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Katerina Stamatelos, "Little Girl III" ~ used by permission ~ click image for description

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It’s concert countdown time! 

The program below will remain the same for 2 performances in MA, on October 29th (Williamsburg) and November 6th (Amherst).  My November 9th concert in New York is part of a 1/2-hour lunchtime series, so the program will be shorter.

This program feels particularly demanding because I have included four musical styles unfamiliar to me.

Bach Prelude and Fugue

For 2 or 3 weeks, I had planned to open the program with the Bach/Busoni.  Having only played the piece twice, though, finding the sound I want is difficult right at the beginning.

So I will begin with the Prelude and Fugue, which I have performed a few times.  There are many ways to play Bach, so I am practicing with that in mind.  This time will be different.

Bach/Busoni Chorale Prelude

This is such a beautiful piece, I hope I can convey everything I’d like to audiences.

There are 3 distinct sounds required to play this well:  the melody, the bass, and the inner part.  Listeners need to be able to hear the way each line moves.

Does this seem more difficult than a fugue because it’s Busoni?  Perhaps I’m wishing for organ manuals, pedals, and registration changes.  With piano, you have to achieve different sounds with your hands, alternating hands for the middle part.

Another part of what’s in my head about Busoni:  Mischa Dichter played the first Fall concert at my school when I was a 19-year-old transfer student.  He took the stage and began with Bach/Busoni!  I no longer remember which piece he played, but the feeling of being blown away remains.

Mendelssohn Songs Without Words

For this program, I will be replacing the Funeral March (Op. 62, No. 3) with Op. 62, No. 1, which I feel is more appropriate for these audiences.

Details about the songs on this program can be found in 2 previous blog posts:  Emily’s Movie:  Music for Piano and The Ones That Got Away.


Hard to believe, but this is the first Liszt solo piano music I’ve played!  The challenge for me is getting the rubato to sound natural, and not like Chopin or Brahms.  And the piano dynamics are intended to be heard by the audience, so practicing too softly is a waste of time.

I chose “Nuages Gris,” which has been cited for the modernity of its sound, specifically to lead to the next work.

Katerina Stamatelos VARIATIONS and INVOCATION upon a “Kyrie Eleison” and an “Anathema,” Op. 4

Katerina and I “met” on Twitter!  Both she and her work sounded interesting, so I visited her web site to read her bio and listen to some of her compositions.  Once there, I discovered that she is also a pianist, a painter, a poet, and a fashion designer!

I feel a connection with her through the University of Iowa, where she earned two of her degrees.  I grew up 75 miles from Iowa City, attended music camp there 4 times beginning in 7th grade, and studied piano and organ there in high school.

After looking at this piece several times, then putting it away, these concerts came along.  I’m so happy to be programming Katerina’s beautiful piece!

Here the challenge is learning the composer’s style with no previous knowledge.  Beyond that, some of the tempi are fast.  The fastest marking is quarter note = 168.

When learning chordal passages in traditional music, I “block” the hand positions and practice getting to each spot early.  With triads and inversions, that becomes standard procedure.

Now I’m practicing chord clusters the same way!  Noticing the similarities between clusters helps.  In one passage, the 2 middle notes stay the same.  The 1st chord is higher on the keyboard than the 2nd.  Using the same fingering for the middle of each is working.  If I keep my hand in that shape, then head for the middle of the 2nd chord (with the center of my hand), finding the 2nd chord quickly is no problem.  (I lead with the thumb or 5th finger most of the time.)

In this piece, the Kyrie has variations.  In addition, the Anathema has its own variations.  As you can imagine, the possibilities for alternating sections are many.

The Anathema is fast, and faster with each of its new sections.  These alternate with, or are interspersed with, the Kyrie theme.

The performer has to be alert and ready to go.  No matter whether the practicing is at tempo or slower, I practice the transitions every time.  If you arrive at the beginning of a section late, insecurity immediately gets in the way.  I’m practicing for success.  Switching from slow to fast, and also not waiting after “making it” to the end of a fast section, are crucial to the flow of the music.


Think Gershwin’s music is a no-brainer?  It’s not.  I don’t play his music every day.

Although I know the style and have listened to much of his music, his writing is chromatic.  And the detailed notation, such as short rests within a melody along with a bass line that appears to be pedaled through, requires close attention.

People love hearing Gershwin, so I thought this would be a good ending for the program.

How do you choose programs?

How do you learn new music?

Do you play Gershwin?  Why or why not?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Learning a new piece? New program? Back in school? Looking for teaching ideas? Read “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer!”

Goal-oriented Practice

August 2011 review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

When You Buy a Piano

How to Maintain Your Piano

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