Preview: Kennesaw’s Robert Henry featured in Spivey Hall concert that celebrates Suzuki

Internationally-acclaimed pianist Robert Henry performs with Suzuki students on Sunday.
Internationally-acclaimed pianist Robert Henry performs with Suzuki students on Sunday.
Internationally-acclaimed pianist Robert Henry performs with Suzuki students on Sunday.
Internationally acclaimed pianist Robert Henry performs with Suzuki students on Sunday.

Is musical talent inherent or can it be developed? 

Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) believed the latter. Suzuki’s philosophy was rooted in the principle that the development of any child — Japanese, British or aboriginal — depends upon his cultural environment. Using the example of language acquisition, Suzuki pointed out that a child will learn to speak his mother tongue from an early age through listening, repetition and encouragement.  

After World War II, Suzuki opened a small music school in Matsumoto in order to provide the Japanese children with something nurturing amidst a nation decimated by nuclear bombs. His aim was to cultivate a nation of noble human beings with sensibility and sensitivity through music education. Suzuki’s work was first introduced to the United States in 1964 when he brought a group of violin students to perform at a meeting of the American String Teachers Association.

Fifty years later, Suzuki’s method of training young musicians has been adopted by music teachers throughout the United States. On January 17, the Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association will feature world-renowned pianist Robert Henry alongside 20 young Suzuki pianists at one of Atlanta’s premier concert venues, Spivey Hall, confirming the fact that Suzuki was on to something. The Suzuki Graduation Concert will be held at 3 p.m. on Sunday.  

Henry is known locally for his work as artist-in-residence at Kennesaw State University and as assistant director of the Atlanta Boys Choir, but he is recognized internationally as well, having won first prize in several international competitions including the New Orleans International Piano Competition and the Alfredo Barilli International Piano Competition. Henry is an International Steinway Artist, and has performed solo recitals at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and at London’s Wigmore Hall. 

When asked about his own cultural environment while growing up, Henry says, “I was extremely fortunate to have parents and family who encouraged my music-making every step of the way. Looking back, it was really concert attendance and a few wonderful recordings that kept me inspired. I loved when great artists would come to play with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and my parents always found a way to get me backstage to speak with them.”

At the concert, Suzuki students aged 7 to 15 will perform repertoire that spans Suzuki’s Allegro to the third movement of Mozart’s Sonata in A Major K. 331 Rondo alla turca. Mozart’s melody may be familiar to popular audiences for its wide use in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show, but to a serious pianist it requires the mastery of refined technical skill. The piece demands that the pianist have the ability to execute octaves and broken octaves, fast scale passages and a variety of ornamental figures such as trills and grace notes. 

As the concert evolves, audience members will hear a distinctive progression of technical skill from the students; specific musical and technical goals must be established in order to graduate from each successive level within the Suzuki Piano Basics program.

The concert will culminate with a performance by Henry, who will play Chopin’s Etude, Op. 25, No. 1 and Ballade No. 3i n A-flat major, Op. 47. In addition, Henry will offer Carl Vine’s Sonata No. 1, a two-movement work that was commissioned by the Sydney Dance Company and composed in 1990. “Vine’s rhythmic and improvisatory language never fails to dazzle audiences,” Henry says. 

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