The old saying about April showers bringing May flowers is full of figurative truth for those of us who work in musical academia. As soon as the calendar turns over to April, it seems like there's a never-ending stream of performances, exams, and rehearsals. This month is no different!
I spent the first week of April in my adopted hometown of Lincoln, NE performing with Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra. I played the brief, but spectacular, piano part in Saint-Saëns' "Organ Symphony," joined on the even briefer four-hand piano part by Elizabeth Grimpo, a great friend of mine who also teaches at a small Christian liberal-arts school - Concordia University in Seward, NE. Also on the program was a new work by Jake Runestad, "Dreams of the Fallen," using poetry by Brian Turner to present the experience of returning war veterans. It is truly an extraordinary work...if you don't know it check it out here. Pianist Jeffrey Biegel played the substantial piano part with conviction and absolute authority. Plus, Tom Trenney, in addition to preparing the choirs, played brilliantly on Barber's "Toccata Festiva" and the Saint-Saëns. There's nothing like sitting in the middle of an orchestra during the finale of that symphony...wow.
I was also able to play a solo recital at Concordia (Bach-Brahms Chaconne, Mozart K. 333, Liszt Sonata), and enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with many of my Lincoln friends. I spent a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes working through the Ravel left-hand concerto with Mark Clinton, one of my former professors, and made significant progress organizing future projects with several other colleagues at UNL. If you've never been to Lincoln, or experienced the remarkable camaraderie and diversity of musical and cultural opportunities both at the university and in the city, you're missing out. I don't know any other small (pop. ~250,000) cities with such a rich cultural life. It may be corny, but it's true...there's no place like Nebraska.
Back at school, we have at least one major concert, with associated rehearsals, between now and finals week at the beginning of May. We have a world premiere this weekend of a fantastic new comic opera by my dear friend Gary Belshaw - "Incident at Burro Java." Retired opera professor opens coffee shop, tries to use student chorus to record jingle (based on Wagner's Liebestod...), opera characters lament being type-cast by voice part...it's great stuff. Next Monday the brilliant David Cho, music director of the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, will lead our concert band in their spring concert. Having him work with our students has been an unbelievable coup. Next Saturday we have our annual scholarship fundraising concert, featuring the "Te Deum" by Mark Hayes, for which I have to dust out my extremely latent organ chops. Finally, we have three concerts in four days during "dead week," including a two-piano recital with Ken Freeman and yours truly (all-French program, details later), a recital by our retired professor and artist-in-residence Mark Pair, and a final choral collage concert featuring student solos and small ensembles.
In the meantime, I'm on the way to Houston this weekend, where I'll teach, judge, and perform at Lamar University in Beaumont and perform at the Steinway Selection Center in Houston. It is truly a blessing to work in music, and even though it's quite a blitz lately, not least because I have a brand-new son at home and my eternally patient wife has to put in lots of extra hours while I'm gone, it is such a fulfilling life.