From Liszt To Victor Borge: A Legacy Of Unique Piano Performances

DESCRIPTION
This interactive lecture-recital examines an element of surprise in Franz Liszt’s Monologues Pianistiques and Victor Borge’s Comedy in Music to explore unconventional recital programming and rediscover a sense of wonder in our own performances.

PRESENTATION PROPOSAL
When Franz Liszt (1811-1886) premiered his Monologues Pianistiques in Rome, he finished every concert with an element of surprise. The pianist would ask the audience to write down the names of popular arias and drop them into a silver urn. By the end of the recital, he read the selections out loud while conversing joyfully with the crowd. Once settled on a particular theme, he included the familiar melody in his closing improvisation.

Following into Liszt’s footsteps, Victor Borge (1909-2000) redefined an element of surprise for Broadway with his record-breaking 849 shows of Comedy in Music in New York City. Borge encouraged musical requests, conversed with the public, and delighted his spectators with a unique touch of music and humor, turning a familiar tune of “Happy Birthday” into a set of piano variations and playing Rossini’s William Tell with the sheet-music upside down.

Liszt and Borge lived in different times and played for different audience yet they both recognized the power and the value of surprise. They believed that surprising the audience is often as important to a successful performance as technical mastery of the instrument. This presentation features a lively recreation of Liszt’s and Borge’s performance styles at the piano and explains a creative process behind programming such an interactive concert experience for today’s audience. By revisiting the legacy of these two engaging artists, we learn to think outside of the box, and bring a sense of wonder to our own performances while attracting new audience to classical music.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER
Igor Lipinski, is an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Oklahoma, a frequent orchestra and recital soloist, and a graduate of Northwestern University and the Eastman School of Music.

Igor Lipinski at the Lakes Area Music Festival in Minnesota

On August 2, 2015, Igor Lipinski performed a highly successful orchestral version of his music & magic show entitled “Symphonic Magic” with the Lakes Area Music Festival Orchestra. According to Brainerd Dispatch, Lipinski’s performance of “Symphonic Magic” brought out the largest audience since the beginning of the festival. The following interview was published by the Lakes Area Music Festival on July 31, 2015. Photo credit: David Boran.

Tell us about your background. Where are you from? How did you get into music? Where and how did you train?
I was born in Tarnow, a small town in southern Poland, sixty miles east of Krakow. I went to a performing arts high school. In my junior year, I won an audition for the role of a pianist in a theater play production at the University at Buffalo. Before the final dress rehearsal, I traveled to Rochester, New York and visited Eastman School of Music for the first time. I fell in love with the school and applied there the following year. I came to Eastman in 2005 and graduated with my BM and MM in Piano Performance in 2011. In 2012, I moved to Evanston, Illinois where I’m currently finishing a DMA in Piano Performance at Northwestern University. I’m writing my doctoral thesis on the performance practice of the most extraordinary pianists of the past: From Liszt to Victor Borge: A Legacy of Unique Piano Performances.

How did you develop your programs? Where did the idea to combine magic and music come from?
As musicians we sometimes forget about the most important aspect of performing in front of people: making a meaningful, lasting connection with the audience, creating a sense of wonder. Classical music is a bridge that connects with people on a very intimate level. Magic shares the same qualities, but differs in one principal aspect. Music is essentially an auditory experience while magic relies on the visual stimuli. I realized that a clever, visual magic can amplify audience’s appreciation of a complex musical work. In addition, magic brings back the much needed level of interaction between the performer and the audience so familiar to the nineteenth-century concert goer, but often forgotten in the twenty-first century concert hall. As a side effect, the new audio-visual collaboration becomes an engaging and memorable concert experience.

I owe interest in magic to my great-grandfather. He wasn’t a professional magician per se, but I vividly remember him entertaining the kids in our family with a few simple magic tricks. When he passed away, I inherited a book on card magic from his drawer. I was just six years old and that’s when it all started. I was essentially self-taught. There were only a few books written on magic in Polish so I had to learn English in order to learn the new techniques and meet other magicians. I traveled to magic conventions and performed at festivals throughout the Europe, from France to Czech Republic. When I was sixteen, I went to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to give sixty shows at the Dubai Summer Surprises Festival.

My heart, however, has always been with music. During my undergraduate years, along with completing my piano performance degree, I enrolled in an honors program with an ambitious senior project: I was finally going to combine my lifetime interest in magic with a piano recital. I worked with a theater director from the University of Rochester, I researched performance techniques of the nineteenth-century artists, conceived the script and premiered “An Evening of Music & Magic” in 2009. I sent the DVD of the performance to my friend Harold Weller, Conductor Laureate of Las Vegas Philharmonic, who in turn forwarded it to Teller of the Las Vegas magicians duo Penn & Teller. Teller, a one-of-a-kind performer and one of the most inspiring minds in magic, invited me to Vegas where we created a piece of magic based on a fugue by J.S. Bach that won the 2011 WQXR Classical Comedy Contest at Caroline’s on Broadway.

What are some recent projects you are particularly proud of? Any upcoming shows you’re looking forward to?
I’m fortunate to be constantly working on new ideas for the show. I love collaborating with orchestras and have worked on wonderful concerts with an immensely creative conductor Jung-Ho Pak and the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra. In the upcoming season, I’m making my concerto debut at the Symphony Hall in Chicago and I’m taking my show to New York City and Hong Kong, among other places. I’m also working on an all-consuming book project based on my doctoral research.

Why music? What do you think makes classical music valuable in today’s world?
Two quotes come to mind. Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman once said that music is more than just an organized sound. Music is a flow of emotions organized in time. Musical work is an emotionally-charged story. By listening, learning and disseminating these stories with each other, music empowers us to connect, understand and strive to be better to one another. One of my mentors I have never met, Leonard Bernstein, said that “the best way to know a thing is to learn it in the context of another discipline.” Discovering the vast wealth of classical music can be a transformative experience to someone from outside of the music world: a medical student looking to become a virtuoso neurosurgeon, or a public school teacher searching for ways to inspire her students in the classroom. Finally, attending a live concert is a rare opportunity to focus, as simple as it sounds, on one activity, forgetting – if for a moment – the fast-paced hours of the day, disconnecting from the digital world and connecting with real people.

Igor Lipinski performs at South Dakota State University

On Sunday, October 19, Igor Lipinski gave a guest-artist recital at the Larson Memorial Concert Hall of the South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. The recital was part of the Brookings Chamber Music Society Series. Lipinski performed in South Dakota several times in the past including his appearances at the 2010 and 2011 Dakota Sky International Piano Festival at the Belbas Theatre of the Washington Pavillion of Arts & Science in Sioux Falls.

Igor Lipinski performs with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra at the Oyster Harbors Club

After the sold out concert with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra on New Year’s Day in 2013, Igor Lipinski once again joined the ensemble under the direction of the brilliant Jung-Ho Pak to perform his unique presentation of piano, symphony orchestra and interactive magic. The concert, also featuring Broadway actress and singer Sarah Uriarte Berry, took place at the elite Oyster Harbors Club in Osterville, Massachusets on September 12, 2014. Lipinski’s performance was enthusiastically received with two standing ovations. To read more about the Cape Cod Symphony’s innovative programming, please visit capesymphony.org

Igor Lipinski performs during the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City

Igor Lipinski performed his unique concert “An Evening of Music & Magic” at the 2014 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition. The performance took place at the Black Box Theatre of the Rosa Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Lipinski’s performance was a special one-night only event that was presented the day before the Gina Bachauer’s finals with the Utah Symphony.