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MSO season concludes with musical journey to Paris

April 28, 2005|by KATE COLEMAN

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra has one more stop on its 23rd season's musical journey.

"An American in Paris," this weekend's grand finale productions, will feature popular works by 20th-century contemporaries George Gershwin, an American composer, and France's Maurice Ravel.

"What's fun is that Ravel visited New York, and Gershwin visited Paris," said Music Director Elizabeth Schulze.

Conducted by Schulze, the MSO will perform Gershwin's "An American in Paris" and Ravel's "Bolero." Pianist Jeffrey Biegel will join the orchestra as soloist on Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Ravel's Concerto in G Major.

"I don't think you can go wrong with any of this music," Schulze said. Schulze and Biegel worked together in Buffalo, N.Y, eight years ago and have retained a friendship.

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"He's made himself just a complete musician," she said, adding that she is thrilled he's finally coming to play with the MSO.

Biegel also is looking forward to the weekend's performances.

"Rhapsody in Blue" is a piece he said he always loved. He'll be playing - from memory - the restored original 1924 manuscript of Gershwin's work. There were 88 measures of missing piano parts, he said. Biegel performed the original for its American premiere with the Boston Pops in 1997 and later took it to Germany and Norway.

The 43-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native has been playing the piano since he started taking lessons at age 7. That also was the age at which he decided to become a professional musician. It was a recording of Vladimir Horowitz playing Beethoven's "Appassionata" that convinced him.

Music - the sound vibrations of the piano - was Biegel's first language. Because he had been born unable to hear, Biegel didn't talk - his parents were told he was "lazy" - until he was 3 years old, when a doctor realized he needed surgery.

He's still talking through the instrument.

Biegel did "the normal kid stuff" in his early piano studies, going through all the technique books. He moved on to another teacher when he was 10, and at 16, the son of a New York City cop became a student of concert pianist and renowned teacher Adele Marcus.

She was tough, teaching in the old Russian tradition, Biegel said. "Music first, fingers second," she instructed her students. "Think sound," she commanded, wanting her students to help themselves, he added.

His music education - studying at The Juilliard School from 1979 to 1985 - followed "pretty much the typical route." He was 19 when Leonard Bernstein's comments helped launch his New York recital debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in 1986: "He is a splendid musician and a brilliant performer," Bernstein said.

The award-winning Biegel has been heard in recital in many cities - in the United States, Mexico, Europe, Scandinavia and Japan. He also travels widely to perform as a guest with orchestras.

Biegel is on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College at The City University of New York. He teaches in the studio where, in 1978, he met the woman who would later become his wife.

The pianist still lives on Long Island - now with his wife, Sharon, and sons Evan, 8, and Craig, 12, a lovebird and 15-year-old dog.

Jeffrey Biegel, who has composed several choral works, also composed a choral piece with his son Craig. "The World In Our Hands" was inspired by the events of Sept. 11 with a vision for hope and peace.

Biegel's repertoire is diverse. He plays the traditionally essential works but said he wants to create a legacy for tomorrow's pianists.

"We need new works going into the 21st century."

He is all about making it happen.

In 1999 he assembled a consortium of 27 orchestras to celebrate the millennium with a new concerto composed for him by Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. He continues to perform "Millennium Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra," most recently a few weeks ago with the American Symphony Orchestra in New York.

He is booked for performances in the United States, Canada and Europe through the 2007-08 seasons, playing works written for him by American composers Lowell Liebermann, Richard Danielpour and Daniel Dorff.

Biegel also is open to the music of composers who have made their names outside the classical music box. He premiered a concerto by Leroy Anderson - known for the popular tunes "Syncopated Clock" and "Sleigh Ride" - at Carnegie Hall in 1995. In 2003 he performed Duke Ellington's "New World A-Comin'" in Switzerland, and he's performed works by Lalo Schifrin, of "Mission Impossible" theme fame; Charles Strouse, whose Broadway credits include "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Annie"; and Keith Emerson of 1970s rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Biegel's musical mission has enabled him to reconnect with composers and musicians he knew years ago, and he said he gets to make new friends.

"It's exciting."

Some of Biegel's undertakings have helped him to reach into the future. He performed the first live Internet recitals in New York and Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 1997 and 1998.

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