Michelle Powell, Kuo-Wei Wang, Carol Henry, Louis Reichwein, Janet Shipko

Jeffrey Siegel has been touring the country with his successful concert series, Keyboard Conversations, for over 30 years. He performs at the George Mason Center for the Performing Arts four times a year. On March 3rd, some of us enjoyed his Chopin and Liszt concert, together with his insightful and humorous stories. I have benefited from this series since way back in the ’90s. This time, it was a pleasure to be with Carol Henry, Janet Shipko, Louis Reichwein and Kuo-Wei Wang. As a bonus, we ended up sitting right behind Dale Dean, an AMSF member, and his wife, Jean. They bought their tickets separately. What are the chances? The couple attended their first Siegel concert this past November and they were back!

I love the way Siegel plays sections of pieces and explains them before performing the pieces in their entirety. At this concert, Siegel talked about and played the four themes in the Waltz in Ab major, Op. 42, and the recurring transition from one theme to the next. So, by the time we heard the waltz in full, we knew exactly what was happening. 

Siegel talked about how Chopin preferred to play in salons, so his earlier compositions were written for smaller audiences. As Chopin gained popularity, however, he had to compose pieces for larger audiences. He composed the Grande Polonaise Brillante, Opus 22, with this in mind. It was written to show off Chopin’s genius and virtuosity, and to get the crowd on its feet at the conclusion of the program.

Unlike Chopin, Liszt was a showman and therefore wrote and performed for large audiences. I had known that Liszt was a superstar with his amazingly good looks, flamboyant personality and immense talent. Siegel, however, helped me to understand just how much of an icon Liszt was in his day. Siegel mentioned that it is difficult for us to comprehend just how big of a megastar Liszt was during his lifetime because there is no comparable star today. Think of all the people the world today considers superstars. In pop culture, would that include Taylor Swift? Well, Liszt mania was far more than the Taylor Swift following! It was like that of Elvis Presley or the Beatles when fans would swoon at the sight of their idols. Think about it: Liszt was around two centuries ago — when there was no television or radio, much less, social media! 

Apart from being a composer and piano virtuoso, Liszt was an arranger. Some of his transcriptions were as good or ever better than the originals. Robert Schumann was Liszt’s contemporary. Most of us probably know that Schumann was married to Clara, an accomplished pianist in her own right. But did you know that the couple tried to sue Clara’s father? Here is the back story: Schumann was a student of the celebrated piano teacher Friedrich Weick, Clara’s father. One would think that a piano teacher would love to have a pianist as a son-in-law. Ironically, Clara’s father was against the idea of his daughter marrying a musician, so he made it difficult for Schumann to marry Clara. The lovers went to court to sue Clara’s father. At last, when Schumann was finally able to marry Clara, he became an even more prolific composer, fully inspired by his beautiful and talented wife. Among Schumann’s compositions inspired by Clara was Spring Night (Fruhlingsnacht). Seigel performed this romantic melody for us.

The program ended with a Questions and Answers section, characteristic of Siegel Keyboard Conversations. A member of the audience asked if Siegel would perform contemporary classical pieces, perhaps including his own works. Siegel acknowledged that he has his own compositions but self-deprecatingly said “Why waste your time?” and pointed us to his upcoming program. He did encourage the audience to try their hand at composition as part of being a well-rounded musician.

I find Siegel’s concerts so educational and entertaining. If you have an interest in attending his future performances, let me know!