Conservatory Piano Faculty Excel in a Digital World

Conservatory Piano Faculty Find Creative Ways to Stay Engaged with Students and Perform During Social Distancing

In a time when a lot of us are feeling disconnected and missing personal interactions, members of the Conservatory piano faculty have been finding new ways to connect with students and audiences alike. With virtual performances and festivals, podcast interviews, and never-before-seen archival footage releases, pianists Thomas Rosenkranz, Alon Goldstein, and Sean Chen are reaching wider audiences than ever before.

Festivals and workshops are always a big part of summer activities for performers, and this year saw a lot of cancellations worldwide. In January 2020, Conservatory piano faculty were eagerly planning UMKC’s first on-campus summer camp for pre-college students. While COVID-19 prevented students from traveling to Kansas City, faculty were not deterred. Festival organizers Chris Madden, Karen Savage, and Jeff Savage collaborated to reimagine the camp in a virtual format, which reached a broader demographic of pianists, including undergraduate students, graduate students, and professionals in the field. The resulting festival spanned three days and included 25 dedicated pianists from five times zones, six UMKC piano faculty workshops, two masterclasses, two guided practice sessions, 46 private lessons, one final concert, and 16.11 gigabytes of lively discussions.

Many other festivals were able to switch to some sort of an online presence, including Yarn/Wire at Stony Brook University, where Thomas Rosenkranz was a guest artist. Yarn/Wire is an immersive program focusing on the music of today, and this year offered a free virtual online program for pianists, percussionists, and composers. Rosenkranz presented a live-streamed lecture/performance from the Conservatory’s White Recital Hall stage titled “Improvisations, Riffs and Variations on the music of Ives and Beethoven” to attendees.

The Abbey Bach Festival, which is usually held in Mount Angel, Oregon, held its 49th annual festival virtually this year, with Alon Goldstein performing the music of Beethoven in a special celebration of Beethoven’s 250th with the Mercury Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Antoine Plante. The International Keyboard Institute and Festival released archival performance videos from 2015, featuring Goldstein as one of the guest artists.

Sean Chen joined Müzewest Concerts for both a performance and live panel discussion. He performed the music of Beethoven and Schubert on their “Live from the Sofa” series and participated in the panel discussion “Life After Beethoven.” Chen also joined Maestro Matthew Kraemer for a live conversation as part of the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra’s “Mocktails and Masterpieces” series.

All three professors are well-known and well-loved for their talks, interviews, and how they share their extensive experience and knowledge. Rosenkranz, who serves as the Conservatory’s Keyboard Area Coordinator, gave an online interview with Backstage, during which he discussed his beginnings with the piano, his love for new music (and teaching it to his students), the music of Messiaen, and what it was like to study with Yvonne Loriod Messiaen.

Artist in Residence Sean Chen shared frequent videos to his YouTube channel of improvisation techniques and personal rehearsals and practice techniques. He also took the opportunity to help support Kansas City’s Rose Brooks Center for Domestic Violence with a fundraiser that was born out of a livestream performance, raising more than $1,000 for the center. He also has a blog on his website, where he reviewed and wrote a step-by-step guide for using Jack and JackTrip for near-realtime audio when playing chamber music via videoconferencing.

We have shared several of Alon Goldstein’s collaborative studio videos to our own Conservatory pages. These collaborations have fostered the connection between Alon and his students and encouraged the opportunity to continue learning and playing, as well as growing their personal and professional relationships.

It is through his lifelong connections that Alon Goldstein started his video series “Alon not Alone” on his Facebook page, where he interviews other esteemed pianists on a variety of topics. Goldstein also has been doing virtual Facebook concerts, “A Musical Bonbon with Alon.”

COVID-19 and social distancing has been hard for everyone, including for musicians and performers who depend not only on our audiences but on our collaborative colleagues. The creativity of Rosenkranz, Chen, and Goldstein keeps them engaged with their students and with the greater musical community, moving us forward into whatever shape the future of the performing arts takes these next few months.

–Jessica Riggins

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