Fort Worth — Tamás Ungár’s voice takes on the eagerness of college freshman, rather than the distinguished professor at Texas Christian University, when he talks about the PianoTexas International Academy & Festival. It is 25 days of intensive immersion in all things piano for all players at all levels.
There are paths through the thicket for the young, the amateur, the piano teachers and the professionals. Some of the most famous pianists today perform recitals as well as teach master classes for students. Some few lucky students get the opportunity to play a concerto with the Fort Worth Symphony.
“In 2011, we started building the festival around composers that are important to the piano repertoire,” Ungár says. “We started that summer with our guest artists playing all of the piano sonatas of Beethoven. Then we explored the piano works of Schubert, then Mozart and now we are exploring both Schumann and Brahms.”
In an effort to keep PianoTexas fresh, Ungár tries to focus on different aspects of piano music.
“A large part of the piano repertoire is chamber music,” he says. “There is a wealth of music for piano, an assortment of string ensembles from quartets to trios, some that use other instruments as well and even works for two or pianos, such as Brhams’ set of variations on the theme of St. Anthony.”
An aside: Most international piano competitions include a chamber music rotation. The aspirants get to choose between a selected group of piano quintets, all standards, and this performance counts as part of the final scores.
Ungár invited the Adkins Quartet be in residence this summer and they will play a series of concerts with the distinguished faculty. The repertoire will be the big quartets and quintets by Brahms and Schumann, as well as some with less standard instrumentation. One such piece is Brahms’ Horn trio, which has a stunningly beautiful middle movement and a playful finale.
The guest artists are, indeed, a fearsome lot. All of them will play a solo recital at TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall (you can see the schedule here).
Italian pianist Davide Cabassi was a Van Cliburn International Piano Competition finalist in 2005 and is enjoying a busy international career. He is also a faculty member of the Monteverdi Conservatory in Bolzano and an artist in residence at the Col Legno Festival in Lucca. He will lead off with a solo recital at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4.
Vadym Kholodenko is Fort Worth Piano Royalty as the winner of the gold medal and a wall full of special prizes at the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2013. He has had a tragic year with the loss of his children; his recital will be on June 5.
The chamber music weekend will run on June 10-11 at 7:30 and June 12 at 4 p.m. They will be joined by the distinguished artists in playing the masterpieces for string instruments and piano.
On Saturday, June 18, there will be a concert by the elusive Joaquín Achúcarro who, since August 1989, holds distinguished Tate Chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The conductor Sir Simon Rattle described Achúcarro’s playing like this:
“Some extraordinary pianists, and Joaquín is one of them, can make it appear that the piano goes legato and that the notes grow into each other...”
On June 19, the Fort Worth Symphony will take the stage to accompany the winners of the student concerto competition. The conductor will be none other than the extraordinary Irish pianist Barry Douglas. He won the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow and is equally active as a conductor and pianist. He is the Artistic Director of Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival. Douglas will play a solo recital the night before the orchestra concert on June 25 so Fort Worth audiences will be able to savor both of his professional pursuits in one weekend.
Joseph Kalichstein will present the closing recital. He was born in Tel Aviv and came to the United States in 1962 to study at The Juilliard School. He had won the Young Concert Artists Auditions and the 1969 Leventritt Award. His New York Debut recital earned him a nationally televised concert on CBS. This came from an invitation from Leonard Bernstein to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the New York Philharmonic.
In addition to performing internationally, Kalichstein is the Chamber Music Advisor to the Kennedy Center and the Artistic Director of the Center’s Fortas Chamber Music Concerts. In addition, he holds the Chamber Music Chair at the Juilliard School and also teaches some carefully chosen student.
Ungár also has a strong commitment to spreading the gospel of piano music out into the greater Fort Worth community. PianoTexas will present 39 concerts, presented by the participants. They will go into churches, retirement homes, and museums: anywhere there is a piano and an underserved community.
“For those who are unable to attend a concert at TCU, we will move the festival out of the concert hall and into the community,” said Ungár. “I cannot describe the reaction we get from these wonderful people when we bring the music to them: the elderly, the infirmed and the needy. It is the only thing that makes me teary.”
PianoTexas is more than a series of concerts. It a veritable blossoming, an outpouring, of piano music in Fort Worth, which is most certainly one of the spiritual homes of the instrument.
You can peruse all of the concerts and master classes that fill the PianoTexas schedule through June 25 at www.pianotexas.org.