Acclaimed pianist headlines Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra concert this weekend

·4 min read

May 24—Awadagin Pratt, heralded as one of the most acclaimed pianists of his generation, will join the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra in concert Friday, May 27 at Kettering Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Pratt, Professor of Piano at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, will perform as soloist for the Second and Third movements of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 and will also conduct the orchestra in Beethoven's dramatic Coriolan Overture.

"A lot of people know Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or 'Moonlight' Sonata, but this piece offers another level of Beethoven, particularly his humor," said Pratt, 56. "Beethoven had a great sense of humor in his composing and music-making, and that is manifest in the Third movement, which is very jovial and lighthearted. It's almost kind of slapstick. But the Second movement is very soulful, particularly the duet with the clarinet toward the end, which is beautiful, gentle, tender and profound. There is great contrast between the Second and Third movements."

"Awadagin Pratt's connection with the audience and musicians in the orchestra is powerful and genuine, and his name came to mind right away as I considered an approach to this particular program," said John Root, MVSO concertmaster and president. "I was thrilled to find out that he was available and interested in helping us bring this concert to life."

The program will also feature soloists from the CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship Program, a partnership between Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. The program is open to exceptional young string players from populations historically underrepresented in classical music. Jordan Curry will perform the Third movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, Maximiliano Oppeltz will perform the First movement of Haydn's C Major Cello Concerto, and Jade McClellen will perform the First movement of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Violin Concerto.

"It's exciting to have these young people on the program," Pratt said. "They are incredible, hard-working and gifted musicians. It's exciting. They have spent a year inside the orchestra and now have the chance to be featured as soloists with the orchestra accompanying them. I think the concert will be a great showcase of musicians of color on string instruments. It will be an inspirational occasion."

In 1992, Pratt became the first African-American to win the Naumburg International Piano Competition and two years later was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Since then, he has played numerous recitals throughout the U.S., including performances at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, and Chicago's Orchestra Hall among others. Internationally, he has toured Japan four times and performed in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Poland, Israel, Columbia, and South Africa.

Reflecting on his numerous performances over the years, he remains grateful for the opportunity to perform at the White House three times. He performed twice for President and Mrs. Clinton and once for President and Mrs. Obama.

"I've played a lot of places but to play at the White House is the greatest honor," he said. "They were three different occasions, which was wonderful, but each represented the pinnacle of what it means to be an American musician. To play for the president is as good as it gets. To play for President Obama was special for a variety of reasons. He is such an inspiring person."

Born in Pittsburgh, Pratt grew up in Normal, Illinois. His father, a fan of classical music, encouraged his love of music. He began studying piano at age 6, and three years later, began studying violin. At age 16, he entered the University of Illinois where he studied piano, violin and conducting. In addition to becoming the first student of the Peabody Conservatory of Music to receive diplomas in three performance areas — piano, violin and conducting — he also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Johns Hopkins as well as an honorary doctorate from Illinois Wesleyan University.

As he anticipates Friday's concert, Pratt is aware of how vital diversity is within the classical realm.

"I'm at the age in which I have adult musicians coming up to me and telling me I have influenced them in their careers," he said. "One individual, who was told by his teacher that dreadlocks were uncivilized, saw me with the Obamas, with my dreadlocks, and found that image to be very powerful. Others have said I've kept them motivated to keep fighting in difficult situations, which is incredibly grateful. Diversity is extremely important in classical music. If you're cooking and all you're cooking with is salt, your dish is not going to be dimensional. But if you add paprika, oregano and other ingredients, you'll have a richer, more complex, more interesting dish. Having a shared human experience is about bringing people together and creates a richer performance for the audience."


What: "An Evening with Awadagin Pratt"

When: 7 p.m., Friday

Where: Kettering Seventh Day Adventist Church, 3939 Stonebridge Rd., Dayton

Cost: Free but tickets are required; general admission seating

More info:

FYI: The concert has been made possible through the generosity of Richard Shaffer and the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District. A reception consisting of light desserts and beverages will also be held immediately following the concert.