UO student pianists get an audience with elite performers

May 28, 2020 - 5:00am

Alexandre Dossin has always been one to transform challenges into opportunities.

So when the coronavirus global pandemic shut down the UO campus, the School of Music and Dance professor of piano took the challenge of a lifetime and capitalized on it in a big way.

Dossin, a world class pianist himself, reached out to many of his colleagues, some of the best pianists in the world: Would they want to visit virtually with his students each week for casual discussion while sharing insights about their craft?

The response was overwhelming, and now his students, and anyone on Facebook, has had the opportunity to meet with prize-winning pianists literally from around the world. During eight Wednesdays of the spring term, they’ve virtually gathered for a nearly two-hour conversation that Dossin hosts on his Facebook page at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time.

Guests “Zoomed in” from several states, as well as London and Moscow. Previous sessions are also available on his Facebook page.

“In my almost 15 years at the UO, School of Music and Dance piano students never had a chance to interact with eight pianists of this caliber all in one term,” Dossin said. “The idea came when I realized that touring concert pianists are stuck at home, as all their concerts were canceled. So I thought, let me call them and see if they are up for a chat, and they all wanted to do it.”

Marina Bengoa, a student in the class, said the new approach has turned the term around.

Spring began on a challenging note with everyone working remotely, Bengoa said. Precoronavirus, Dossin’s Wednesday class would typically meet in Beall Concert Hall with the students and Dossin playing for one another and talking about the art of performance.

With everyone now going remote, Dossin wanted to somehow replicate the performance component to help keep everyone engaged.

“Dr. Dossin started this project to keep us motivated,” said Bengoa, who is pursuing her doctorate in piano. “We had to do our research on the speakers that were coming in, listen to many of their recordings, and we discovered new things about them. It has changed the term. It changed it to something better.”

Dossin knows many of his distinguished guests from having participated with them at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, one of the top five competitions in the world.

“This would compare to having scholars and scientists who won the top prizes in their fields talking with UO students every week,” Dossin said.

“In the sports world, it’s like talking to Michael Jordan,” Bengoa added. “They are really big names in this world. You are talking to somebody that’s extraordinary in their own field.”

That includes gold and silver medal winners such as Jon Nakamatsu, Stanislav Ioudenitch, Olga Kern and Antonio Pompa-Baldi. Other guests are also prize-winners in major international piano competitions in addition to being world-renowned professors: Arnaldo Cohen, distinguished professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music; Caio Pagano of Arizona State University; and Jeffrey Biegel, a Grammy Award-winner at Brooklyn College.

“I’m trying to get top people who have great careers, won big prizes, played with big orchestras, so they can bring that experience to the students,” Dossin added. “Some have come to Eugene in the past, as part of a residency, lecture or performances, but this was something special, as they were chatting from the comfort of their homes. During the conversation with Nakamatsu, his 4-year-old son showed up in the conversation. Moments like these show the ‘normal’ human side of those amazing performers.”

One of the events included a special appearance by Leslie Howard, president of the British Liszt Society, and the only pianist to have ever recorded the complete piano works by Franz Liszt, which totaled 100 CDs.

“My students are having a great time talking with them and getting to know them in a more personal way,” Dossin said. “I thought it would be too bad to have them only available to my students, so that’s why I opened it live on Facebook, and they are getting a lot of attention.”

Dossin has the students research each week’s guest and submit questions. The guests answer them, and the conversation continues from there. Facebook viewers are also able to ask questions during the livestream.

“I think more and more people are interested in this sort of conversation since we are all stuck at home, so let’s just talk,” Dossin said. “For me, a musician or any sort of artist, the exchange of ideas is very important, especially during one’s education and even later.”

Dossin said that the past couple of months have had many positives it, as he indeed found opportunity in its challenges.

“This term proved to be very inspiring to me and my students,” he said. “If not for the need to teach online, and the fact that the careers of those artists stopped abruptly, this would probably not have happened.We are all trying to be as creative as we can and give the students the most we can.”

—By Jim Murez, University Communications