(photo: Susan Nisbett, Ann Arbor; Barbara Sherman, Chicago; Nancy Breth (coach), Washington DC)
By Susan Isaacs Nisbett
Like all the children of Lake Wobegon, every session of Kinhaven’s Adult Four-Hand Piano Workshop is above average.
Each year, astonishingly, often seems the best of them all. And indeed, it would hardly be wrong to believe the decades have improved it, if 2018, year 25 for the workshop, under the caring, inspiring direction of its founder, Leander Bien, is the example. The silver-anniversary session rang out forte and sang con anima for participants and faculty alike.
The weather, so often fickle in late May-early June, was nigh onto perfect. No one froze, sweated to death or drowned in torrential downpours. Participants came from far and wide geographically, a mix of stalwarts and newbies. The attendance, 12 duet teams, was at the max, though one late withdrawal meant 11 duet teams and some super, last-minute solo Beethoven from one longtime participant.
That performance was part of the workshop’s annual grand finale: Recital Time, when bananas fly off the dining room counters to be devoured by performers who believe in their nerve-calming powers. In keeping with the 25-is-special nature of 2018’s gathering, the workshop terminated with two recitals, not the usual one-off. That avoided a marathon 3-hour affair Sunday a.m., with still-substantial Saturday evening and Sunday morning recitals in its place. It was a great innovation, keeping ears fresh for dazzling, high-level performances of gorgeous four-hand compositions that ranged from Bizet and Brahms, Debussy, Dvorak, Faure, and Ravel, to transcriptions of J.S. Bach and Gluck and infrequently heard compositions of Goldmark and Warlock.
The coaching that coaxed and cajoled these high-level performances was a regular highlight, with Bien, Nancy Breth, Victor Galindo, and Andrew Harley giving their all and more: Sign-ups for extra-credit, short evening meetings with them filled up faster than plates with chocolate mousse prepared by the treasured kitchen crew, led by Gretchen Gould. Mid-session, coach Harley offered a terrific master class for two teams of regular four-hand partners. And all the way through, that most-valued player, Alexander Technique teacher Kristin Mozeiko, kept those shoulders from hunching and backs from slouching (or hurting!).
The annual faculty concert, with the aforementioned coaches teaming up for breathtaking performances of four-hand Beethoven, Schubert, Guastavino, and Riley was, as always, a thrill. Likewise the special 25th anniversary solo concert by celebrated pianist and conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn, a Kinhaven alum and cherished former piano workshop coach. Solzhenitsyn’s concert, with the Mozart F Major Sonata, K. 533/494, and the last Schubert Sonata, in B-flat Major, D. 960, left a profound mark on all the listeners in the concert hall.
I’ll just close by inserting myself into this story for a sec. I’ve come to Kinhaven for 21 of the workshop’s 25 years. I wrote about classical music for my local newspaper, in Ann Arbor, Mich., for almost double that number of years. Some of my most important, moving, and meaningful listening and concert experience has been at Kinhaven. I’d say that about friendships and music making, too, with both faculty and students. Above average doesn’t begin to sum it up.
Susan Isaacs Nisbett worked as a journalist – feature writer and editor, and arts writer, for more than 40 years. Now retired, mostly but not entirely.
All photos by Steven Breth