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Pianists perform ‘Music We Love’ at Piano Gala

Published on March 02, 2023

Pianists perform ‘Music We Love’ at Piano Gala

The flyer advertising the Piano Gala

Student emcees Kane Waggoner (left) and Sarah Burkart

Eastern Connecticut State University’s Music Program hosted a Piano Gala concert on Feb. 25, featuring several talented students and faculty pianists performing a wide variety of music that resonates with them personally.

Last year’s program featured only five performers. This year, there were eight performers on the program, including students Maxwell Hayes, Aidan Reiss, Carson Sobanski and Jacob Wurst. Faculty performers included David Ballena, Okon Hwang and Eric Ouellette.

Students were selected to perform in the gala based on their performance in their end-of-semester juries last fall, in which they performed lesson repertoire for a small panel of judges. This year’s gala, titled "Music We Love," featured performers’ favorite piano compositions.

As part of their program descriptions, performers wrote essays of 120 to 170 words professing their love for their selections, which were read by student emcees Sarah Burkart and Kane Waggoner. Performers’ program notes were 80-90 words long and were projected on an overhead screen during their performances.

Performers selected repertoire with personal significance to them from any genre they wished. “If I wanted to play ‘The Legend of Zelda’ onstage, I could because it resonates with me,” said Reiss, a sophomore music major with concentrations in piano performance and musicology.

Aidan Reiss performs Ravel's 'Ouiseaux Tristes.'

Jacob Wurst performs Joseph Kosma's 'Autumn Leaves.'

Carson Sobanski performs Scott Joplin's 'The Entertainer.'

Reiss performed ‘Ouiseaux Tristes’ by Maurice Ravel, which translates to “Birds of Sorrow” and is the second movement of the suite 'Miroirs,' or "Mirrors." Reiss explained that Ravel composed each of the suite’s four movements as a caricature of his friends. “The reason it resonates with me, personally, is because it’s so abstract,” he said.

Traditionally, the gala has been a formal affair, including formal dress code. “I think it helps the audience to appreciate the music the way that it would have been (performed) historically,” said Reiss.

The onstage setup featured multiple pianos facing each other. “There’s a certain aesthetic of having the pianists facing each other versus sitting next to each other,” said Reiss. “It feels more intimate.”

The inclusion of multiple pianos also gave performers a choice. “The performers have the opportunity to choose which piano resonates with them,” said Reiss. This choice aligns with the performer’s selection of personally important music to perform, rather than strictly “standard repertoire,” he continued.

Okon Hwang (left) and David Ballena perform on the stage's multiple-piano setup.

Max Hayes performs the second movement from Beethoven's Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13.

Eric Ouellette performs Chopin's 'Military.'

Eastern’s Piano Studio will also host the Piano Studio Recital on Apr. 17 in the Fine Arts Instructional Center Concert Hall. All members of Eastern’s Piano Studio can perform at the studio recital, in contrast to the jury selection for the gala. This adds prestige to the gala, as performers are not looking to merely fulfill a degree requirement.

The intimacy of the gala, combined with performers’ freedom to choose their own pieces, inspired them to be unique. “We begin to see and value our differences and preferences in the musical world,” said Reiss. “There are different styles of music, but there is a certain respect.”

The inclusion of professors as performers in the gala opened students to a new perspective on their work. “I think we have a doctor-patient kind of relationship with our professors sometimes,” said Reiss. “We get to see a different side of them.”

This year, professors Ballena and Hwang performed the world premiere of “Allegory,” an original composition by Reiss, to conclude the gala. The piece was based on the definition of allegory: a metaphor that often conveys a moral meaning not declared in a narrative or scene.

During a menacing passage of the performance, Ballena experienced a technical difficulty while reading the sheet music on his iPad and had to start the piece over. Everyone in the concert hall, including Reiss, laughed it off.

“I feel like the professors have less freedom to play what they want to play because they have so many requirements with their students,” said Reiss. At the Piano Gala, professors and students alike have this freedom.

Written by Noel Teter

Categories: Music, Arts