The University of Arizona College of Fine Arts and School of Music are initiating the inaugural Sandra F. Lai Residency in Piano with the arrival of MacArthur grant-winning pianist Jeremy Denk, Oct. 27-29.
Denk is one of America’s foremost pianists, proclaimed by the New York Times ‘a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs’. Denk is also the New York Times bestselling author of Every Good Boy Does Fine, winner of both the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the Avery Fisher Prize and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Denk’s residency at the university will be made possible by the first iteration of the Sandra F. Lai Residency in Piano, a new annual program.
Dr. Lori Wiest, director of the School of Music, approached the school’s keyboard area with funding from a potential donor, John and Christine Lai, who had come to the College of Fine Arts asking for creative proposals to make use of their contribution.
“This was an idea that I had in the back of my mind for a while; the idea of bringing really high-level guest artists onto campus and finding funding for that,” said Dr. Daniel Linder, associate professor of practice in piano and the keyboard area coordinator.
The proposal brought forward by the keyboard area faculty, centered the importance of establishing the university as an arts destination in Southern Arizona. A residency that brought at least one internationally recognized guest artist to campus per academic year for two-to-five days conceptually had the power to do just that.
“We wanted top people in the field who could play an incredible piano recital for us,” Linder said. “Someone who has interesting ideas about music and can share … a unique perspective or maybe just a wealth of experience about music, about piano, and about a career and life in music.”
This guest artist would be someone with the potential to expand students’ vision and set their sights on what lies in store for them beyond their education.
Linder graduated from the University of Arizona with a Master of Music degree in Piano Performance. He also attended Northwestern University where he earned degrees in both music and history. A large donor award brought names like Richard Goode, Yefim Bronfman, and Stephan Hough to Northwestern while he was enrolled there. A masterclass that provided the opportunity to work directly with Hough was, “honestly kind of a highlight of my life, really, or definitely of my education,” he says. It was these kinds of experiences that directly shaped the newly established Lai Residency to create a similar opportunity for students at the University of Arizona this October.
Jeremy Denk to launch new artist residency for piano
Denk is the first guest artist to be selected for the inaugural three-day residency. Denk is acclaimed as a musician with expressive performance capabilities, but many also know him through his acclaimed writing about various topics in music. This is what perhaps makes him entirely suitable for a Q&A session with the community as an intellectual who spends a great deal of his career offering thoughts on the role music plays in our society. He will also provide a masterclass to students, offering insights on their prepared repertoire in front of a public audience who have just as much to learn from the experience while they observe Denk’s approach to music as a clinician.
For a student going to school as a music performance major, having the chance to play for an adjudicator at a level like Denk can build esteem and pride in one’s own ability, but also serves as an integral step to establishing a career as a future performer and a credit to their CV.
Receiving input directly from masters of the field while undergoing training is an exceptional benefit of studying in the university setting. The perspective gathered from a masterclass supplements the instruction received on a weekly basis in regular lessons with faculty.
Annalupe Rodriguez, a junior BM piano performance major, said, “expectations are higher” when preparing to perform in a masterclass. It forces you to be critical about your own practice in anticipation of that moment. Recently, Rodriguez performed a work by Venezuelan composer Teresa Carreño in a masterclass for guest-artist-in-residence Dr. Diego Caetano during the 2023 Trester Festival for Latin American Music. She said it’s important to play pieces that move beyond the traditions of male-dominated Western European classical performance traditions.
“As a person of color, it’s nice to see representation…different groups of people have different ideas of how to express themselves based on their cultural backgrounds and experiences, and I think that’s important.”
The highlight for many people who witness Denk during his residency will be his recital on Saturday, Oct. 28, which represents a careful thoughtfulness in his programming. That recital will feature works by female composers of the 21st century like Phyllis Chen and Meredith Monk, and composers from the 20th and 19th centuries including Louise Ferrenc, Amy Beech, and Clara Schumann.