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I began studying piano at the age of six. However, after several lessons I complained to my mother that I wasn’t learning anything. About a year later I took up piano lessons, this time with Theodore Gorbacheff, a Russian choral director and piano teacher living in Berkeley. Mr. Gorbacheff guided my musical development for the next ten years, introducing me to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, and of course Russian composers like Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. My passion for composition emerged early when as a child I began to write pieces emulating the style of Bach whom I was studying at the time. For me, performance and composition merged into one as I continued my studies in piano and composition in college. During those early formative years prior to college I already was performing regularly for church. In addition Mr. Gorbacheff would often have me accompany his vocal men’s quartet and vocal soloists, as well as have me perform as piano soloist. Thus, even before college I was not only a student of music but also a practicing performer. Indeed, during my senior year in high school I formed a jazz trio (piano, drums, bass), and together we played a few paying “gigs”.
Despite my early interest in, and life-long passion for, composition and improvisation, it was piano that I majored in as an undergraduate. During my first year in college, I studied with Edward Shadbolt at the University of the Pacific Music Conservatory in Stockton. Under Mr. Shadbolt’s guidance I continued to develop, expand and mature as a pianist and musician. The greatest lesson learned while studying with Mr. Shadbolt was how to relax and how to play with “arm weight”. I learned that this is the secret to tonal control, and I have continued to develop this technique over many years of studying and performing.
I completed my undergraduate studies in piano performance and collaborative piano at California State University at Hayward where I studied under Dr. Donald King Smith. Dr. Smith and his wife, Patricia, were master duo pianists who specialized in piano duo and duet literature. It was through him and his wife that I was introduced to this wonderful aspect of piano performance. During this time I had the honor and privilege to play for Karl Ulrich Schnabel, son of the renowned Artur Schnabel, in a Master Class. I performed the Chopin Scherzo in B Flat Minor (Op. 31) for him, and the insights he offered me have stayed with me all these years. After completing my undergraduate studies in Piano at Hayward, I transferred to the University of California at Berkeley to study composition. While studying composition there, I also continued performing, both as pianist, choral accompanist, and conductor. It was also at Berkeley where I added a keen analytical understanding of the music I was performing, and this has added yet another deep dimension to my artistry as a pianist, musician and teacher.
Prior to attending Tanglewood as a Fellowship composer, where I also met Gunther Schuller and audited one of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting classes, I had already earned my Ph.D. degree in Music Composition from the University of California at Berkeley. During my last two years in the doctoral program from 1976-78, I lived in Paris, France with my wife, Irene, after having been awarded the prestigious George Ladd Paris Prize from the U.C. Berkeley Music Department. During this sojourn, I composed day and night and went to many concerts where I had the opportunity to hear the music of Xenakis, Messiaen, Boulez, Berio, Stockhausen, and many other European composers, often with those legendary composers in attendance. This experience deepened my personal connection with the masters which began with my early studies of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg and Tchaikovsky as a young pianist. The personal connection I feel with this legacy has broadened throughout the years: as piano student of Edward Shadbolt at the University of the Pacific in Stockton (Ed had been a student of Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály); as composition student under Joaquin Nin-Culmell (himself an internationally known concert pianist and composer who had also studied with such luminaries as Manuel de Falla and Paul Dukas); and as a master class piano student of Karl Ulrich Schnabel (son of renowned Artur Schnabel).
A confluence of personal and medical concerns prevented me from pursuing my art and career, and sadly this was just at an extremely active and vibrant period of composition and performance at the beginning of my career as a composer. By the time I had to prematurely retire from composition and performance, I already had a work released on the 1750 Arch Records label; numerous performances of my works throughout the United States (New York, San Francisco, Seattle, New Haven, Minneapolis, Dallas) and in Europe (Netherlands and Poland); and numerous awards and prizes (the George Ladd Paris Prize and Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize among others).
It wasn’t until 2009 that those personal and medical concerns were sufficiently mitigated to allow me to resume my life’s work. One of my current projects is Pieces From A Distant Land for Piano which comprise several volumes (“Series”). Stylistically, these pieces range from tonal works in the Romantic tradition (Series I), to avant-garde and experimental works in subsequent Series. It is precisely my propensity to explore and incorporate techniques from a variety of sources that has befuddled performers, composers, and audiences alike when hearing my works, and yet it is this propensity that defines my style. While at Tanglewood, a colleague commented on this saying, “You have the fortune (or misfortune) of falling through the cracks, of not belonging to any particular ‘school’.” Nevertheless, I unabashedly maintain my position as a “classicist and integrationist”, but beyond that, I hold this aesthetic not as a mere intellectual conceit or end in itself, but as a fundamental tenet of my compositional approach and artistry: selecting and using what I consider to be the best elements of all systems.
I continue to maintain a busy work schedule of composing, performing and teaching. Current projects include work on both old and new compositions, engraving and publishing my works, transferring older analogue sound media to digital format for easier distribution, and of course performing as soloist (classical and jazz), chapel musician, and collaborative pianist. After a long hiatus, it is a pleasure to once again be a part of a music community and to work alongside like-minded folk.