Steven Spooner performed a solo recital, inviting students to watch him “pound the piano,” Oct. 23 in the Charles Johnson Theater.
Spooner is a well-known American pianist who performs regularly in North America, Europe, Asia and South America and teaches at the University of Kansas.
Northwest’s Staff Accompanist Jiwon Choi was one of Spooner’s doctoral students. Their connection brought him to campus for the first time in the spring semester for a duet recital. He contacted Choi a week prior to set up a performance.
“It was a kind of a last minute decision that he offered us a solo recital through me. We thought it was a great opportunity to have him back,” Choi said. “He wants the chance, as much as he can, to perform everywhere.”
Choi has known Spooner since 2010. She said she felt very honored to call him her former teacher.
“The most valuable thing I learned from him was loving music. Through his performance, you can tell how much he loves music and how passionate he is about this,” Choi said. “I hope everyone can get this feeling, especially students.”
Freshman and piano student Steven Owings said he was grateful to see a well-known pianist on campus.
“You don’t get that opportunity often to hear pianists of this caliber. Just to have that opportunity at Northwest is very, very awesome,” Owings said. “He’s a phenomenal pianist. It was awesome. It just blew me away.”
Spooner said Horowitz was known for taking popular tunes and making them more complicated. He asked himself what Horowitz would do to reach audiences if he was still alive today. He decided it would be rock music, so the piece dedicated to Horowitz centered on the tune of Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”
Spooner said he didn’t like piano at first because he found the music boring. His parents required him to go to his lessons, and his piano teacher worked hard to find music to interest him. When she introduced him to music by Frederic Chopin, he fell in love with the instrument.
“This whole program comes out of my childhood of being passionate about the piano,” Spooner said.
Spooner’s recital was titled “Dedication” because each song he played was dedicated to some of his favorite pianists, such as Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Jorge Bolet. He said he hoped the audience would be as excited for the music as he was to perform it.
“I enjoy that I get to make a living actually playing such great masterpieces,” Spooner said. “A performer always hopes that the concert is a life-changing event for the audience, that they experience music deeply, and that the music becomes much more meaningful to them after the performance.”
Before each piece, Spooner stood at the edge of the stage and told the audience about the pianist it was dedicated to. After the first couple songs, he didn’t bow; he simply nodded and smiled at the applause. He said when he studied piano in Russia, he learned not to do opening bows because he hadn’t yet done anything to bow for.
“I try to keep (the recital) short,” Spooner said. “I’m trying to break down the formality of it.”
The final four pieces of the show were original etudes he dedicated to famous pianists Keith Jarrett, Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter and Vladimir Horowitz. He wrote each using themes that were unique to each pianist, such as improvisation for Jarrett and repeated notes for Argerich.
The piece inspired by Richter consisted of snippets of pieces he was famous for playing. Richter was Spooner’s biggest hero; he told the audience he would be playing “the nerdiest love letter to Richter.”