Meet Steven Spooner: His return to the 2017 Piano Faculty, his recent 16-CD release, and his thought
Having been a part of the Amalfi piano faculty from 2008-2012, what do you remember most fondly about your festival experience?
Well, so many things come to mind! Coming to the festival forever ruined me for what I thought was good Italian food: now I am forever disappointed in standard mozzarella cheese, the taste of a lemon, arugula, and seafood in general, as everything is now compared to what I tasted during my time on the Amalfi Coast.
As for the festival itself, I was the youngest member of that” old guard.” I had the opportunity to teach alongside a number of people who were a member of the original faculty - including Thomas Mastrioianni, Aldo Ciccolini, and many others. It was a privilege to “hang out” with some of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. And then I saw the festival change and be passed on to a number of younger faculty, including a few of my own friends and colleagues, and now I am so happy to come back and see that this faculty continues to renew itself and find outstanding teachers. I knew the former festival in Vietri - but even then we tended to have at least one dinner in Maiori most years, so I know the charm of that city and can see how it would be perfect for the festival now. So I return with a lot of warm feelings for both the old and the new!
What do you look forward to the most about returning to the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival?
Of course, the charm of Italy is something that shakes certain people to their core, and I am certainly in that category of person! I have fallen deeply for Italy, and I always relish an opportunity to come back, especially to that part of Italy. I am a part of a piano duo, and my partner teaches at the conservatory in Milan, so I travel to that region 2 or 3 times a year, but it is a totally different area than the Coast, with a totally different feel. Honestly, I am just really excited to be rejoining the Amalfi faculty and to be a part of such a wonderful organization!
What do you believe is unique about the Amalfi Coast Festival experience?
You know, one thing about the festival is that it’s small enough that people can come and make lifelong friendships with the people that they meet here. They are in close proximity with colleagues and faculty alike, and everybody gets to just hang out. But at the same time, the festival is large enough that it provides a very broad experience both in music and in art. I think the size is just really advantageous, and of course the faculty is incredible!
What would you tell students interested in joining the festival this season?
I would say that the festival offers a microcosm of some of the highest level of teaching that you will find all in one place. If you came to the states and wanted to study with these faculty members, you would have to travel all over the country. But if you come to Amalfi, you have the opportunity to study with many of these teachers in a two-week time period, attend their masterclasses, and hear them perform, all the while getting to experience one of the most beautiful places on the planet! The Amalfi Coast deserves its legendary status as a vacation destination. And it is a place where students can make lifelong friendships in music, which I think is really important. This festival’s real strong point is that is an incredibly high-level musical experience situated in an ideal vacation destination. Many festivals have one of these, but very few offer both!
Can you tell me a bit more about your recent, and expansive, 16-CD release?
I’ve been working on this project for the last 19 months, and it JUST came out. It’s one of the largest projects in academia - and it almost killed me - but it’s done! The repertoire description fills 16 pages, from antiquity to the newest compositions up to 2015. It definitely covers the gamut of piano repertoire - it was a massive undertaking, a real labor of love!
What was the inspiration and the goal for this, and what was the unifying factor that would bring a 16-CD set together?
This year and last year were 2 of the biggest centennials in piano-playing. This year is the centennial of Emil Gilels, who was one of the great pianists of all time, and last year was the centennial of Sviatoslav Richter, who many people think was the greatest pianist of the 20th century. They both would have been 100 years old had they lived this long, and I found them to be 2 of the most inspirational people in my life.
Richter had probably the largest repertoire of any pianist and the greatest number of recordings of any pianist before or since, and so I figured if I was going to properly commemorate his memory in some way, I needed to do it with a great deal of breadth. So that was the idea: the name of the box set is Dedications, and each of the CDs is dedicated to different pianists. Three CDs are dedicated to Horowitz, eight to Richter, one to Cliburn, and some others as well. More information can be found at:
What music do you feel the deepest connection to, and what inspires you to perform?
Well, it changes. The thing about music that is so beautiful is that certain music is closed to you at certain points in your life. Then, as you accumulate experience and you mature and are searching for new things, suddenly a door opens to music that you formerly thought was a closed book. It’s hard for me to say that I have an affinity for something in particular, because I don’t believe in specialization, especially if you are a pianist. There is just too much repertoire to be a specialist. I am just interested in all good music - and that means with no boundaries. I am interested in jazz, I am interested in pop, I am interested in anything that is good.
How would you describe your teaching style?
You know, it’s funny - my students say that I am very intense, and that I’m kind of moody? I don’t think of myself as moody, but I guess I am. My own background from studying in Russia was the idea that our teachers give us a sense of devotion to the music. It’s not a profession, but a calling to be a musician. That sense of seriousness and devotion to the score, to the music, to ourselves, to the art form, is something that I really try to instill in my students. And when we perform, it’s not about us - it’s a part of something much larger. I always tell my students that we are going to dream big, we are aspiring to reach the very height of our abilities. I try not to focus on smaller issues, but to keep the art in perspective.
I think I am also trying as a teacher to find that core in every student that is their own unique personality. And then, once I find that element, I try to bring it out and polish it. Sometimes a student doesn’t even know that thing about them that is so original and interesting. That’s why it is my job to point it out. I had one of my own teachers tell me once that “I am not just a teacher - but a tailor. It is my job to put you in the best possible clothing and show you in the best possible light.” And I really agree with that.
Thank you, Professor Spooner - we are so excited to have you re-join us this upcoming season!
For more information about Steven Spooner, visit stevenspooner.com
or like his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Steven-Spooner-205742743337/