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Keys to success: ECU hosts inaugural piano festival

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The East Carolina Piano festival will bring nearly two dozen students together with ECU faculty and guest artists for a week of lessons, master classes and concerts.


By Kim Grizzard

Friday, June 22, 2018

Summer months are quieter on ECU’s campus as most students head home during the break between semesters. But at A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall, the music never stops.

So far this summer, the music center has hosted the Summer Chamber Music Institute, Summer Band Camp and Summer Jazz Camp. Still to come are the Summer Choir Camp, the Guitar Festival and the North Carolina Suzuki Institute.

The inaugural East Carolina Piano Festival, which begins Saturday, will welcome students from more than half a dozen states for a week of piano exploration. Pianists from grade school to college will spend as many as 12 hours a day in lessons, master classes and concerts with ECU piano faculty and guest artists.

“These are all serious piano students who have a significant amount of experience,” said Keiko Sekino, program director for the festival. “It’s designed to be an immersive experience.

“There are many great and wonderful music festivals in the summer in the state,” she said. “I don’t think there is a program like ours, a one-week festival that offers an intensive study program for young pianists and bringing this kind of guests and faculty artists together.”

When Sekino began as an associate professor of piano in ECU’s School of Music more than a decade ago, the university hosted an annual piano camp. But it has been several years since the school offered a summer piano program.

Sekino, who began piano instruction at age 5 in her native Japan, believes such programs are instrumental in the development of young musicians. After moving to the United States with her family at age 11, Sekino attended a piano program each summer.

“It was an amazing experience for me growing up to be able to spend that kind of time with other kids who have the same interest and to be able to meet such people,” she said. “That was really a formative experience for me as a musician.

“I still keep in touch with friends that I went to camp with when I was 13,” Sekino said. “You can really form lifetime friendships. It’s sort of like when you hear somebody play, or even better if you get a chance to play with someone, that’s really like you get to know somebody.”

Guest artists for the festival include several musicians Sekino knows well. One is her sister, Yukiko Sekino, the Gold Medalist of the 2006 International Russian Music Piano Competition.

Yukiko made a debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at age 16, and has since performed with the New World Symphony, Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra and Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra. A graduate of Harvard University and the Juilliard School, she teaches piano at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the New England Conservatory.

Other guest artists include legendary Hungarian pianist Peter Frankl, Keiko Sekino’s former professor at Yale. Frankl, who began piano at age 5, made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut in 1967. He has played on the world’s top stages with the most celebrated orchestras.

Keiko Sekino on several occasions has made the trip from Greenville to New Haven, Conn., to attend a performance by her former professor, who retired in November after a 30-year career at Yale.

“When he plays, you feel like he’s speaking to you,” she said. “It’s so organic, so natural, so spontaneous, so joyful. I’ve never met someone like that. It’s always so alive.”

“Every chance I get, I go hear him because each time it’s such a memorable experience,” Sekino said. “Each time he plays, it’s as if the piece is being composed in that moment.”

Guest artist Benjamin Hochman made his New York recital debut in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has performed with the New York Philharmonic and the American Symphony Orchestra. He is on the piano faculty of Bard College Conservatory of Music.

Guest artist Andrew Tyson was awarded First Prize at the Géza Anda Competition in Zürich in 2015.

He has performed with orchestras from the North Carolina Symphony and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Alice Tully Hall, to the SWR Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, Musikkollegium Winterthur and the National Orchestra of Belgium.

Tyson studied music at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia alongside Kwan Yi, co-creator of the piano festival.

“Even from a young age, his exquisite artistry was already quite apparent in his playing,” Yi said of Tyson.

Piano performance major Juliana Jing, one of two ECU students selected to participate in the festival, remembers hearing Tyson perform in concert about a decade ago. She is excited to have a chance to collaborate with him and other guest artists.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity,” she said. “I think it pushes you and challenges musicians to improve their musicianship.”

Cary native Evan Martschenko, 17, is one of two incoming ECU freshmen invited to participate in the festival. He sees it as a chance for him to get off to a strong start as a piano performance and music theory and composition major.

Martschenko, who began playing trombone in middle school, has been studying piano since age 13. Since then, he has immersed himself into music and even teaches piano lessons.

“Being a pianist for just four years kind of puts me a little behind some of the other pianists my age so I want to catch up,” he said. “I’m more than willing to work hard so I think this is just one step toward that.

“I am totally willing to spend my entire day doing nothing but music,” he said. “A day spent in music is a day well spent.”


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