UW-Madison School of Music showcases pianist Émile Naoumoff, offers educational opportunities for the public

Émile Naoumoff performed in Morphy Recital Hall in the Humanities Building.

Émile Naoumoff performed in Morphy Recital Hall in the Humanities Building.

Image By: Kaitlyn Veto and Kaitlyn Veto

Émile Naoumoff, a virtuosic French pianist of our time, visited UW-Madison from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he has been teaching as a professor since 1998. He gave a solo recital and a piano masterclass this past Wednesday and Thursday.

March 29, a Wednesday evening, Naoumoff performed in Morphy Recital Hall in the Humanities Building within the Mead Witter School of Music, featuring a program of works by Austrian and German composers Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. The second half of the concert was occupied by French composers including Naoumoff himself.

Famous for his variety in his use of touch on the piano, meaning the different textures of sound that the pianist and the piano produce collectively, Naoumoff played the Beethoven Sonata No. 8 with full strength on the keyboard. Beethoven’s works are usually known to be relatively aggressive. The steel-like chords in the lower register were striking the wall of Morphy Hall. Amazingly, it sounded like the solidness in voicing was irrepressible, but visually, Naoumoff looked calm and unstirred. The explosion of sound was enormous, but he seemed to have the size of that explosion under his control.

On the other hand, when he played repertoires composed in the Romantic era, like Brahms Op. 117 and Fauré Nocturne, the sound was soft, as if the piano was whispering through the master hands of Naoumoff. It sounded like the piano was on a journey underwater, where the tenderness of the sound was transmitted vertically upward through the ocean, while I, as the audience, was above the surface of the ocean.

As a norm in classical music performance, audiences usually applaud at the end of each piece when the pianist stands up to face the audience and bows. However, the recital flew from one piece to another,without interruption by any sound other than piano. Perhaps Naoumoff preferred it this way? For any performing arts or athletic activities, the ability to always stay concentrated in the moment is an ideal status, and sometimes a luxury in our modern day, with so many distractions caused by technology. Astonishingly, when it came to the point when an intermission should take place, indicated by a black-fond “Intermission” on the program, Naoumoff lifted his hands from Mozart Rondo K. 511 into the air and then put his hands down on the piano again to play a more modern piece, Vers la vie nouvelle by Boulanger, bringing us to a new era. There was a turbulence in the audience, but it was settled quickly and easily.

In almost every field, there is theory and there is practice. For performances, musicians are demanded to not only comprehend musical knowledge by heart, but also be able to master the playing by hours and hours, and years and years of practice. On the next day, Naoumoff gave a two-hour masterclass, giving lessons to four piano students. If the concert on the prior night is to showcase “what it is,” then the masterclass is about “how to do it.” How to be “musically and stylistic correct” is an eternal subject in performance. Naoumoff coached a graduate student on which beat to land her right hand on after lifting her hand from the last one to sound “more like Beethoven.”

Detail after detail, repetition after repetition, art is made throughout the process. For music students, this event featuring Naoumoff was a priceless lesson to be involved with. For those who are interested in performing arts and music, it would also be a precious opportunity to get a glimpse of how demanding and delicate the making of this aesthetic is.

In October 2016, legendary American pianist Leon Fleisher was giving a recital with the Pro Arte Quartet in Mills Hall. In February 2017, improvisational pianist Gabriela Montero visited UW-Madison, also giving a concert and a masterclass.

Not only guest artists, our School of Music features performances by our own faculty and students. Most of them are free to the public. I encourage you to take advantage of this. Let a classical music performance wash away your anxiety from college life. Art and music are always “good stuff” to appreciate for human beings.

On April 1,the music duo “Sole Nero,” comprised of Piano Professor Jessica Johnson and Percussion Professor Anthony Di Sanza, are scheduled to perform , which will be a fun program. April 9, 2017, UW Symphony Orchestra will give a concert, with the Romeo and Juliet Overture by Tchaikovsky on the program,“marking the finale to Professor James Smith’s 34 years at UW-Madison.”

Get involved, Badgers! Don’t miss out!

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