Collaborative pianists to gather at UNT for 2017 CollabFest

Two Pianists sitting at keyboard, laughing

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- They are used to playing second fiddle – or, in this case, piano – to other instrumentalists, singers, dancers and performing artists. Now, collaborative pianists are getting their moment in the spotlight at the University of North Texas College of Music’s second annual CollabFest – the first festival of its type in the nation.

“Collaborative pianists are trained as partners and love to work with others. Though well able to take the solo piano spotlight, we prefer to join forces with other musicians to co-create art music,” said Elvia Puccinelli, associate professor of collaborative piano and vocal coaching. “We are fed by working with other musicians – doing so in symphonies, opera and musicals, choir rehearsals, dance classes and private lessons – but it is very rare to gather with other collaborative pianists and be surrounded by others who have sat ‘on the same bench,’ as it were. While there is a collaborative piano presence in several of the broader professional music societies, there was no event that we knew of devoted exclusively to collaborative piano when we conceived of CollabFest.”

CollabFest is part of CollabWeek at UNT, which features variety of events, including free, public guest artist masterclasses and performances between Oct. 9 (Monday) – 12 (Thursday). CollabFest itself is a paid conference that takes place on Oct. 13 (Friday) and 14 (Saturday).

 “The major component of the first part of the week is a three-day residency with internationally acclaimed composer Tom Cipulllo,” Puccinelli said. “There also will be a recital Wednesday evening premiering a new work commissioned and performed by famed bass-baritone Michael Anthony McGee  and award-winning pianist Liza Stepanova,” Puccinelli said.

World-renowned pedagogue and doyenne of collaborative piano Jean Barr will serve as the CollabFest keynote speaker and master clinician. Barr, who was the first keyboard artist in the U.S. to be awarded a doctoral degree in accompanying and is considered to be a pioneer in her field, is currently professor and director of the Piano Accompanying and Chamber Music Program in the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music.

“Jean Barr, queen of collaborative pianists, is the mentor of my collaborative piano colleague at UNT, Steven Harlos, co-artistic director of our event. To have Jean is really having collaborative piano royalty present. We are so honored,” Puccinelli said.

Puccinelli and Lisa Sylvester, associate professor of practice at the University of Southern California, developed the concept of this annual event.

 “Lisa suggested the idea of a gathering several years ago – a birthday roast of our beloved mentor at USC, Dr. Alan L. Smith. We honored a landmark birthday for Smith in 2015 and were able to grow this into a one-day festival in 2016 at UNT,” Puccinelli said. “This year, the events are more extensive and there will be activities at both universities with different presenters and performers. Both festivals are devoted exclusively to collaborative piano and, in addition to special guest artist performers, will include student pianists and their partners from area universities.”

Sessions and masterclasses will be presented by guest artists and UNT faculty members addressing issues of performance practice, technique, repertoire, entrepreneurship and health. 

 “Who knows how it will grow next year? I am the artistic director of the UNT event, as Lisa is for USC, but, honestly, this project is directing me – so many pieces fall into place perfectly – better than I could have planned,” Puccinelli said. “It’s a sign to me that this is the right time and that we have struck a need in our pianist community. Being able to make music with another person is a thrill and an honor, and being in a room full of beautiful pianist souls who feel the same way is priceless.”