Composer Andre Myers ‘96E was having a tough time at Eastman as an undergraduate, dealing with culture shock, writer’s block, and the type of existential questions about the future that many music majors face.
When he showed up without music to his composition lesson with David Liptak ‘75E (MM) ‘76E (DMA)—Eastman’s longtime professor of composition who retires after this semester—he was anxious. Previous teachers made him feel “a lot of heat to produce.”
Liptak quietly got out his lunch, said he’d be back, and left Myers alone in the room to compose. Liptak, jokingly, calls it irresponsible—but it was a turning point for Myers.
Nervously, Myers rearranged some of his music in retrograde. It worked. “From that moment on, there was no more writer’s block,” he said. “All of the pressure was like a balloon on my psyche and that moment just deflated it. It was really instructive to me as a student because it said ‘You can do this. And you know you can do this.’ And that’s the best lesson I ever had.”
Myers, who is now a professor of composition at the University of Redlands, attributes his graduation from Eastman and his success as a composer to Liptak. “I wouldn’t be where I am right now without his compassion, without his patience, and without his dogged determination.”
Liptak’s 36 years of teaching and composing at Eastman will be celebrated with a concert hosted by the Eastman composition department on Wednesday, March 1 at 7:30 p.m. in Hatch Recital Hall.
Teaching at Eastman, Liptak says, was his aspirational job. “This composition department is one of the very top in in the world as far as I can tell. And for me, having this job was perfectly suited to who I am as a professional,” says Liptak. “Eastman opened up relationships for me––the faculty I’ve worked with here as professional colleagues, the students as well. It has been extremely valuable.”
Those relationships are the glue fusing together the March 1st concert. In pulling up the particulars behind the works on the concert, Liptak plays through an internal reel of his history with the performers. It’s how he remembers his works.
There’s guitarist Dieter Hennings ‘05E (MM) ‘15E (DMA), who started a successful guitar studio at the University of Kentucky after completing his doctorate at Eastman. When Liptak’s daughter was to be married in Kentucky after moving there in the early 2020s, he asked Hennings to play a new work, Paradise, for the wedding, with Liptak’s wife, violinist Pia Liptak ‘89E (MM) ’92E (DMA). The work explores Kentucky’s mining history, but “I was thinking about this as the paradise for my daughter and son-in-law.”
On the concert program, Liptak’s wife Pia also performs Fantasy, a violin work from the early 2000s that was a commission for a high school violinist that Pia and David Liptak, on piano, premiered together on the Kilbourn stage. Pia is an Eastman alumna who teaches at the Hochstein School of Music. Pianist Yi-Wen Chang ‘95E ‘14E (DMA), who also teaches at Hochstein and Nazareth College, performs with Pia on Wednesday.
Then there’s Daniel Pesca ‘05E ‘16E (DMA), the quintessential Eastman student, a phenom pianist and composer who studied with Liptak both as an undergraduate and DMA student. “Daniel is someone that I’ve known for a long time, since he was my student. In the meantime, he’s gone off to do marvelous things.” Pesca, an assistant professor of piano at University of Maryland Baltimore County, performs four movements from the larger work Constellations based on the constellations in the night sky, with an emphasis on those in the Southern Hemisphere.
Dove Songs, based on poetry by Rita Dove, is a work Liptak wrote for the renowned soprano Tony Arnold in 2013. His collaborative relationship with Arnold resulted in several premieres over the years, including one just last year, The New England Primer, for Arnold with the Eastman Philharmonia. Arnold and faculty pianist Alison d’Amato originally premiered and commercially-recorded Dove Songs. Both performers reprise the work on Liptak’s retirement concert.
The relationships with performers are essential to his writing, and he says, “there’s something about the way they produce my music, which drives it better than I thought it could be.”
Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, the current chair of Eastman’s composition department, describes Liptak as serene yet funny, a colleague and friend who could talk about music or share recommendations of television murder mysteries. Crystalline, elegant, transparent, and pristine are all adjectives he associates with Liptak’s music. Not to mention that Liptak has a calming way with students.
“He is good at getting students to focus on things that help them unfold. He’s able to really simplify things for them, so that they can feel less anxious and really grow,” says Zohn-Muldoon.
Echoing Andre Myers, Kevin Puts ‘94E ‘99E (DMA)—the Pulitzer and Grammy Award-winning composer who Liptak remembers could “hear instrumental sounds so precisely”—agrees. “He was energetic, supportive, and his advice was spot-on and stayed with me ever since,” says Puts.
To hear the recording of Dove Songs, performed by Arnold and d’Amato, please click here.
–Written by Anna Reguero, Senior Writer & Editorial Manager
Wednesday, March 1: Eastman Composition Department: Music of David Liptak
Hatch Recital Hall, 7:30 p.m.