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University of Utah Piano Area celebrates a centennial

Published September 17, 2013 9:34 am

Music • U. of U.'s powerhouse piano program celebrates its centennial.
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During the past 100 years, the University of Utah's piano area has grown to become the largest department in the School of Music, serving 18 percent of the school's music students.

The piano area celebrates its centennial with a kickoff concert Saturday evening in Libby Gardner Hall, spotlighting faculty members Ning Lu, Jeffrey Price, Larry Gee, Lenora Brown, Vedrana Subotic, Jie Lu and Susan Duehlmeier.

The concert is part of a yearlong celebration that will provide additional scholarships for students and invite alumni and former faculty to revisit the campus.

History • Thomas Giles joined the U.'s music department faculty in 1913 and taught "virtually everything," according to a recent article published in the university's Continuum magazine. Giles wasn't the first to teach piano at the university but is acknowledged as the piano area's founder.

During the ensuing years, many piano graduates have carved out distinguished careers – none more than Grant Johannesen, who performed with the world's great orchestras, including many appearances with Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony.

Leigh Harline, another graduate, was a Walt Disney Studios staff composer and won two Academy Awards, including one for "When You Wish Upon a Star" that has become the studio's iconic theme song.

Composer Leroy Robertson succeeded Giles as music department chair and hired pianists Reid Nibley and Ardean Watts, both of whom were closely associated with the Utah Symphony — Nibley as a pianist and Watts as assistant conductor.

When Gladys Gladstone arrived in Salt Lake City in 1947, she brought a comprehensive approach to her piano instruction, placing as much interest in her students' physical and emotional well-being as their musicianship. Gladstone served as a university adjunct for many years and was appointed professor of music in 1966, eventually heading the piano area.

Abravanel once said of Gladstone, "Piano playing in Utah can be summarized by 'BG' and 'AG' – before Gladys and after Gladys."

Gladstone not only taught many students but was in demand as a soloist and chamber musician, performing many times with the Utah Symphony and other ensembles, said her son, Joel Rosenberg, who also is a musician.

One of Gladstone's students, Paul Pollei, founded and directed the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. During the competition's early years, Gladstone and Abravanel were instrumental in helping Pollei bring the event from Provo to Salt Lake City, a move that allowed finalists to perform concertos with the Utah Symphony.

A number of Bachauer competitors remained in Salt Lake to continue their studies at the U., including Ning Lu, who briefly studied with Gladstone and now serves as the piano area's assistant chair.

Gladstone's students, who also include faculty members Brown, Price and Duehlmeier, inherited a significant music teacher pedigree that traces directly to Beethoven (Gladstone, Arthur Schnabel, Theodor Leschetizky, Carl Czerny, Beethoven). Two other faculty members, Subotic and Conner, didn't study with Gladstone but lay claim to the pedigree through their teacher Peter Frankl, who studied with Mario Curcio, a student of Schnabel.

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Piano genealogy • Duehlmeier, the current piano area chair, said this genealogy doesn't mean they all teach or perform the same way, but she feels it informs their musical understanding in a similar manner.

"Susan is a wonderful leader and inspiration to the entire music department, since she took my mother's position," Rosenberg said. Duehlmeier and other piano faculty members recently collaborated with Rosenberg on an album of solo viola music.

Josh Wright, a recent U. graduate and current doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, echoed Rosenberg. "I've never had a better teacher or mentor than Susan," said Wright on the phone from Ann Arbor. "She goes up and beyond with all of her students, and [her teaching] is world-class quality."

Synthesizing the knowledge he gained from Duehlmeier, Wright enhances his piano instruction with a series of YouTube videos he created, addressing topics such as playing trills, efficient practice and performing with expression.

Wright continues to seek out Duehlmeier for lessons and cited other pianists who are drawn to the insightful educator — even after graduating from prestigious music schools like Juilliard and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

During Duehlmeier's tenure, the school of music was designated an All-Steinway School, and most of the faculty are Steinway Artists. This year, 54 Steinway or Steinway-designated pianos were obtained for the university — most of them going to the piano area.

Saturday's concert will feature four Steinways as faculty members play two of J.S. Bach's keyboard concertos, one for three pianos and the other for four, based on Antonio Vivaldi's popular concerto for four violins.

"This is an ideal choice of repertoire," Rosenberg said. "Featuring [the piano faculty] together gives all a chance of self-expression without a single concerto to dominate the performance."

Rosenberg will conduct the Paradigm Orchestra during the concert. —

Keys to 100 years

University of Utah School of Music Piano Area will hold a concert to celebrate its centennial.

When • Saturday, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m.

Where • Libby Gardner Hall, U. campus

Tickets • $10 general admission; $6 arts pass, students, seniors, U. faculty and staff; free for U. students; tickets available at the door.

Program • "Romanze," Op. 85 for Viola by Max Bruch, arr. Kelly Richardson, Joel Rosenberg, soloist; "Candombe de la Solapa" for Viola and Orchestra by Jorge Mockert, arr. Richardson, Rosenberg, soloist; Symphony No. 29 in A Major, Mozart; Concerto for Three Pianos and Orchestra BWV 1063 by J.S. Bach with soloists Ning Lu, Jeffrey Price, Larry Gee; Concerto for Four Pianos and Orchestra BWV 1065 by Bach with soloists Lenora Brown, Vedrana Subotic, Jie Lu, Susan Duehlmeier.

Online • http://continuum.utah.edu/features/a-century-of-piano-a-u and http://music.utah.edu/news/century-of-piano.php

Other Centennial Events

Oct. 17 • Piano faculty performance at Steinway Hall in New York City, 8 p.m.; free admission, but call the U. School of Music for an invitation; 801 581-6762

Oct. 19 • "Ladies in Red" benefit concert in the Jon Huntsman home, Washington, D.C.; admission by invitation

Various • Benefit concerts in private Utah homes throughout the year; to benefit piano scholarships and the U. piano outreach program for inner-city schools

Apr. 12 • Centennial Gala with current and former faculty and students, featuring performances and video vignettes; all are welcome

All piano events listed in the School of Music calendar of events: http://www.music.utah.edu