“Poetess of the Piano” Performs at Harvard University

RIC Artist-in-Residence Judith Lynn Stillman recently performed for the first time at Harvard University’s largest meeting place, Sanders Theater in Memorial Hall. Renowned for its superior acoustics, Sanders Theater, which seats more than 1,000, has been a sought-after venue for concerts, lectures, ceremonies and conferences for more than 100 years. Among distinguished figures who appeared there are Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and Mikhail Gorbachev. “It was an honor to perform in this magnificent venue for the first time,” said Stillman.

As guest soloist with Boston’s Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Stillman played Beethoven’s monumental “Emperor” Concerto under the baton of conductor Gisele Ben-Dor. She has been hailed by the press as “a poetess of the piano,” gifted with “technical prowess,” “artistic sensitivity” and a “beautiful touch.” Yet even this internationally renowned artist can be challenged by what she calls “the emotional landscape of a score,” particularly if it’s Beethoven’s “Emperor.” Preparing for the concert, she said, not only consisted of practicing the technical aspects of the score but intertwining the emotional and spiritual facets of the work into her interpretation.

“Beethoven charges us to share a lifetime of emotional expression in 40 intense minutes,” she said. “I was fortunate to have an inspiring and coveted coaching session with my mentor Leon Fleisher, who has taken on guru-like proportions for me. After all, Fleisher is descended from Beethoven: Beethoven taught Czerny, who taught Leschetizky, who taught Schnabel, who taught Fleisher, who taught – me!”

Add to the equation Stillman’s own innate gifts. She was extolled as a child prodigy at age three. “Apparently, according to family folklore, I sat in on my older brother’s piano lessons when I was 3 years old and played his repertoire by ear at the end of each lesson,” she said. By age 10, Stillman was studying at Juilliard.

Thereafter, as her active musical career evolved, Stillman has had guest appearances on national and international concert stages and performed with many great orchestras. “One of the joys of being a soloist with the Pro Arte orchestra,” she said, “is performing with RIC music faculty who are also members of the orchestra – Ian Greitzer, Joe Foley, Steve Laven and Elliot Porter. Working with my colleagues made this a particularly special experience.”

On the evening of the performance, Stillman faced an enthusiastic and packed house. Settling on the piano bench, she played the “Emperor” as “Beethoven’s journey of heroic and spiritual proportions.” It was his last piano concerto, hailed by the press as “one of the most original, imaginative, most effective, but also one of the most difficult of all concertos.” “It was enormously humbling and awe-inspiring to be in the face of a work of such genius and magnitude,” Stillman said.

Enthralled by her performance, the audience burst into applause with a standing ovation, four curtain calls and shouts of “Bravo!” and “Encore!”

Judith Lynn Stillman can be heard in performance at RIC’s Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts on November 20, December 9 and December 11.