October 28, 2015 | By Jake Weber; photo by Alyson Barra, '18
Among thousands of similar events worldwide, the Albion College Piano Festival stands out for its focus on beginning and intermediate young players. And this year the festival is even more distinctly "Albion." Its opening concert, on October 28, features four early graduates of music professor David Abbott and adjunct instructor Lia Jensen-Abbott's program.
Music education graduate student and private instructor Lisa Shanks, '09, Albion staff accompanist Nicholas Laban, '11, professional musician and private instructor Dan Willenberg, '11, and performance graduate student Scott Santoro, '12, will perform at 7:30 p.m. in Goodrich Chapel.
The first half of the concert will feature each alumnus performing a solo work. The second half of the program will be four-hand transcriptions of Dvorak's "Slavonic Dances," with each alumnus pairing with Abbott or Jensen-Abbott for one dance.
"One thing that's especially wonderful about the studio at a small place like Albion is that the students become close because they spend so much time working hard together," Jensen-Abbott commented. "Rehearsing together has been tough, but these students are all fine musicians and it's great to have them back together."
"To me, there is just as much improvisation involved in classical music as there is in jazz," says Willenberg, who makes his living mostly as a jazz performer and working in musical theatre. "They both require split-second artistic decisions and a very high level of emotional connection to the music. The only real difference to me is that the so-called 'wrong' notes in classical music are harder to disguise."
Festival adjudicator Andrew Willis, professor of piano and harpsichord at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, will present a "historical" recital, tracing keyboard music from the present day back to Beethoven, on Thursday, October 29, at 7:30 p.m.
The competition portion of the festival runs from Friday through Sunday, October 30–November 1, with nearly 60 participants from the Great Lakes states, Nebraska and Albion's Sister City of Noisy-le-Roi, France. Many students have competed more than once, and the French contingent, which was unable to participate in 2014, is especially happy to participate again this year.
The students' enthusiasm doesn't surprise Willenberg.
"Dr. A. and Dr. J. work ridiculously hard to provide some incredible opportunities for these kids," he says. "I'm just glad I'm not having to compete against some of these young talents. I need to practice harder before they start taking all of my gigs!"