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Arts & Culture

Pianist Brings Personal Works by Living Composers to Akron

photo of pianist Holly Roadfeldt

If classical pianists include new music on their recitals, it’s often an afterthought. Pianist Holly Roadfeldt takes a different approach. Tonight at the University of Akron’s Guzzetta Hall, she’s performing a recital of 13 pieces written just for her by living composers.

Roadfeldt says she was encouraged to play new music very early in her musical education. That’s why, unlike some concert pianists who lean on a handful of time-honored classics for the duration of their careers, Roadfeldt says she isn’t afraid to play music that hasn’t been tested by time yet.

She also happens to be married to composer Kirk O’Riordan, with whom she collaborated on an album of piano preludes inspired by the Opus 28 preludes by Frederic Chopin.

When she’s not on tour, Roadfeldt teaches piano students of all ages. She says even her younger students get excited about new music.

“Even the younger students will come up to me and say, ‘Is this a piece that was written for you?’” Roadfeldt said. “They get really excited about it.”

One of Roadfeldt’s own role models was pianist Ursula Oppens, who is known for her long-lasting creative relationship with composer Elliott Carter and virtually every major 20th century composer. Roadfeldt recalls hearing Oppens perform the 32 Beethoven sonatas alongside modern works such as John Adams’ “Phrygian Gates.”

“Ursula Oppens is one of my heroes,” Roadfeldt said.

Roadfeldt has adopted a similar approach with her recitals. She says simply tacking on contemporary pieces at the end of a recital doesn’t help audiences understand that composers working today fit within the larger classical tradition of concert music. When she includes old and new pieces on a program, Roadfeldt prefers to intermingle them.

At her recital Friday evening, though, Roadfeldt is going completely contemporary. All of the composers on the program are still alive, and all but one of the pieces were written for Roadfeldt. Four of the pieces are going to be heard for the very first time. Roadfeldt says she received some of the pieces just two weeks ago.

Above all, Roadfeldt values the personal relationships she has with the composers behind the music she performs.

“A lot of these composers are composers I go back to again and again because I like them so much personally.”