The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: American pianist Bryan Wallick talks about his synesthesia and about his season-opening concert this Friday with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell. | October 8, 2013

REMINDER: Do you suffer from stage fright or at least get nervous before a performance? Meet Noa Kageyama (below), a performance psychologist who teaches at the Juilliard School of Music. He will be in Madison at the University of Wisconsin on this Wednesday and Thursday to give free public talks and workshops. Here is his schedule and an illuminating Q&A with him by Kathy Esposito on the UW School of Music’s new blog “Fanfare”:
http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/kageyama/

Noa Kageyama

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday evening at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will open its new season with the piano soloist Bryan Wallick making his local debut.

WCO lobby

The program includes “Young Apollo” by Benjamin Britten, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of the most famous 20th-century English composer (below).

Benjamin Britten

Also on the program are two famous Fifths: the Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saens and the ever-powerful Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Single tickets are $15 to $67, and season subscriptions are still available.

For more information, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/68/event-info/

Pianist Bryan Wallick – who is known for his synesthesia – recent gave an email interview to the Ear in which he discussed his special gift of synesthesia as well as his career and the music of Saint-Saens:

Bryan Wallick mug

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, a small town outside of Cincinnati.  I began playing at the age of 4 and got quite serious about playing when I was about 13. I changed teachers to a couple of professors and duo-pianists at the University of Cincinnati (Eugene and Elizabeth Pridonoff, below) and they prepared me to go to The Juilliard School when I finished high school. The biggest competition I won was the Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev, Ukraine.

Elizabeth and Eugene Pridonoff

I understand you have synesthesia, or the mixing or blending of the senses. Can you tell us specifically what that means for you and your playing, and for the listener?

In my experience, I see a color with each different notes (12 different notes and 12 different colors).  For example, E is green, C is white, G is red, etc.

synesthesia numbers, letters, colors

It’s a peripheral experience in my mind’s eye as I play, and it probably helps a little with memory retention as I have some another association (color) with the notes.

It doesn’t really have any impact on the audience, except in the case where I was given a grant by the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in Arizona to create a program that displayed some pictures depicting an approximate version of what I see in my mind when I play.

Bryan Wallick at piano

What do think about the role of Camille Saint-Saens (below) in music history? Is he too overlooked, neglected or underestimated? What do you think about the Piano Concerto No. 5 (performed by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam in a popular YouTube video at the bottom) and how it compares to his other piano concertos as well as those of the standard repertoire?

Saint-Saens’ role in music history is enigmatic.  He was recognized as a genius prodigy from a very early age like Mozart and Mendelssohn, and he was also a virtuoso pianist who supposedly had fantastic fingers (which features prominently in most his piano works).

He lived a long life and his career and reputation changed perception a few times.  Early in his 30s he was criticized for championing the then “new” music of Liszt and Berlioz, but toward the end of his life in the early 20th century, he was fighting against the music of Debussy and most of the trends that took hold in modern music.

He knew his own music could lean toward the “sentimental” side, and even the famous “Carnival of the Animals” was only published after his death as he knew this kind of music could hurt his reputation in more “serious” circles.

I love his music, even the sentimental pieces, and this particular piano concerto has the best of Saint-Saens musical elements contained within it. The “Egyptian” element is felt mostly in the second movement where he uses oriental scales and some unusual harmonies to depict his “Egyptian” characteristics. It’s a very exciting and virtuosic work.

Camille Saint-Saens

What do you know of Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its music director/conductor Andrew Sewell (below). Will this be your Madison or Wisconsin?

I met Andrew in Oregon a few years ago when we were both performing out there.  We got on really well, and I was lucky enough for him to engage me to come and open this season with the orchestra. This will be my first time to play in Madison.

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment — a work or composer, a performance or performer– that made you want to be a professional concert pianist?

Perhaps, when I was about 12, I played in a master class of the teachers who then soon after I began to study with. The way they were able to bring music to life in a completely new and exciting way inspired me to want to practice and be able to create music and beauty the way they could.

What advice do you have for young music students, especially pianists?

I would say that one should not go into music unless that is really all they could see themselves doing one day. It is a very difficult career, with lots of bumps and bruises to the ego, but once the hard work is accomplished and one can turn a phrase 15 different ways, its such a joy to create, experiment, and play this instrument.

Many students miss the fun and joy of performing as they are so worried about playing “correctly” and I also had to deal with this in my own way. But the more I take chances with ideas and with sound, the more fun and inspiring the music becomes.

BATC2 Chuang student 2

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I can’t wait to perform in Madison next week!


3 Comments »

  1. People with perfect pitch are supposedly more likely to develop it, but I have perfect pitch yet never experienced synesthesia. Interesting article: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/health-headlines/wires-crossed-toronto-patient-develops-sense-mingling-synesthesia-after-stroke-1.1390477

    Comment by Isabella Wu — October 8, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

  2. I think synesthesia must be quite common. I wish Wallick had said more about which color he associates with each pitch. My granddaughter insists that F is electric blue, but it’s always been tomato red in my mind/ear.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — October 8, 2013 @ 9:12 am


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