International Keyboard Festival tunes up Southwest Michigan

The Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival opens the piano lid April 17 and doesn't close it again until May 8.

In between, Kalamazoo becomes the place for all things piano. There's classical, jazz, chamber music, the ever unpredictable fringe events (a harpsichord performance and piano improv are two this year) and the many collaborations between pianists and a variety of vocalists.

Concerts and recitals are the main attraction during the 22-day event, but there also are keyboard education master classes and pre-concert talks where the music is illuminated for the audience. Plus there are piano-themed films.

The festival brings music lovers from across the nation and the world to Kalamazoo and shines a spotlight on the depth of the area's cultural offerings.

Keyboard Festival events also take place in Allegan, Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Richland, Three Rivers, Vicksburg and Zeeland. Ticket prices vary depending upon the event and range form $12 to $50.

One of the most prestigious honors for pianists, the Gilmore Artist Award, is presented every four years on a non-competitive basis. Pianists never know that they are being considered for the award and all observations of a pianist's performances leading up to their selection are conducted in secret.

The 2010 Gilmore Artist Kirill Gerstein takes the stage at 8 p.m. May 3 in Chenery Auditorium, 714 S. Westnedge Ave., in Kalamazoo, and again for the festival's closing May 8 at the Festival Gala Concert for a performance with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, also at Chenery Auditorium.

Born in Voronezh, in southwestern Russia, Kirill Gerstein studied piano at a special music school for gifted children and taught himself to play jazz.

He came to the U.S. at 14 to continue his studies in jazz piano at Boston's Berklee College of Music. He also continued to study classical piano repertoire. Following two summers at the Boston University Young Artist program at Tanglewood, Gerstein moved to New York City. There he studied with Solomon Mikowsky at the Manhattan School of Music. By the age of 20 he earned both his Bachelors and Masters of Music degrees. Now 30 years old, he peforms with esteemed orchestras and conductors and in recitals throughout the world.

The Gilmore Artist receives a $50,000 cash grant to be used at the artist's discretion and $250,000 typically disbursed over a four-year period for projects and activities that will enhance the artist's musicianship and career.

"Over the past ten years we have observed Kirill Gerstein develop into one of the most compelling and profound musical artists of his generation," said Daniel Gustin, festival director. "He is the epitome of what we seek in the Gilmore Artist -- a musical thinker and performer who will continue growing and who can, and we believe will, attain a career as a major concert pianist for the 21st Century."

Writer: Kathy Jennings
Source: Daniel R. Gustin, festival director