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Jeffrey Siegel Brings ‘Keyboard Conversations’ Back To The Wallis, This Time With An American Twist

Jeffrey Siegel

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2016 – 6:15 PM

Concert pianist and self-styled “inoculator” Jeffrey Siegel returns to the Wallis Saturday with a new version of his popular “Keyboard Conversations” concerts —An American Salute.

The recitals, termed “concerts with commentary” feature Siegel prefacing each work with backstory and anecdotes to enhance audiences’ listening experience. “Keyboard Conversations are accessible and inviting,” Siegel said in a phone interview.

His Romantic Music of Chopin last January was well received “and they asked me to come back and I’m delighted,” Siegel said.

The main work on the program of “American composers known for their piano music” will be George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue “in a rarely heard solo piano arrangement that Gershwin wrote for himself,” said Siegel. He wants listeners to marvel at “how Gershwin cooked up the piece, to recognize the ingredients and appreciate how they’re put together. The familiar jazz theme is used several times and dressed up to create a different mood and character.”

Siegel believes he’ll be presenting the L.A. premieres of works by two of America’s most famous composers—an unpublished work by Leonard Bernstein and an only recently published piece by a 16-year-old George Gershwin.

“One of the last things Ira Gershwin (George’s brother and Beverly Hills resident) did was to allow manuscripts sitting around to be published,” reports Siegel. One of these was the prelude Sleepless Night, which will open the concert’s second half.

People will be surprised with Bernstein’s Meditation on a Wedding from Anniversaries, written for his wife Felicia for their 26th anniversary, says Siegel. “It’s an imitate and personal tribute to his wife—and completely different from his other music. It gives a totally new view of the composer who wrote West Side Story.”

Louis Moreau Gottschalk “was the first internationally recognized American composer and pianist,” says Siegel, who will play his The Union—A Patriotic Paraphrase.  Aaron Copeland is part of the program with The Cat and the Mouse, a piece he wrote as a teenager, and the solo piano arrangement of the well-known Hoe-Down from Rodeo.

Researching with biographies and other written works, Siegel aims to take a little information and share it, in layman’s terms—”It’s not a lecture. The goal is for “avid music lovers to be more enriched; and to hopefully reach the would-be music lovers—who rarely attend concerts—who know they’re missing out not having Beethoven in their lives. It’s a gentle inoculation.”

Siegel, who studied with the legendary Rosina Lhévinne at The Juilliard School and as a Fulbright Scholar, has played with all the world’s great orchestras and conductors including “several times in white tie and tails with Zubin Mehta and the California Chamber Orchestra at Royce Hall. “Later, I realized there was a need for these programs to educate, enlighten and make listening to great music more than ear wash.”

It turns out he was right. The concerts take him around the world to cities like London where audiences anticipate the themed programs; and to Chicago where the series has run for 41 years.

And he’s found his niche. Musicians are trained to communicate in notes, Siegel says “so most are uncomfortable talking to an audience. People in my profession who can speak engagingly about music to the average person are rare. But I now have nearly half a century of experience; so it’s easier.”

How does he choose pieces for programs like Franz Liszt: The Devil Made Me Do It!, The Power and Passion of Beethoven and The Sensuous Sonorities of Debussy? “Piano repertoire is a vast treasure trove,” says Siegel. “It you ask my colleagues they’ll all say they feel a magnetic pull that draws them to certain composers and music.” The hard part, Seigel says, is whittling down the countless choices for a two-hour program. 

Siegel points out that he plays the works in full and the session is followed with a Q&A. “When I was at The Wallis last time I think people enjoyed the opportunity to ask the person up on stage questions. I’ve been asked how I got Bernstein’s unpublished music; and then there was the 9-year-old boy who asked ‘how many hours did Bach have to practice.’”

Scott Jopin’s Wall Street Rag and Edward MacDowell’s To A Wild Rose will round out the program.  Says Siegel, “I hope everybody leaves having not only learned something, but touched by the music having heard it with fresh ears.”

“Keyboard Conversations With Jeffrey Siegel—An American Salute,” 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 267, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Peforming Arts. Tickets, ranging from $39-$99, are available by phone at 310-246-3800, online at http://thewallis.org/showinfo.php?id=94, or at the box office, 9390 Santa Monica Blvd.

—Steve Simmons

 

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