. “On top of it, we have fun spending time together.”
The collaborative piano faculty each perform upwards of 80 collaborative concerts per year, an extraordinary number of concerts to prepare for and play. They provide accompanimental support for every other instrumental and vocal studio at Eastman and collaborate with both students and faculty, along with outside engagements. “It is easy for people to guess that we have played almost all repertoires and so are ready to play right away, but it is not,” says Kang. “We need to prepare. We need to handle a bunch of repertoires with many students at the same time.”
Despite the heavy lifting of accompanying, all four say it is stimulating. “It’s never boring and definitely keeps us on our toes (and fingers),” says Yuen. “We also handle an incredible amount of music at any given time and switch gears quickly between teaching, playing, and administration.”
They also get to soak up insights and artistry from top performers. “In lessons and studio classes, we get to experience idiosyncratic features of each instrument, and it’s a privilege to get to hear different stylistic insights from world-renowned musicians,” says Lupines. Cheng adds, “It is always very inspiring to be able to work with different instruments on different styles of music.”
Eastman’s piano accompaniment department was established in 1989 by Dr. Barr, the first keyboard artist in the United States to be awarded a doctoral degree in accompanying. Dr. Barr helped collaborative piano playing gain respect and visibility as a concentration in the field of music and built Eastman’s reputation as a premiere school for honing the craft of collaboration. Although retired in 2019, Dr. Barr returns to Eastman to narrate the concert.
Tickets for Eastman’s Faculty Artist Series are $10 for the general public and free to URID holders. General Admission tickets will be available for purchase at each concert. Visit EastmanTheatre.org for more information.
–Written by Anna Reguero, Senior Writer & Editorial Manager
–Video produced by Lauren Sageer, Assistant Director of PR & Digital Content