GVSU to host annual contemporary piano festival

By Tasman Mattox | 10/22/17 10:33pm

GVL / Courtesy - gvsu.edu

The 20th/21st-Century Piano Festival will bring a range of piano students to Grand Valley State University’s Sherman Van Solkema Recital Hall Saturday, Oct. 28. There will be recitals throughout the day, beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing into the afternoon, with performances by professors, college students and young performers alike.

“This is performance opportunity," said Sookkyung Cho, assistant professor of piano at GVSU and event coordinator. "Pre-college students don’t really get as many opportunities to play for people they don’t know.” 

This is Cho’s third year at GVSU and her third year leading the piano festival, which focuses on music composed in the 20th and 21st centuries.

“During this time, the style of composition is so varied that it’s hard to pinpoint what is a style for the centuries,” Cho said. “We have students coming from elementary school through high school, and they get to experience what other types of piano music is.” 

The festival will also be debuting a brand new piano piece, "Tiny Machines," by Bill Ryan, a GVSU composition professor and director of the New Music Ensemble.

“All we asked was it was a four-hand piece on one piano and that the time limit was five to seven minutes,” Cho said. “It is rhythmically and technically challenging, and it features many aspects of the piano in that is uses the full range of colors that you can get out of certain registers. It’s very driven. It evokes the sound of engines.”

Ryan will be conducting the GVSU New Music Ensemble at the festival. 

“I founded the group in 2006, shortly after I was hired here," Ryan said. "I wanted to create a group that was focused on very recent classical music in a chamber setting. We hope to share a little bit about what Grand Valley has to offer, and playing in this ensemble is definitely a possibility for pianists.”

Ryan believes every performance allows for a unique lesson in audience engagement for the ensemble members.

“We perform on campus quite a bit for audiences that often are their parents, for example, but we also do outreach things to schools, and they have to learn how to communicate,” Ryan said. “This particular festival has a huge age range, so them being able to successfully navigate that audience is a skill that will be pretty practical once they get out of here.”

Cho said the event will also be an opportunity for students to get some feedback. 

“We’re also having a guest judge," Cho said. "It’s not a competition, but the students will get comments so they have something to take away. I’ll be judging, too. We have about 60 kids coming in; it’s almost double the number of last year.” 

The 20th/21st-Century Piano Festival will have a wide variety of performance to explore. 

“I always hope that we open up people’s ears and eyes to what’s possible in music,” Ryan said.

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