By Sophie Smith
On Friday, Feb. 23, internationally-acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Kahane will perform J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations in Willamette’s Smith Auditorium.
This concert is part of the 2017-18 Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series, a program that hosts performances by distinguished musical guests. This semester’s featured artist is Jeffrey Kahane, a celebrated musician living in Oregon.
Kahane’s credentials are extensive. After studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he went on to perform with the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among other symphonies. He has also worked as the director and conductor of music groups, notably the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. During his career he has performed in places like Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, won the grand prize at an international piano competition and has collaborated with other outstanding musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn and more.
The piece Kahane will perform at Willamette, the Goldberg Variations, is a historic composition. In the words of Susan Halpern, who is associated with the Stanford-based St. Lawrence String Quartet, the composition is “one of the great monuments of musical architecture.” Originally composed for the harpsichord, Bach’s piece includes an aria — an expressive melody — which bookends thirty variations of itself.
The story of the piece’s history, while perhaps a bit factually baseless, is compelling. According to legend, Bach was commissioned by a Russian Ambassador living in Dresden, Germany to compose a lyrical piece to help with his insomnia. The resulting nighttime variations were performed by the ambassador’s personal keyboard player, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg — hence the name, ‘The Goldberg Variations.’
Before his performance of the variations, Kahane will be conducting a master class for Willamette students.
“From the beginning of the Series it’s been extremely important to make sure that the people that we invite as artists have interactions with our students,” said Professor Jean-David Coen. Dr. Coen is an Artist-in-Residence at Willamette, teaching piano and music history. He is also the artistic director of the Grace Goudy Distinguished Artists Series. “The musicians that we bring can also give marvelous instruction and enlightening, often inspirational thoughts about the work that they’re doing,” he said.
Most musicians featured in the series are also excellent teachers. Most, in addition to performing concerts, lead educational events when they visit campus, such as master classes and classroom lectures.
Only select students will receive lessons in Mr. Kahane’s master class, but the event is open and free to the public. However, many believe even watching a renowned musician teach can be a valuable experience. Observers can still learn about the interpretation and technical or artistic elements of the music without being the pupil of the lesson. The master class will be held on Thursday, Feb. 22, from 2 — 4 p.m. in Hudson Hall.
Kahane’s visit to Willamette will be a rare experience that all students are being encouraged to take advantage of. His Goldberg Variations concert is at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, in Smith Auditorium. Tickets for WU students cost $5, the faculty and staff price is $18, and the regular price is $23. They may be purchased at boxofficetickets.com. For more information on the concert and Kahane, visit willamette.edu/go/goudy.