CLAYTON — Four New York-based pianists will be in Clayton this week, ready to share their mastery of the 18th century instrument with a modern twist.
Hosting seminars, free concerts for school children, and performances ranging from contemporary originals, to children’s narratives to the great composers, the four will perform between Feb. 6 and 17 around Johnston County.
The effort to bring family-friendly, accessible piano music to the Clayton area is all thanks to a 2006 Manhattan School of Music graduate who discovered his love of the piano right here in Clayton when he was nine years old.
“Supposedly, my parents said I started picking out harmonies and melodies by ear. They said, ‘Oh, maybe he has talent,’” recalls 29-year-old Jonathan Levin.
One of few children growing up in 1990s’ Johnston County with the urge to study classical music, White Oak Baptist Church piano teacher Dara Edwards pushed Levin to achieve his dream.
After proving himself in the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra at age 15 and earning a degree in the art, Levin has come home to raise money for a festival through which he can share his gift with the community that first fostered it.
“This festival is great for people who say, ‘I don’t know if classical music is for me,’” Levin said. “There’s no pressure for people to come to these shows with a deep understanding of music. They can just sit back, relax, and maybe discover something they didn’t know they liked before.”
Levin has brought a host of friends with him from New York, all of whom have a different kind of flair for the piano.
“They’re here to engage the audience, they won’t be up there playing impersonally,” Levin said of himself and his three contemporaries.
The concert, scheduled to run Feb. 6 through Feb. 17 at the Clayton Center, First Baptist Church and the public library in Smithfield, will open with a series of free invitational concerts to public schools starting Feb. 6.
For families, a free outreach show Feb. 9 at the Smithfield Library will feature Levin performing Francis Poulenc’s, ‘The Story of Babar the Little Elephant,’ in which Levin will narrate the story, project the illustrations, and play the associated music. A question and answer session will follow.
“The music is very sophisticated, it’s something the adults will enjoy as much if not more so than the children,” Levin explains.
Levin’s colleague Angelo Rondello, who has performed and taught around the world, will teach a free seminar at First Baptist Church on Feb. 11.
Rondello will talk with students about life as a musician and career paths available to aspiring young artists.
“We’re creating an opportunity for musicians to share what they do in a unique and interesting way,” Levin said.
Manhattan School of Music teacher Matthew Harrison will perform a free Valentine’s Day show at the Smithfield Library, where he will play classic romance pieces and discuss why folks are still so charmed by the piano.
Original, 21st century piano pieces will also be featured at a Feb. 17 performance by Remarkable Theater Brigade founder and director Christian McLeer at the Clayton Center.
As a freelance musician who tours more with each year, Levin said he understands the difficulty involved in getting people to come out and listen to “classical” music. His goal is to dispel the stereotypes of stuffy pianists in coattails entertaining ball-gown-wearing women with opera glasses as much as possible.
“You have to get creative about how you’re presenting the music,” Levin says of today’s artists.
“(It’s) not because the music is deficient. But because people are different now, and they assimilate things in a different way.”