Music students receive rare treat from classical pianist
It was one of those infrequent musical treats that pop in on the local scene when a classical pianist widely regarded as one of Europe’s top emerging young artists addressed the Alaska Middle College School music appreciation class held at the University of Alaska Eagle River campus on Jan. 30.
Most of the students had not heard of him, but that didn’t stop their immediate recognition that they were in from a rare listening experience as his fingers employed some chording and scales to check the key action on the piano in the classroom.
“Well, I will see what I can do,” Edvinas Minkstimas said as he sat down at a modest digital piano clearly far from the standard set by the concert grand pianos he performs on regularly.
It didn’t prevent him from tickling the ivories, so to speak. A true performance professional, Minkstimas took a moment to determine which selections his well-trained fingers could best perform under the circumstances.
Soon the classroom was filled with music usually heard in concert halls. In some respects, his mini concert for the music appreciation class represents his own career goal of introducing classical music to the masses and building a cultural appreciation for music that in his mind doesn’t just belong to the “elite.”
His second selection, “Linus and Lucy” better known as “The Charlie Brown Theme Song,” was clearly familiar to the students as smiles crossed their faces when he began to play.
Between the four selections Minkstimas played, he took time to share his thoughts regarding classical music.
“I’ve been asked to write scores for movies and video games,” he told the students. “Today, many different types of music are coming together to be used in ways never thought possible. This is true of classical music. I like this. I don’t want my work, the music that I play, to be seen only as a museum piece.”
Minkstimas hails from Republic of Lithuania where he honed his piano skills under the tutelage of instructors largely influenced by the strict Soviet legacy that has produced artists such as Emil Gilels, the first Russian pianist allowed to travel abroad post-World War II, Sergei Rachmaninov (Rachmaninoff), perhaps the Russian artist most widely known in the West, and Sviatoslav Richter, ranked as one of the best pianists in the 20th century.
Minkstimas lives outside of Washington, D.C., and the Consul of Lithuania brought him to Alaska in conjunction with the congregation at Beth Shilom.
At the tender age of three, Minkstimas’ parents took him for his first piano lesson. He continued to practice, he won competitions and made his professional debut at age 14 with The Lithuanian National Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Grieg Piano Concerto in A-minor.
When asked about the culture in his homeland and the rigidity of his former instructors, Minkstimas chuckled.
“Well,” he began, “As far as Lithuania, everyone knows it for basketball,” in reference to the numerous professional basketball players from the former Soviet Bloc nation. “My teachers were trained in Soviet schools and they regularly called me names like ‘idiot.’”
His well-polished English language skills gave way to an obvious Russian-sounding enunciation on the word “idiot” prompting some laughter among the gathered students and breaking the cultural ice — another of his professional goals.
Whatever it was his Soviet style teachers installed in him, it has served Minkstimas well. In 1992, when he earned top honors First Tchaikovsky International Competition for Young Musicians held in Moscow, Russia, it also served as notice that he was destined to become of the world’s best classical pianists. He’s won international piano competitions in Canada and France. In 2007, he won the Fifth International Ciurlionis Piano Competition in Vilnius, Lithuania, and in 2010, Minkstimas won the Belz-Parker Young Artist Award in Memphis, Tennessee.
In May 2011, he earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from The Juilliard School in New York and just a few months late in July took up professional duties as the artist-in-residence for the Embassy Series Festival in Washington, D.C., and then taking the show on the road travelling to several other foreign countries.
In 2013, he became a Steinway Artist with duties of performing and teaching at the Steinway showroom and concert hall in North Bethesda. He’s performed at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., as well as with several orchestras and philharmonic groups across the United States, Europe and South America.
Monday night he performed at UAA Anchorage’s recital hall at the fine arts building.
For a performer who has seen hundreds of venues, Minkstimas said he liked the unique feel of the recital hall.
“It has the second floor where concert attendees can walk around looking down on the recital hall and watch the performance from above,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to watch the performer’s hands as they move across the keyboard and that is quite unique.”
Learn more about Edvinas Minkstimas at www.minkstimas.com.
Reach Amy M. Armstrong at [email protected].