Since 1991 internationally renowned pianists have been coming to Ithaca College to perform free concerts. This year, Peter Serkin is bringing his classical and contemporary expertise to campus.
Jennifer Hayghe, assistant professor of music performance, said the most exciting thing about Serkin’s appearance on Nov. 28 is the unusual range of his selections.
“There’s a Bach piece on the program that certainly most of us study in our piano literature courses … and we actually get the opportunity to hear it played live,” Hayghe said. “He’s also a specialist of Messiaen, the French contemporary composer, and he’s playing a Messiaen set on this program, which is again very exciting. It’s something we don’t hear very often and to hear one of the world’s experts on the subject play it is a real bonus.”
Serkin is coming to the college as part of the annual Rachel S. Thaler Concert Pianist Series. The endowed series was founded 16 years ago by Manley Thaler, Rachel’s son.
Arthur Ostrander, dean of the James J. Whalen School of Music, said when Manley Thaler first approached the college about the series, Ostrander thought it was a “fabulous idea.”
“What a wonderful way to pay tribute to someone’s mother, who herself was an accomplished pianist,” Ostrander said. “We are always looking for opportunities to present international artists to the college and greater Ithaca community and this would give us an opportunity to present artists of that stature for free concerts.”
Rachel Thaler briefly attended the Ithaca Conservatory of Music — Ithaca College’s original name — but had to leave to take over a family business before she could finish her degree.
Despite the life change, Thaler remained passionate about music and attended many Ithaca College concerts, including all the Thaler Series performances until her death in 2004.
Hayghe said the college promotes the series during the music school’s recruiting and audition periods. Once students are on campus they always attend the Thaler series, she said.
“It’s an opportunity for them to hear a major artist and a major program, and they don’t have to go all the way to New York City to do it,” Hayghe said.
Senior Mary Holzhauer, a piano performance major, said she heard about the Thaler Series as a prospective student. Though she said the series didn’t sway her decision to come to the college, she has attended its past performances and master classes.
“[The series] is a nice perk,” she said.
Pianists are selected for the series after Ostrander consults with the music school’s piano faculty. He said musicians’ managers sometimes contact the college about participating in the Thaler Series, but other times the faculty approach artists they particularly like and would enjoy having on campus. Past artists have included Garrick Ohlsson, Yefim Bronfman, Jon Nakamatsu, Angela Cheng, Alex Slobodyanik and Alexander Kobrin.
“[The artists] are always so appreciative when they know that the reason they’ve been contacted for a concert is because a donor has an endowment for a series,” Ostrander said.
In addition to the free concert, Thaler Series performers also offer master classes to piano students. Ostrander said four students will get the opportunity to perform a 30-minute set in front of Serkin, faculty and students while Serkin coaches and critiques their work.
“There’s really a direct advantage for our own students,” Ostrander said. “It’s a great honor for any student to be able to play in a master class of any important international artist.”
Ostrander said this year’s master class students have not yet been chosen. Hayghe said those chosen are usually especially prepared students who haven’t participated in a master class.
“We have a number of master classes and we try to be fair and make sure that everybody gets an opportunity to play for someone,” she said.
Whether in the master class or not, Holzhauer, who is a fan of Serkin, said she will be attending the workshop and concert.
“I’m a piano major, and I’m very glad that we can have great pianists coming here,” she said. “The whole series, that every year we have amazing internationally known artists coming, is great.”
Peter Serkin will perform as part of the Rachel S. Thaler Concert Pianist Series at 8:15 p.m. November 28 in Ford Hall in the James J. Whalen School of Music. Admission is free.