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Music Cleveland! Message Board › Sunday - Keyboard Conversations / Bricco

Sunday - Keyboard Conversations / Bricco

Bill J.
Group Organizer
Chagrin Falls, OH
Post #: 200

Pianist Jeffrey Siegel celebrates a 25th anniversary with plenty to talk about

Published: Tuesday, October 09, 2012
By Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer
Peter Schaaf Pianist Jeffrey Siegel celebrates the 25th-anniversary season of his "Keyboard Conversations" in Cleveland during the 2012-2013 season at Cleveland State University, starting Sunday.

It wasn't necessarily the sound of the piano that captivated Jeffrey Siegel as a youngster in Chicago. Mostly, it was the rich and varied repertoire, which continues to captivate him.

Siegel draws upon a cross-section of the piano canon to entrance audiences -- not only as performer, but also as commentator. He's been offering his "Keyboard Conversations" series in his hometown for 43 years and in numerous American cities for decades.

Among the longstanding metropolises is Cleveland, where Siegel will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local series this season with five Sunday-afternoon concerts, including a free one-hour family program in November, at Cleveland State University's Waetjen Auditorium. He opens the season this weekend with "Spellbinding Bach."

Siegel, 69, spent many years dividing his career between appearances with major orchestras, including the Cleveland Orchestra, and the "Keyboard Conversations." But the series became so popular that he now only steps onstage to chat with audiences about music he proceeds to play.

"They've taken over my life," Siegel said of the conversations during a recent visit to Cleveland. "When I started doing this, it was a 50-50 mix with concert engagements."

Siegel's model for the series was conductor Leonard Bernstein, who developed a special rapport with audiences, especially in his "Young People's Concerts," by discussing the music and performing it with the New York Philharmonic.

Keyboard Conversations

What: Pianist Jeffrey Siegel celebrates the 25th anniversary of his series in Cleveland with five concerts this season.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium, Music and Communication Building, Euclid Ave. and E. 21st St., Cleveland.

Tickets: $5, students; $10, Project 60 students; $20, seniors; $25, adults; $55, family pass. Go to or call 216-687-5018.

"I remember him doing Beethoven's Fifth," said Siegel. "He made the listening experience fun and insightful and focused."

Kay Shames, director of CSU's Center for Arts and Innovation, believes Siegel does the same.

"Whatever Jeffrey says is preparing you for the music," she said. "When he plays a piece in its entirety, you have an enhanced listening experience. You hear subtleties in the music you might not have heard before."

The pianist began sharing subtleties locally in 1984 at the Cleveland Museum of Art's Gartner Auditorium, where the series was presented for one season. A few years later, Siegel was invited to base the series at CSU by university President John Flower and board President Henry Goodman. It's been going strong ever since.

How does Siegel keep himself and listeners interested? The answer goes back to his youthful encounters with the repertoire.

"It's the greatest music ever written," said the beaming pianist. "There's no repertoire like the piano repertoire. My problem is that there's so much I'd like to do, to narrow it down to four programs [per season] is a challenge."

Cleveland audiences will hear Siegel explore music by an assortment of beloved composers this season, starting with Sunday's Bach program. The concert's curiosity will be Ferruccio Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne in D minor for unaccompanied violin, once a favorite of legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein.

As a bookend, Siegel will end the season April 28 with "Bach and the Romantics," a program teaming works by the Baroque master with pieces he inspired by Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich.

"When Bach died, nobody thought his music would survive," said Siegel. "What was his influence on Romantic composers?"

Between these concerts, the pianist will take up music by Debussy (Jan. 27) and Schubert (March 24). The free family concert Nov. 11, "Music for the Young and Young at Heart," will include works aimed at children, including pieces great composers wrote for their offspring.

"It's a thank-you to the community for 25 years of 'Keyboard Conversations,' " said CSU's Shames.

Even after so many years of his conversations, Siegel doesn't rest on laurels. He's always on the lookout for fresh themes and works. He gave the premiere of Bernstein's unpublished "Meditation on a Wedding" several years ago and plans to add a recently discovered Brahms piece, the short Albumblatt in A minor, to an upcoming program.

Siegel insists upon shaping programs that are accessible to as many listeners as possible.

"You can't just preach to the converted," he said. "It's a very different time. In a way, the worst person to talk about music is a musician. We're taught to speak in tones. It's taken a lot of time and energy to develop the format over the years."

But Siegel is forever buoyed by something Bernstein once said.

"These 'Keyboard Conversations,' " the conductor told him. "This is the most important thing you do."

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