Since 1999, Piano Department Chair Pavlina Dokovska has spearheaded a successful community outreach program, "Mannes Sounds," year-long student music festivals that have engaged the entire student body, including pianists, chamber musicians and singers in public concerts around New York City. Around "Mannes Sounds," a series of specialized solo piano concerts, "Piano Cantabile," curated by Mannes Piano faculty, have packed the Piano curriculum with an endless supply of performance opportunities for students. The energetic calendar has made it possible for Piano students to perform at prestigious venues in New York, including the Neue Galerie, the Jewish Museum, the New York Historical Society, Steinway Hall, as well as various consulates, with New York being home to the United Nations. These venues are on top of the annual concerts at Tishman Hall and Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, as well as other top venues joining the list each year.
Performance opportunity — both in-school and out-of-school — is the prime focus of the Mannes Piano program. With a robust Master Class series, weekly lessons, piano classes and annual juries, the Department has approximately 60 students and 15 acclaimed international faculty artists at the top of their field, who form their own specialized studios. Students get to choose and change their choice of studio as they wish, knowing that they can draw on the strong support of all teachers across studios for performance opportunities at every stage of their development. In addition to the many solo and chamber performances, there is an annual concerto competition, with the winner performing with the Mannes Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall.
The goal of the Piano program is to give pianists a full set of professional skills that make them viable as professionals in the market. So while the Collaborative Piano Department is separate, all Piano majors learn collaborative skills as part of their study in addition to the strong emphasis on solo performance. All pianists study chamber music, for example, as well as art song of multiple nationalities and traditions. As a result a broad field of professional opportunity is explored. For example, several Piano alumni are now working as young artists at the Metropolitan Opera.
"Music fosters great friendship and relationship between people who are different," Dukovska says. "We are a very international community in New York. With music being the international language, it brings together people in a most humane way. Regardless of the racial and cultural differences, you are speaking a common language. This makes Mannes incredibly special, because everyone benefits from cultural differences."
The value in this idea is expressed in the thematic approaches of "Mannes Sounds" and "Piano Cantabile" concerts based on their concert venue. Concerts may be themed generally or poetically, such as the "Music of Nature" or "Music of Light" concerts, or some may celebrate specific composers for specific national audiences at local consulates — Czech music for the Bohemian National Hall, for example, or Ukranian, Polish or Spanish music for their local institutes and community concert halls. But the energy is around the celebration of ideas and the nexus between performance and discrete communities. This is an opportunity for Mannes students as performers to approach music with a kind of local passport in tow — the kind of opportunity only New York can offer — as if drawing their own connections as developing artists to the great variety and unity within and between traditions, as well as the connection between music and people’s lives.
"Music education teaches you freedom, confidence, compassion, how to relate and how to give, because this is what we do," Dukovska says of the Department’s approach. "The bottom line is what kind of people do we become? What kind of difference do we make in the world? I am trying with every student to bring the best they can do as artists, as people. In the process, this is about humanity. And these cannot be separated — music and humanity — from how to be a good person. So in this respect, music is very important."
Recent Piano students who have gone on to critically acclaimed performance careers include Mannes alumni Natasha Paremski, Ieva Jokubaviciute of the Trio Cavatina, Matei Varga, Daria Rabotkina, Diyi Tang, Ilya Yakushev, and Sean Kennard, as well as current students Yekwon Sunwoo and Reed Tetzloff, to name but a few.
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