World’s best pianists at ECU for festival

Young musicians from around the country have converged on East Carolina University’s campus for an intense week of master classes with some of the world’s best pianists at the East Carolina Piano Festival.

The festival continues through Sunday in the ECU School of Music.

On Monday afternoon, Jackie Yong took the A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall stage and played a piece by Chopin for guest instructor Jerome Lowenthal, a longtime Juilliard School faculty member.

Yong, a Florida State University doctoral student, traveled from his home in Miri, Malaysia, to ECU as one of 20 people selected for the festival’s Young Artists Program. Being able to learn from Lowenthal and other high-caliber instructors is an amazing opportunity, said Yong, who was still adjusting from jet lag. “The fantastic faculty, everyone wants to study with them. It’s a privilege to be able to join this and be close to them in conversation and study with them,” he said.

Peers listen as Yao performs in Fletcher Recital Hall during an East Carolina Piano Festival master class.

Peers listen as Yao performs in Fletcher Recital Hall during an East Carolina Piano Festival master class.

It’s a mutually enriching experience, Lowenthal said. “In particular my effort to find the way of saying what I think and suggesting things to the students, that effort itself is a creative effort and works reciprocally,” he said. “They all have fine teachers, and their teachers give them suggestions as how to play, but sometimes just the fact that it’s in a different context gives new ideas, new ways of looking at the same things, and that can be very helpful.”

Jackson Klauke, a rising junior and music education major at ECU, said the festival consistently brings in phenomenal, world-class pianists whom he never would have met or been able to work with otherwise. It’s his second year in the program.

“It’s nice to get tons of different feedback — by the end of this I’ll have feedback from five different people in just a week — so getting those different opinions and informing my own view of how to play the pieces, and then also hearing some fantastic musicians,” Klauke said.  “There’s just going to be a lot of music filling the hall.”

During the week, each student has lessons and master classes that are critiqued by guest artists and ECU instructors. Master class pieces are performed in front of their peers.

“It’s always scary getting up on stage, but the more I play, the more I can learn to enjoy what I’m doing. It helps other facets in life too like public speaking and getting up in front of people,” Klauke said. “To be in a room with so many fantastic musicians, we all share the love of music. It is nerve wracking, but we’re all here to embrace on a musical journey together. It’s great to be in that environment.”

Everyone came with a specific purpose, which is to improve their musicianship, Yong said. Listening to different repertoires and interpretations by others is helpful. “Sometimes it can be a bit awkward to play in front of other pianists. It has a different kind of vibe. But knowing that everyone wants to learn and become better, encouraging each other, that’s one of the good things about the festival,” he said.

Participants in this year’s Young Artists Program range in age from 13 to 27 and come from across the U.S. and abroad, said Keiko Sekino, ECU piano professor and the festival’s director.

“The energy that these young musicians bring in the process of their search for how they like to make music, how they figure out how to be musicians, it’s an exciting time for them,” she said. “For them to be here in residence at ECU for a week and to be exposed to so many opportunities to learn about music, to learn from the guest artists and faculty, but also by listening to each other and getting to know each other, and we get to host it, that’s exciting,”

Lowenthal, who performed on Sunday and teaches at festivals across the country, praised the weeklong festival. “It’s a beautifully organized program with wonderfully gifted people to work with,” said Lowenthal, who has previously taught at the festival.

Remaining public performances include a recital by guest artist Boris Berman at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Fletcher Recital Hall. Tickets are required. Called the “Van Cliburn of today” by the BBC, Berman has performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, The Philharmonia (London), the Toronto Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Houston Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Royal Scottish Orchestra.

Final concerts by students are free and will be at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday in Fletcher Recital Hall. All performances will be live-streamed. Tickets and streaming information can be found through the School of Music.

Yao performs during the East Carolina Piano Festival.

Yao performs during the East Carolina Piano Festival.