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Southeastern Piano Festival kicks off in Columbia

The Southeastern Piano Festival kicked off its fifteenth year this Sunday afternoon at the Koger Center with the festival’s opening event, the Piano Extravaganza.

Piano Extravaganza featured over fifteen accomplished pianists—some as young as thirteen years old—playing a variety of music, including very touching, elegant classic pieces such as Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” and more modern numbers such as “Mambo” from West Side Story, the latter of which made the audience clap and shout along to the music.

Piano Extravaganza pushed many boundaries this year, challenging traditional piano music in front of an audience that happily took the journey with them. One of the night’s standout moments was eighteen-year-old composer Sasha Yakub’s “Mash-Up Fantasy,” which brought together invigorating, energetic piano music to the melodies of popular songs by Drake, The Weeknd, and Bruno Mars.   The audience clapped eagerly and hummed along, watching the youthful performers with admiration.

An awed hush spread across the Koger Center on multiple occasions this Sunday, in particular during the delicately impassioned cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” played on two side-by-side pianos by the Emmy-nominated duo Anderson & Roe. Anderson & Roe will be featured in their own concert later this week (see schedule below), and have gained attention on a variety of circuits, from NPR to MTV.

Marina Lomazov, the artistic director of the Southeastern Piano Festival, said that moment was particularly special for her. “I loved being an audience member and marveling at Anderson & Roe dazzling finger-work and poetry in Bohemian Rhapsody,” she said. “I am so looking forward to hearing more from them this Thursday.”

Later in the evening, the audience was treated to fourteen breathtaking sections of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, featuring multiple pianos and other percussion instruments and the Miami-based choir The Firebird Singers. Lomazov called the impassioned performance “an exhilarating and uplifting experience.”

While Piano Extravaganza gave the Columbia audience a thrilling, impressive introduction to piano music in its many forms, the rest of the week has many more purposes. Southeastern Piano Festival participants are treated to a series of workshops, lectures, and classes about piano music, and every night, the public is invited to attend live performances by some of the world’s most renowned pianists.

“We have invited very different artists to share the week this year. While playing the piano on the highest level of artistry and musicianship is something they have in common, their styles and repertoire are very different of each other,” explained Lomazov. “So if you come to any of the concerts it will be an incredible experience, and if you choose to come to several, those will be very different from each other.”

The selection of the music for the week, said Lomazov, was personalized and yet still leaves room for some improvisation. “We always program things we ourselves would like to hear as audience members or would like to perform as pianists,” she said. “We also love to break boundaries of what is considered a classical piano concert, so we invite a wide variety of musicians who can playing anything from Bach to covers and improvs of jazz standards and popular hits like Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk.’”

The major event, though, of Southeastern Piano Festival is the Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition, which lasts from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday. The competition, which is split up into three sessions, is free for the public to attend and features the next generation of great concert pianists. Prizes include cash stipends, scholarships, and future performance opportunities.

“Ours is a dual mission to present the renowned and rising pianists and to educate the next generation of pianists,” said Lomazov. “To that end, both goals are important, as they help to continue the great tradition of piano playing as well as insuring its vitality and relevance for the future generations.”

Every night this week, the Southeastern Piano Festival brings enriching live music to Columbia. For more information, visit www.sepf.music.sc.edu.

  • 7:30 p.m. Monday – Alumni Celebration Concert: Anna Han and Chaeyoung Park, USC School of Music Recital Hall, $10 general admission.
  • 7:30 p.m. Tuesday – Artist Showcase: Frederic Chiu at Trinity Hall. $20 general admission, $5 students, free for 18 and under..
  • 7:30 p.m. Wednesday – Artist Showcase: Vadym Kholodenko, USC School of Music, $20 general admission, $5 students, free for 18 and under..
  • 7:30 p.m. Thursday – Artist Showcase: Anderson & Roe, Johnson Performance Hall, $20 general admission, $5 students, free for 18 and under.
  • 10 a.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Friday; and 7:30 p.m. Friday – Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition, USC School of Music Recital Hall. All sessions are free and open to the public.
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday – Winners Concert for the Arthur Fraser International Piano Competition, USC School of Music Recital Hall, $10 general admission.

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