Communique: Pianist Barry Salwen Performs At Kenan Auditorium Tuesday Night | "Rush Hour"

Sep 18, 2017

International Concert Pianist Barry Salwen is kicking off the Rush Hour Concert Series at Kenan Auditorium Tuesday night (9/19) at 6:30pm. We had a chance to speak to Salwen and hear him play when he was our special guest at A Little Lunch Music this month. Kristin Brogdon, Director of the UNCW's Office of the Arts, was also there.

Listen to a short interview above or see a longer interview below. You can also view a videotape (with all the music) of Salwen's visit to WHQR here.

Salwen's Rush  Hour Concert begins Tuesday evening at 6:30. The other performers for fall are David Russell and Port City Blues (October 17), Massive Grass (November 14), and Da Howlies Holiday Luau (December 19). Showtime is 6:30pm for all concertes. 

Gina: Barry, thank you so much for coming today and tell us what you just played.

Barry: This is the first movement of the Schubert E-Flat Sonata. It's kind of a middle period piece. Schubert wrote a whole 20 odd piano sonatas which are among the great works for the piano and this one is a favorite of mine because it's just so purely lyrical. I'm sure you picked that up listening to it. It's just pure song and pleasure. And Schubert was a great song composer. This song really typifies that character and I just really like playing it. So that's why I chose that for today.

Gina: So, by the way, if this is your first time here this is called A Little Lunch Music. This is a new thing we've been doing for a few months here at WHQR, we hope to keep continuing to do it. It is the first Friday of the month- first Fridays at noon where we have a guest artist and musician from the community or from outside the community come in and play music- you bring your lunch. This is a casual affair. This is absolutely a relaxed environment and we want you to be comfortable and we want this to be a nice way to end the week on just a nice escape from the week and start your weekend well. Barry Salwen- Dr. Salwen- is going to be performing at UNCW on September 19th. We'll talk about that in a little bit. But right now Barry, what's the next piece of music you're going to play for us?

Barry: Chopin. I knew I'd get a reaction to that. I'm going to play two nocturnes. So we're still in song, but Chopin's song language- if you will- is rather different. Though he loved Italian opera, so he certainly loved the peak of song. Schubert is different. Anyway, so two nocturnes. One of which has quite a dramatic climax. So the nocturnes aren't always just calm and expressive.

Gina: So let me take this opportunity to say that Barry Salwen is going to be performing September 19th and what day of the week is that? Tuesday. And on Tuesday he'll be playing at UNCW's Keenan Auditorium. And actually Kristin Brogdon is here and Kristen. Kristen come on tell us real quick. This is Barry's next performance and he has some other ones he's going to tell us about as well. Kristen, tell us about this Rush Hour that you're doing it at Kenen Auditorium.

Kristen: So this is a new concert series that we started this year and we're really excited to continue it this fall and Dr. Salwen's concert is the first of four concerts that will be happening this fall. They're intended also to be relatively informal. We're featuring lots of different genres of music and Dr. Salwen's is the second classical concert that we've done, but we'll also have blues and bluegrass and in December there's a little holiday luau that's coming up that should be fun. The concerts are at 6:30 in the evening, they're usually on the second or third Tuesday of the month and they're about an hour long. Tickets are $10. There will be refreshments that you can bring in and it's a chance for people who are aficionados or who are curious about these styles of music to come and listen and just enjoy themselves in a relatively informal environment. No intermission style concert at Kenen on these Tuesdays and Dr. Salwen has put together a really lovely kind of autumnal program for this particular concert and we're very excited about it. So thank you.

Gina: And by the way, this is Kristin Brogdon who is the Director of the Office of the Arts at UNCW. So thank you Kristen. And I know that Barry has not played anything he's going to be playing yet on that Tuesday concert. Barry, I'm going to just hand the microphone to you and will you tell us about some of the other things that you do? Some of the people you perform with, some other upcoming concerts, and also what you do with Mr. Robert Nathanson?

Barry: OK, so the scoop is that I actually don't do anything with Rob Nathanson. I think you may be thinking of my colleague. Rob runs this- kind of oversees- series at the Cameron Museum- and this is devoted to living or- I think more living than dead American composers- and so that's where I have performed there. And the most recent was maybe a year and some ago and I played some etudes of William Baulkham, which I guess he gave it to me because nobody else would take on the challenge. They're quite difficult. They're so difficult that the composer was making them available free because I mean, who's buying into something as hard as that? Anyway, that was a really good program. So that's what I do periodically play there. The up and coming thing.

So first of all, this Rush Hour concert coming up on Tuesday 19th, which I'm really excited about. And, as you heard Kristen say, in good company because after that is a blues band and then there's a bluegrass band called Massive Grass. I mean, how can you miss that? You know, it's coming in November and then a Hawaiian luau, which I imagine steel drums and I'm not sure what else in December. That should be a very nice series. To take them all in because they're different. And then the thing I'm doing after that- this is a busy fall- the Wilmington Symphony is performing one of its regular concerts on October 14th and I'm playing a Mozart concerto with the symphony and it's a total favorite that I've wanted to perform for a long time- the C Minor Concerto. If you think of Mozart is pretty and beautifully melodious, that's all true but this piece is turbulent. It's dark. And one of the few pieces of Mozart that was a regular popular piece during the 19th century. And of course, Mozart came back in the 19th century- he was a little neglected, but not a piece like this. So if you want to hear the great C Minor Concerto and also Brahms. And then on the 21st- the week later- I'm playing a snippet of a program by a new organization that I want to be sure people have heard about called the Wilmington Music Society. I think I have that right. Do I have this right?

Wilmington Music Festival, I'm sorry. It is being newly formed. Some of you may know Nicolle Wallace, who is a singer whose father was Michael Wallace who was also a singer and an M.D. and some of you may have encountered- anyway, so she and her now husband Isaac Sidikov, who was a pianist, are putting this festival together. It's meant to grow into something pretty substantial with a big competition and all kinds of events. It will be a little small or at least just right now, but there will be community events, community outreach, including a program at Snipes Academy in the week before. But anyway, this concert is Gala Concert at Thalian Hall.

You can walk there from here, right? Thalian Hall on the 21st of October, so just a week after the Wilmington Symphony performance I'm doing. There will be 10 performers, five singers- some of whom I'll be accompanying- two violinist, and three pianists of whom I'm one. And one of the pieces I'm doing on that you're going to hear right now. The Pizzicado Polka of Johann Strauss arranged by Otto Schulhof. And so I think, you know, you'll enjoy that piece and you'll enjoy the program. So again, it's October 21st- Saturday. At Thalian Hall. It's 7:30 and there'll be all kinds of glittering stuff going on. My colleague Nancy King will be singing and a soprano you could have heard of, Christine Whiting, or who actually- for those with long memories and long period of time listen to WHQR- she sang a concert here maybe 20 years ago. Anyway, she's sung in opera houses all over the world. I mean, La Scala, the Vienna State Opera, those kinds of opera houses. So that will be, I think, a really excellent performance. So between the Rush Hour where my program is devoted mostly to summer with an autumnal shift in there- because it's still summer- September 19 is still summer- with a little autumnal turn also. That's just two and a half weeks from now and then I have those two things in October. So I'm a little bit of a busy boy this fall and that's, of course, with my regular day job, which happens to be teaching you at UNCW. So they keep me running around.

Gina: How do you choose the music that you really love to play? I think you choose interesting composers to play. What makes it something that Barry would like?

Barry: I don't know, sometimes it chooses me. You know, that's what happened with Sessions- Roger Sessions- which you mentioned before, who's a really great American composer. And like the vocal majors I was mentioning, his music tends to be very difficult and that's not why I undertook it, but I found it to be that way and that I didn't care any more because I really liked the music. But I just kind of found my way to it. And when I did I had to do it. It was that simple. I just had to play this music. Even so much so that one day- it was only one day, but still- I got up early to practice Sessions. You don't know what a compromise this is for me. That music totally, totally chose me in a way. And Schubert too. I mean, I've been playing him since I was quite young and I remember my teacher commenting that most teenage- when I was at Juilliard- and that most teenage pianists would play Beethoven, but I was playing Schubert's Sonatas. And that wasn't a conscious choice. It was just music that attracted me such that I had to do it. So I think that's a lot of how it happens and then yes, I do want to program interesting music that's maybe a little different from what you normally hear. So I get to choose among some of my favorite music to play. You know, as part of a program. So the Pizzicato Polka. Well, I mean, first of all, it's just purely fun. So I really like it for that reason.

And of course, those of you who know me, you know that I'm very attracted to Vienna. I spent two years there. That was my choice. It wasn't because I was drafted to the Austrian army or the Austrian Navy. I spent two years in Vienna very much wanting to do so and feel very close connection with the Viennese style, so, you know, you give me Johann Strauss and I'm happy. So this is a really fun arrangement of that. And then the other piece I'll play in this pair is a prelude and that is the piece that will be on the Rush Hour concert that you'll hear. I heard another pianist perform it and I was- I loved it. Just the incredible sensitivity of his piano writing. But this piece was just bewitching. It has a long name. You've all heard of Clair de Lune, but this is a different Clair de Lune. Not that one. It's a much later piece from the second book of preludes. So it's the light of the moon for audiences on a moonlit terrace and it's absolutely gorgeous. I think bewitching piece. Debussy I've always been attracted to. I'm not sure why that's happened. He's a great composer. I've always had more of a tendency to the dramatic composers but Debussy has always grabbed me, so I love playing music. So those are the next two pieces.

Gina: Barry, before you play the next piece, will you tell us one thing, which is- how did you become a pianist? What happened in your childhood that made you go down this road?

Barry: So you want the Freudian version or? So I'd love to tell you that I was going over to the piano at three and playing tunes by ear and, you know, total prodigy- begging for lessons when I was four and a half. And it's really great. And some people would tell you that, but I can't tell you that story. At least that's not my story. No, it was much more humdrum than that. My father had been an aspiring pianist and he gave it up and handed me the flag. And so at 7 he said, you want to play the piano? I said, OK. More or less it was like that. And so I started playing and it turned out I was pretty good at it, so I kept going. And it wasn't, at least, at an earlier stage of calling at a certain point, yeah it was something, OK I'm not going to stop doing this. But it kind of developed over time and kind of built on itself. So it's not the usual kind of prodigy story. But nonetheless, I can say this- except for two days working a temp job, I've never done anything but music professionally.

Gina: Two days?

Barry: Two days.

Gina: Did you get fired?

Barry: I think this was a mutual agreement. So my whole professional life has been music. Of course I have other interests in other things but I've always- and this is, I think, a very good point of encouragement for my students who will come saying, you know, I'm thinking about a major in music and what can I do with my major in music?- and I'll tell them that as kind of a first point of departure. You really can do it right. You can do music as a living, as a profession, as a passion in life. That is something you just don't want to stop doing and so you always do it.

Gina: We’re having the second meeting in a week or so of musicians- classical musicians- in town who are meeting because there's so much music going on in Wilmington that they want to work with each other about not overscheduling all the stuff at the same time. That makes me really happy that there's a problem with too much music in Wilmington. Too much classical music in Wilmington. That's a great problem. And of course, the classical presenters and musicians are working on that. You only have one more piece that you’re going to play?

Barry: Well actually I think that's not my ending piece.

Gina: It's not your ending?

Barry: No. But it is here. It's an exciting piece of happy and joyous and all that do you want to hear about that piece?

Gina: I do. First, I'd like to know if anyone has any questions for Dr. Salwen. Then tell us about the piece and we end with the music. I like to start with the music and end with the music.

Stan: Hi I'm Stan McElroy. Barry, I've seen you play a number of times and usually in a concert setting UNCW. I read years ago that the only two instruments that it is customarily expected not to have music in a concert setting are the piano and the violin- that every other instrument is allowed to have music. I'm wondering- you're using music today- do you find a different performing experience when you're playing with and without music? Is there more pressure or less?

Barry:  So okay, one thing is there is some truth in that. I mean, cellists will also perform from memory, others may do so. You know, the more soloistic the performance, the more of the tendency to play without score. But that convention has really changed in recent times. So you'll see famous pianists playing standard repertoire and they'll play with score, or you'll see part of the concert with score, part of the concert without score. The idea that you perform a concert from memory is no longer a constant at all. It's a different experience. I'm playing with score here because when I'm switching hats, I find that it's just a lot easier. You know, if I'm playing a whole program, I'm just focusing on that. That's different from talking and then playing and talking and then playing. So it's more comfortable in that case, but I might also do that- play one piece with score and one without- in the course of a concert. I've done it. But I remember years ago already, when I was much younger and Richard Good was a famous pianist, he played a Beethoven sonata with a score. And he recorded all the Beethoven, so it's become pretty common now and it's something you maybe notice more if someone plays a complex 20th century piece without score. But other than that it's become kind of a non event at this point, whichever way it's done.

Gina: But the difference in playing with or without scores- is there a spiritual or mental difference?

Barry: I guess, I guess there can be. I mean when you really don't have any anchor or any shackle, when you're just focused entirely- that's one kind of experience. Playing with score is fine, too. Up until the 19th century that's how concerts were done. I think Beethoven was a pretty good pianist. As a matter of fact, I see how he came to Vienna, took Vienna by storm, was as a concert pianist. Nobody played without score then. So it can be a different relationship. I think just a different one, no one not more valid than the other one, more exciting than the other. You know, it's just a matter of performance choice. Whatever you like, you do it. As long as you have that kind of unfettered involvement in the piece with or without the music itself.

Gina: Any other questions? So at this time, will you tell us about this last piece that you will be performing?

Barry: Yeah. And I really I'm really kind of excited about it. This is from a set by Fanny Mendelssohn. Fanny was the sister of Felix Mendelssohn. But she was a very gifted and accomplished composer in her own right. And that's becoming increasingly recognized. And there's a funny anecdote. It may be true- sometimes anecdotes actually are true. Mendelssohn was on good terms with Queen Victoria of England. I don't know whether intimate enough to call by first names or call her Queenie or something, but he was on good terms. He visited, he went to and from England and he had audiences with her repeatedly. And on one occasion he had a book of his songs- at least so goes the story- anyway, and so the queen pointed to one and said, That one's my favorite. And then he honestly and a bit chagrined admitted to her, Well actually, that was my sister who wrote that one, Fanny.

So she was a really, really gifted composer, some of whose music was published under his name. But it was disapproved at that time for women to be composers. But nowadays her music is becoming more and more mainstream. And anyway, this is a piece called The Year and it's one piece for each month of the year and kind of based on an Italian trip that she took. An extensive trip which was kind of a highlight, I think, of her life. And so these pieces are at least partly impressions or reactions to that. And so they kind of span the gamut of emotions and I'll be playing three of them on the Rush Hour concert that you will, of course, all be hearing. And this one is August and it's a very kind of triumphal, joyous piece evoking the harvest. So that will be my concluding number.

Transcription assistance from PopUpArchives & Produciton Assistant Lindsay Wright