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Music Festivals – Mostly Classical : The Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and Inte

The Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and International Piano Festival was held in Princeton, New Jersey during July 10-18, 2010. In its seventh year now, this week-long festival offers a multitude of evening concerts at Princeton’s Taplin Auditorium. (Photo: Alexander Haiden)

Daily lectures, master classes, clinics, and private lessons all explored the Taubman approach that has solved many a pianist’s problems with technique, and propelled a good number of them towards their maximum potential.

I found it very intriguing to learn about the ins and outs of creating such a festival — its choice of location, for example, or the elements which contribute to its success. Says pianist and educator Adrienne Sirken, the Executive Director of the festival: “From the beginning, the festival was thought of as an integral part of the Golandsky Institute Symposium. It offers a wonderful opportunity to showcase artists that have been associated with the work already, and, of course, an opportunity to attract others interested in acquainting themselves with the work.”

“At first, the Princeton University Music Department was not that keen on having the Golandsky Institute take over their practice rooms during that week,” she confesses in a quiet moment during the symposium. “But thanks to the support of Princeton’s Director of Summer Conferences, Eric Hamlin, the feat was completed, and the first season took place in 2003.”

This year, Ms. Sirken became the Executive Director of the festival. Her enthusiasm has been critical in engaging many of her local friends as volunteers and hosts for visiting artists, a very much valued element of the festival. A pianist herself, Sirken had overcome an injury by retraining with the help of the Taubman method — a fact which might explain her impressive level of devotion to the festival, and her warm relationship with the Institute’s faculty and its artistic director, Edna Golandsky. Her allegiance is shared by many of the festival’s performers, many of who have been impacted by the Institute’s teachings, and loyally return year after year.

Onay not only holds the title of State Artist in her native Turkey, and that of a Goodwill Ambassador for the Turkish National Committee of UNICEF, but, since 2003, she also serves as an artistic director of the Guemuesluek Classical Music Festival in Turkey. There she created a platform for Edna Golandsky, allowing her to broaden the reach of her teaching.

In Princeton this year, Mrs. Onay’s performance of the Chopin Ballade in A- flat Major, Op. 47 was an absolute highlight, beautifully executed and enhanced by her tender and mindful touch. One truly gets the feeling she gets energized when she performs, her captivating smile taking the audience away and beyond her skillful efforts at the piano.

Another performer at the festival was Thomas Bagwell, a well known collaborative pianist, who has partnered in recitals with such singers as Marilyn Horne, Renee Fleming, and Susan Graham, at great venues like New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Musikverein, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

As a chamber musician, he has participated at the Marlboro Music Festival and performed recitals with violinists Midori, Miranda Cuckson, and Scott St. John; with St. John he has also produced a critically acclaimed CD of works by Antonin Dvorak, on the Marquis label. For nine years, he has served as assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera – a position he also held for many seasons at the Washington

Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Opera of St. Louis. Bagwell has received degrees from the Mannes College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, and has studied with Warren Jones, Graham Johnson and Edna Golandsky.

During the festival, he performed solo repertoire by Bach, Chopin, and Barber, and a selection in vocal partnership with Christopher Dylan Herbert, a recitalist who has interpreted art songs from a variety of time periods and countries, ranging from medieval to 21st century pieces.

The audience at Princeton’s Taplin Hall experienced a very touching moment when a teary Bagwell, after his performance, thanked Edna Golandsky for all she had done for him.

It is moments like this which make a festival truly special. In Princeton, personal relationships really provide the glue that lets festival participants bond with each other, yet these deep and personal bonds always leave room for newcomers. Also, one would expect a more competitive atmosphere between artists, but surprisingly little of that was happening here. On the contrary, performers went out of their way to genuinely congratulate each other, as happened when one of the younger performers, the very talented Josu De Solaun, turned to Guelsin Onay to show his appreciation and respect for her artistry.

Attending the festival for several days or longer offers opportunities to personally connect with the artists during daily master classes and lectures. For me, one such occasion resulted in spending time with Josu De Solaun at a diner on Princeton’s Main Street.

Over lunch, the Spanish-born pianist told me about growing up as the youngest son of a large, close-knit family in Valencia. At a young age, he was sent to an avant-garde music and movement-oriented educational program, modeled on a concept developed by Hungarian composer and educational reformer, Zoltan Kodaly.

Kodaly’s experimental approach, which strives to develop a natural relationship between music and movement through activities like singing, Hula Hoop dancing, and ball games, led De Solaun to further investigate his interest in guitar and later, the piano. He consequently attended the Jose Iturbi Conservatory, but was also studying with Madrid-based pianist and teacher, Theresa Naranjo.

Herself a student of the famous Cortot disciple, Magda Tagliaferro, Theresa Naranjo was looking for new ways to develop piano technique. According to De Solaun, Naranjo arrived at conclusions similar to those developed by Dorothy Taubman, albeit not leading to the same level of systematization.

At the moment he works on a semiotic analysis of Schumann’s Novelettes for his doctorial thesis, to be completed by 2011. He just gave a Schumann recital at Leipzig’s Schumann-Haus in Germany, which included his favorite composer’s Davidsbündler-Tänze and his Humoresken – pieces he feels as though were written for him personally.

And that’s exactly what I perceived at his Princeton festival performance. When he plays, the music really becomes part of him, and speaks to the audience with a voice so convincing that it feels like his very own version of the truth.

On stage and off, De Solaun’s generous and warm personality impresses. I again noticed his warmth a few evenings later, after a performance by Ilya Itin. Someone had approached De Solaun for an autograph; he declined, saying he would prefer to do it the next day, as not to take his attention away from Itin’s performance. Itin had just ended his superb rendition of Schubert’s Sonata in G Major, Op. 78 (D.894), as well as an intense Rachmaninoff Prelude program, making him the musical hero of the evening.

I found Ilya Itin’s performance of the Schubert Sonata ravishingly beautiful and full of hope. A longtime student of Edna Golandsky and a well-respected and admired teacher of the Golandsky Institute, the Russian-born Leeds Piano Competition winner has fully absorbed the Taubman approach into his lyrical piano playing, achieving a high level of pianistic freedom.

Another performer at the festival was Golandsky faculty member Father Sean Brett Duggan, O.S.B. Duggan received his Bachelor of Music in piano performance from Loyola University in New Orleans, and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Prior to being ordained to the priesthood, he graduated with a Master of Arts degree in theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans.

Far from being the only repertoire he is interested in, his speciality provides him with a niche to combine piano performance and priesthood. His performance of Bach’s complete “Well-Tempered Clavier” won first prize in the Johann Wolfgang Sebastian Bach International Competition for pianists in Washington, in 1983, establishing Father Sean’s career as a performer.

A longtime member of the Golandsky Faculty, he is loved for his generosity as a teacher, his sense of humor and his deep insights when it comes to the art of the piano.

At this year’s panel discussion about performance practice, attended by several performers who had studied the Taubman approach, he commented on his very personal development as a performer: “I feel more than ever that new opportunities open up and I should rise to new challenges. After working with Edna, the most wonderful explorations of new repertoire are becoming reality for me; I would have never been able to accomplish that before.”

the Princeton festival, Wednesday is the only concert-free evening. This is when faculty and performers enjoy dinner together, and shared memories, often going back many years produce a warm and intimate atmosphere. There is a lot of mutual respect and admiration for the talent, skills, and success of one’s fellow musician. But there is also lots of love, affection, and appreciation for artists’ generosity, modesty, and good will.  The last night of the Princeton festival has become known as Jazz Night.

Famous jazz pianist Danilo Perez, a faculty member of the New England Conservatory and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute in Boston, sent his students to perform at the festival this year. A Taubman enthusiast and adoring student of Edna Golandsky, he has invited Golandsky – who, by the way, loves jazz – to teach at his very own jazz festival in Panama. Raving about the possibilities of the Taubman approach, he is spreading the word to his students in the U.S. and abroad.

And then it was time again to say farewell, and — over cake and champagne — plan for next year’s festival. With an atmosphere somewhere between high art and summer camp reunion, and its very special mix of fresh talent and returning artists, the festival offers music making at its very best. Add to that the joy of celebrating old friendships, and the opportunities for making new friends, and you have The Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and International Piano Festival in Princeton/New Jersey in a nutshell.

I am already looking forward to the 2011 festival next July. First published under



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