The Chopin Academy opens the door to music enthusiasts

Thirty budding pianists from around the world will be on stage in both the classroom and concert hall during the second Frost Chopin Festival and Academy. Photos: Thalia Cuello

 

By Maya Bell

Thirty budding pianists from around the world will be on stage in both the classroom and concert hall during the second Frost Chopin Festival and Academy. Photos: Thalia Cuello

 

The Chopin Academy opens the door to music enthusiasts

By Maya Bell
The Frost Chopin Festival and Academy at the University of Miami provides unparalleled experiences for budding pianists, and the public.

Young, gifted pianists from around the globe will descend on the University of Miami next week to study under six of the world’s most distinguished Chopin specialists, but they won’t get to keep all that talent to themselves.

A year after its successful debut, the 10-day Frost Chopin Festival and Academy returns to the Coral Gables campus on June 23 and the public is invited not only to the festival’s seven evening concerts but to the academy’s daily workshops, lectures, and private lessons that the Chopin masters will impart to 30 budding pianists who are coming from Japan, South Korea, Poland, England, and North America to learn from the best.

Yes, even the private lessons are open to Chopin enthusiasts and novices alike who want to immerse themselves in the life and music of the famed Polish composer and piano virtuoso. Ditto for the workshops, including one by a renowned Polish comic mime.

“I call them open lessons because they are individual lessons, but are open to the public,” said academy founder Kevin Kenner, an assistant professor in the Frost School of Music’s Department of Keyboard Performance who won the top prize in the 1990 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. “Anyone who is interested in the process of what happens behind the scenes, how budding musicians improve their skills, is welcome to come in, sit down, and watch these specialists working with these students.”

Five other Chopin masters—Dang Thai Son, Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, Margarita Shevchenko, Dina Yoffe, and Ewa Pobłocka—will join Kenner on this year’s academy faculty, offering the visiting students 10 intense days of one-on-one instruction, workshops, lectures, and opportunities to perform in three evening showcase concerts, including a free one on Tuesday, June 25. It will feature some of the most talented pianists attending this year’s academy.

Only students will be able to attend a special workshop featuring Polish folk dancing, but the public can sit in on workshops presented by John Rink, an internationally acclaimed Chopin scholar from the University of Cambridge, and Ireneusz Krosny, the comic mime who will perform a one-man show at the festival and present an academy workshop on body language.

“That may seem rather odd for a Chopin academy, but I’ve noticed from years of teaching that pianists don’t understand, like other instrumentalists, how to move and breathe while playing. They kind of lock their bodies,” Kenner said. “So I thought having someone who talks about body language and how you can express mood or character through your body is important. In the 18th century keyboard players were very aware of that but that got lost.”

Kevin Kenner
Academy founder Kevin Kenner tutors a young pianist during last year's inaugural festival.

Kenner, a California native who fell in love with Chopin’s music at age 5 and studied under Chopin masters in Poland as a teenager, dreamed up the idea for the combined teaching academy and performance festival after joining the Frost School faculty in 2015. At the time, he had lived in Europe for 26 years, teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and performing as a soloist with world-class orchestras and with illustrious string quartets.

“When I got here I wondered what could I offer, apart from teaching students at Frost, that would really make an impact on the University and the community,” Kenner recalled. “And I thought, ‘Well, I know so many wonderful musicians. Why not get them to come here for a 10-day party where we can all play music and work with really talented kids? It was just an idea that made sense.”

Especially since the Chopin Foundation of the United States, which co-presents the Frost academy, happened to be based in Miami, and Kenner had a special connection to the organization that helps young, talented American pianists develop their careers. In 1990, he took second place in the foundation’s National Chopin Piano Competition, and then went on to win the international competition in Warsaw, where 10 years earlier, at age 17, he was the youngest competitor and received a special award as the most promising talent.

Today, the foundation’s scholarship recipients are automatically accepted into the academy. The other students are chosen through a rigorous application process that includes taped auditions.

During the festival, Kenner will perform three times. For the opening concert on Sunday, June 23, he’ll accompany the Escher String Quartet, a foursome who serves as Artists of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He’ll also assist Queen Elizabeth Competition grand prizewinner Ji Young Lim during her violin recital and Florida debut on Friday, June 28.

Then he’ll join all of the academy’s Chopin masters for the finale on Tuesday, July 2, which will re-enact a typical 19th-century Parisian salon, the kind of informal setting where Chopin preferred to perform.

All the performances will be introduced by acclaimed musicologist Frank Cooper, Frost Research Professor Emeritus, who notes that two centuries after Chopin gave his first performance at age 7, he still holds the world record for having the highest percentage of works in the standard performance repertoire.

"He commands interpreters and listeners like no other,” Cooper said. “Those with the luck to attend will discover how much more remarkable Chopin and his music are than what they might otherwise think.”

All concerts will be held at UM’s Gusman Hall. To view the schedule or purchase tickets for the performances visit www.frostchopinfestival.com or call 305-284-2400. University employees may purchase two tickets for the price of one by using the code UMSTAFF.

For the times and dates of the academy’s individual lessons, workshops, and lectures, view the schedule.