With his sleeves rolled up and a pencil in hand, renowned pianist Alan Feinberg worked with students in a master class and then performed for community members in a recital this week. Piano students Leslie Chong ’04, Ryan McNaughton ’01 and Aaron Berman ’01 made music in Thompson Memorial Chapel on Thursday, while Feinberg listened, laughed and taught, improving and perfecting student performance.
Feinberg is a renowned pianist who specializes in contemporary music. He has premiered over 200 pieces and has performed throughout the world with groups such as the American Symphony, the New World Symphony and the Syracuse Symphony. He is a visiting professor at the Juilliard School of Music.
Chong, McNaughton and Berman performed works from different periods, then worked with Feinberg for 45 minute blocks. During these sessions, Feinberg offered guidance to students with unintimidating enthusiasm. The students performed, then discussed their pieces’ technical challenges and melodic meaning.
Chong, a student of Doris Stevenson, had prepared her piece months before entering Williams and opened the program with the Fugue from the Piano Sonata by Samuel Barber, a work of the mid-20th century. The piece introduced Chong as a pianist with much energy, musicality and technical skill, as her fingers rapidly and flawlessly passed over the keyboard. Feinberg congratulated her by acknowledging the piece’s difficulty, also praising Chong’s technical skill and discussing the piece’s texture, voice and character. Feinberg and Chong then discussed how the piece’s energy comes from its syncopations. Feinberg reviewed selected syncopations and encouraged Chong to adjust her dynamic for each section.
Next on the program was Ryan McNaughton, another student of Stevenson, who performed a Romantic piece, the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 by Franz Liszt. McNaughton has worked on his piece since last spring. As in Chong’s piece, McNaughton’s technique was well displayed through the fast tempi. Feinberg first sarcastically welcomed “another easy piece,” then encouraged McNaughton to criticize himself. The pianists discussed McNaughton’s technique and phrasing, which Feinberg believed to be “plenty brilliant.” He then advised McNaughton in “playing rests as well as notes.” During the slower, more melodic sections, Feinberg boldly told McNaughton to “start looking sexy.” McNaughton, a student of four master classes at Williams, believed Feinberg to be helpful in that he “forced me to concentrate on this piece’s phrasing.”
Concluding the master class was Aaron Berman ’01, a student of Ed Lawrence. Berman performed a classical work, Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, on which he has been working seriously since the beginning of the school year. The piece includes slower sections than Chong’s and McNaughton’s pieces, showing off Berman’s exquisite musicality. Feinberg initiated conversation about the piece by questioning, “What is it with this piece?” Berman responded by stating the piece’s strange aspects, while Feinberg agreed and proceeded to note the piece’s development from “strange to stranger.” Berman found Feinberg’s technical advice “more useful than his stylistic advice, since [his stylistic advice] just reflects Feinberg’s opinion over [Berman’s opinion], and each pianist has a different interpretation of the piece.”
To personalize and conclude the evening, Feinberg and students went out to Spring Street’s Thai Food restaurant where the group discussed teaching piano, Feinberg’s students at Juilliard School of Music and Feinberg’s Spanish rock star friends.
Feinberg demonstrated his own talent and musical interpretations in a recital in Brooks-Rodgers Auditiorium. The performance, on Saturday, Sept. 29, was well attended by piano students and music lovers alike.
Feinberg introduced the concert with welcoming words to create an intimate atmosphere. He opened his performance with J.S. Bach’s “Chormatic Fantasy and Fugue,” one of Bach’s few dissonant pieces. Although Feinberg’s illness and nausea hindered him from completing the piece from memory, he brought out the beauty and clarity of typical baroque Bach. Due to his illness, Feinberg stopped mid-fugue to rest and go backstage to find his music. With help from a page-turner who was not expecting to turn pages that evening, Feinberg completed the Bach.
Feinberg proceeded to perform works of composers representative of different musical periods, including multiple works by Bach, Chopin, and contemporary works by Roger Sessions and Galina Ustvolskaya. Despite his illness, he completed the performance almost flawlessly. Feinberg’s light touch on the piano gives him a clear sound that resonated throughout the hall.
The program’s context made the performance move quickly. The change from
Chopin to Sessions made an interesting contrast that intrigued the audience. The second half of the performance also held an interesting contrast with a Bach Sinfonia in E Minor, and Ustvolskaya Twelve Preludes and another Bach Toccata in D Major. The further shift from contemporary to baroque made the performance unique and memorable.