Tributing Debussy at Keyboard Festival

By Mohammad Mujahed
Jambar Contributor

The Northeast Ohio Keyboard Festival celebrated their fourth year. This year, they paid tribute to composer Claude Debussy. The festival took place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.

On Oct. 1, multiple musicians performed at Youngstown State University. In the performance, they played many pieces of Debussy’s work.

Caroline Oltmanns, co-director of the festival, discussed the goals and achievements of the festival.

“We are trying to promote keyboard music in Northeast Ohio,” Oltmanns said. “We want people to be interested in piano music, and this year is dedicated to Debussy.”

Oltmanns is also a professor at the Dana School of Music at YSU.

According to the directors of the festival, the festival has presented a variety of events and hosted notable guests since its inauguration in 2015.

This year’s guest was the award-winning pianist Mark Nixon. Nixon, who is from South Africa, toured all around the world during his career, but this is the first time he performed in the States.

“I’ve been to China, Italy, Germany, [mostly] European countries, so it’s great to be here,” Nixon said.

He said he enjoys playing Debussy’s music and has for a long time.

“I always loved his music, and I always played it when I was young,” Nixon said.

He also discussed how the artistic approach to Debussy’s music is very unique.

“It’s something about the writing — it is incredibly detailed and also the beauty of the music,” Nixon said.

He also said playing Debussy’s music is challenging.

“It depends on how the piano responds to you,” Nixon said. “It takes a quite amount of time to get used to new pianos because it’s so subtle.”

Piano music wasn’t the only style of music being played during the festival. There was soprano music and also clarinet. Misook Yun sang Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” in soprano.

Alice Wang played the clarinet in collaboration with Nixon playing the piano, performing another Debussy song.

Michael Nichols, an attendee of the event, said the festival had a lot of assets in the performances.

“You also get a lot of other instruments also which was very nice,” Nichols said.

He said he enjoyed Nixon’s energetic and expressive performance during the concert, and that this is the first time he saw him perform.

Nichols, who was once a piano performance major at YSU, said he was happy seeing performances like this on campus.

“This is like piano week, but on a smaller scale,” he said. “I am glad we are having this festival. Anything we can add in art of the university, especially in piano music, is a good thing.”

As far as achievements goes, Oltmanns is satisfied in this year’s event.

“We are very happy in promoting this year’s festival, and we can’t wait for next year,” she said.