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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

World-renowned pianist comes mixes classical and modern styles

Rapidly fired piano notes ring through the Performing Arts Center concert hall Saturday, April 11, as world-famous pianist Gilles Vonsattel performed, as part of the Sanford-Hill Piano Series, at Western Washington University.

Jeffrey Gilliam, artistic director of the production, introduced Vonsattel as “a real renaissance musician of our time,” before the performance.

Around 150 people showed up for the performance with a mixed crowd of students and people from the greater Bellingham area.

“I think he’s an incredibly colorful pianist. He’s very careful about his sound, like nothing goes amiss,” Andrea Rackl, a 38-year-old Western alumna, said. “He’s obviously thought everything out so well and cares very much about every sound that he makes; which I really appreciate.”

The pieces Vonsattel played were a mix of classical and modern compositions mainly focused around the third piece composed by modern day composer George Benjamin.

“There are certain composers, like Benjamin, who are very gifted and are interested in continuing the tradition of [classical style],” Vonsattel said about his music choice for the show.

Vonsattel was born in Switzerland but later moved to earn his bachelor’s degree political science and economics from Columbia University and Master of Music from Juilliard School in New York.

Since 2002, the Sanford-Hill Piano Series has brought world famous pianists to Western’s campus three times per year. The featured artists give a performance and also hold a master class for students who are interested in learning and receiving a lesson from famous musicians.

Lindsay Abuyan, a 19-year-old Western student, doesn’t get to see piano performances very often and enjoyed Vonsattel’s performance, she said.

“I think they’re very interesting,” Abuyan commented on the performed pieces. “It’s not what I was expecting; it’s very modern. They’re very atonal and a lot of them don’t really follow a melody line like most pieces.”

Former music major and Western student, Sean Urann, also plays piano and was extremely impressed with Vonsattel’s skill as well as the overall tone of the show.

“I think it’s cool; it’s kind of a darker sound than I was anticipating,” Urann said, “but I think all the chaos is pretty cool to see how he rounds [the piece out] and brings it together.”

The day after the performance Vonsattel held a master class for skilled Western student pianists to attend and perform in front of him and receive critique and feedback on their performance from Vonsattel himself.

At this session Vonsattel gave a piece of advice for anyone aspiring to become a pianist themselves.

“I would, as much as possible, try to inform yourself about what’s going on out there, which really takes time,” Vonsattel said. “I think also realize that there are many many useful careers and useful paths. You can take that require imagination and thought beyond your playing.”


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