Classical With Attitude

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Jonathan Campbell ’16, Guest Writer

On Thursday, October 17, the pianist, Barron Ryan, performed his concert “Classical with Attitude”, a mix of ragtime, jazz, and classical music.  This approach not only allows Ryan to mix genres in a new and creative way, but also allows him to blend the different kinds of music that he loves. Ryan’s style, while influenced by composers and musicians such as George Gershwin, Nikolai Kapustin, and Oscar Peterson, also introduces listeners to types of music that they may have never heard before and in a way that is also new to those who are familiar or even fans of the music.

From the very first song, Nikolai Kapustin’s “Prelude” from his “Eight Concert Etudes, Op. 40, I was impressed by how many notes could be played on the piano at one time.  Although Ryan admitted to me after the performance that he struggled a little bit through the first few pieces, from my point of view his performance seemed nearly effortless.  The audience’s reaction to Ryan’s performance was immediately apparent; not only did the applause drown out Ryan’s “thank yous” in between pieces, but he was even called back for an encore after a standing ovation.  Parker Dunaway even said that, “In the time I’ve spent as Dr. Salvage’s assistant, I’ve never seen one performer sell that many CD’s.”  What truly struck me about Ryan was not only his unique take on music and his own style, but also his friendliness.  He was not only quick to answer questions, but also to explain each piece, including the origin, a few words about the composer, and how the piece fit into the genre as a whole before he sat down to play.

Ryan started playing piano when he was four years old, inspired by his father, a professional musician, and his mother, who also plays the piano.  Ryan believes that the piano is “one of the few instruments on which you can play every part of the music you have” (a quality of the piano that was very apparent in Ryan’s performance, especially apparent to me in “Prelude” by Nikolai Kapustin from his “Eight Concert Etudes, Op. 40 in which the bass notes jump in and out of the piece while the right hand almost nearly solos at times with the treble notes).  “I try to speak to what I think people know… and I try to be approachable.”  Ryan also said that, “I want to make it so that it’s fun and that it’s relatable.”  Later in my interview with him, I asked Ryan what his advice was to aspiring musicians or artists of any kind, he offered a very interesting take on the question: “Develop a story that’s genuine.”  Ryan believes that this doesn’t just mean that an individual should develop his or her own story, but also be able to place his or her art within the discipline as a whole. “Always be in a position to learn,” Ryan said. “You are never at a point where you know everything and where you can’t benefit from somebody else.”

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