This week’s piano festival by the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation follows on the heels of an exceptional concert season. The three-day event will feature outstanding pianists as well as students who will be performing, along with master classes led by guest artists and educators.
Guest artists and educators include Spencer Myer, an internationally acclaimed pianist who is on the faculty at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music; Chaeyoung Park, also a virtuoso artist who won the silver medal at the 2016 Bachauer competition, and Douglas Humpherys, Bachauer’s first gold medalist who serves as the foundation’s artistic director and is professor of piano at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. Myer and Park will perform evening concerts on June 22 and 23, respectively, at 7:30 p.m., in the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts.
Master classes will be held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with Humpherys (June 22) and Myer (June 23). The final day (June 24) will highlight a concert and closing reception, starting at 6 p.m., with festival students performing. They include: Munan Cheng, Lewis Fang, Charlotte Giraudeau, Andrew (Sijie) Li, Auston Li, Brian Li, Matthew Liu and Haruki Takeuchi. The students, ranging in age from 14 to 17, were selected through an international screening process.
Master classes are free and open to the public. All events will be held at the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are available for each of the three concerts and a festival pass can be purchased to cover all three. For more information, see the Bachauer website.
Myer and Park agreed to interviews with The Utah Review and the following feature highlights those moments.
Pianist Spencer Myer’s family roots are steeped in music. His father was an engineer but his first degree was in classical guitar. His mother was a self-taught church organist and his grandparents were musically trained as well.The young Myer recalls listening to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Van Cliburn’s historic recordings of Tchaikovsky. He played baseball as a kid but he wanted piano lessons,,which he started at the age of six. “I was a normal kid and I started practicing a half hour a day and then moved to an hour a day,” he recalls, in an interview with The Utah Review.
The turning point came, at 12, when his parents bought a new piano, and he became obsessed with how everything now sounded “so clear and easy” on the instrument.
Obviously many parents and even kids consider that they likely will make a better living as a lawyer or doctor. Myer says he was lucky though because his parents said that he should make music his career because he was thinking about music all the time. Raised in Ohio, he remembers how he and his father always sat in the front row when a pianist soloed with the Cleveland Orchestra. “I had never thought before that playing the piano could be a career,” he explains, adding that realizing this flipped a switch inside him and he focused on going to a conservatory. He would eventually go to Oberlin, Juilliard and Stonybrook University. Of course, as an adult, among the many orchestras where he performed as soloist, Cleveland was on the list.
And, in his current post as associate professor of music in piano at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, one of his colleagues is a legendary virtuoso idol: André Watts.
Myer’s palette is diverse. His love of Scott Joplin’s piano rags including the Maple Leaf Rag led to his curiosity about William Bolcom’s piano rags, which he recorded for a debut album in 2017 with Steinway & Sons. His subsequent recordings have included a collaboration with cellist Brian Thornton, encompassing repertoire of Brahms, Debussy and Schumann, as well as his latest solo release, Chopin’ s Four Impromptus for the Steinway Classics series.
Bachauer piano festival audience members will be treated to all-Debussy program, with Myers performing the composer’s two books of Préludes. The set of 24 includes some of Debussy’s most recognizable works for solo piano: La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), La cathédrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral) and Ondine. Myer says he has always been fascinated with Debussy’s capacity to express emotions and colors through his music.
While he admits that it is difficult to pick a favorite from the set of 24, he is drawn to the beauty of Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow) from Book I, an “amazing rendition of the cold, lonely, bleak snowy landscape.” Likewise, The Engulfed Cathedral is an “impressionistic masterpiece” where the sonority of an organ and bells paints the juxtaposed grandeur and intimacy of water. From Book II, Myer finds Ondine perfect for its artistic counterpoint. He is drawn to the water nymph’s seductive yet dangerous beauty. Also, Myer enjoys Book II’s Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses (Fairies are exquisite dancers), which were inspired by original illustrations for Peter Pan.
Myer also is active as a chamber musician, having appeared for five summers at the Lev Aronson Legacy Festival with cellists Adrian Daurov, Lynn Harrell, Ralph Kirshbaum, Amit Peled and Brian Thornton. He also has a recurring partnership with the Miami String Quartet at the Kent/Blossom Music Festival. Other artistic partners include clarinetist David Shifrin, soprano Nicole Cabell and the Jupiter and Pacifica string quartets.
Like many Bachauer soloists, Myer has excelled at international piano competitions. He won the 2004 UNISA International Piano Competition in South Africa, the 2006 Christel DeHaan Classical Fellowship from the American Pianists Association and the Gold Medal from the 2008 New Orleans International Piano Competition.
If there was ever a testimonial for the impact of pregnant mothers playing classical music for their babies in hopes of making them musicians, Chaeyoung Park would be hard to beat. “My parents genuinely loved classical music and they played a box set of famous classical music selections over and over again,” Park says in an interview with The Utah Review.
Growing up in Korea, Park asked her mother if she could take piano lessons and her grandmother gave a Yamaha instrument to the family. She moved quickly through the introductory lessons with five different teachers, until one suggested that she start taking private lessons. She says that as early as kindergarten, she was practicing as seriously as she would do later in her teens and as a college student. At the age of nine, she participated in her first piano competition.
When she was 10, her teacher was named a visiting professor at the University of Kansas so the family packed up and decided to move to the U.S. so Park could continue her studies. “We had no idea about living in America and when we got to Kansas we realized this was not a popular destination for classical music,” she adds.
Nevertheless, her progress accelerated as quickly as it did back in Korea. At 14, Park notched her first concerto engagement — the Heritage Philharmonic Orchestra, with James Murray conducting.
She was accepted into Juilliard and won the silver medal at Bachauer’s International Young Artists competition, at the age of 18. A year later, she became the first female Korean pianist to win the 2019 Hilton Head International Piano Competition. She also studied with Robert McDonald, including most recently for the Juilliard Artist Diploma.
Park’s versatility has expanded significantly. She enjoys playing music from earlier eras, such as Rameau, on period instruments. While her repertoire covers the Romantic Era from the mid-1800s to early 1900s, she also enjoys playing on commissions for contemporary composers. One of her favorite projects is performing at Yellow Barn, an international center for chamber music in Putney, Vermont. She also has played music by Unsuk Chin, whom she met and participated with in an international Korean music festival. Chin, one of only a small handful of women composers to win the prestigious Grawemeyer Award, has been featured in recent years in concerts by NOVA Chamber Music Series, Utah Symphony and Westminster College Performing Arts Series.
For her Bachauer concert, Park will perform works by Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Brahms. From Debussy, she will feature Étude No. 1, pour les cinq doigts d’après Monsieur Czerny. She says it is a sneak peek at her programming for next season, which will feature the entire set of 12 pieces. Debussy once remarked that the Études set was “a warning to pianists not to take up the musical profession unless they have remarkable hands.” Park sees the first Étude “as a hilarious way to start the concert,” given that its opening journey is based on a simple C major scale.
From Rachmaninoff, she offers four of the Russian composer’s small yet mighty gems, including some that will sound familiar to Bachauer audiences: Prelude in G Major, op. 32, no. 5; Prelude in G-sharp Minor, op. 32, no. 12; Etude-tableau in E-flat Minor, op. 33, no. 6 and Prelude in B Minor, op. 32, no. 10. This will be followed by three sections from the Guido Agosti transcription of Stravinsky’s Firebird ballet score, including the Danse infernale, Berceuse and Finale. Park says the first half is like a journey through an art gallery that is filled with different emotional landscapes.
Park will devote the second half to Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, op. 5, a work in five movements that the composer completed at the age of 20. This piano solo work signifies Brahms’ tremendous affinity for Beethoven and Mendelssohn as well as his love for German poetry, along with his friendship with violinist Joseph Joachim. She performed the sonata, which she describes as a portrait of the composer’s “old soul,” for her appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York City.