It was a little tricky tracking down both Michael Brown and Rachel Kudo—the winners of this year’s Gina Bachauer Piano Competition—as they both spent most of the summer away from New York, immersed in festivals and other musical actitivies. After many attempts, I was able to catch up with both of them.
Michael had just finished a concert at the Yamaha Piano Salon in Manhattan and was running a little bit late for our meeting. When he walked into my office, the impression I got was of younger version of Woody Allen. (Later I found out that Woody Allen is one of Michael’s idols!) A multitalented guy, not only is he pursuing a double major at Juilliard in piano and composition, but also he is accomplished golfer. He was excited to talk about his golf experience this summer in Tanglewood with Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker magazine. Michael also could have been a wonderful comedian. When we were talking about his Juilliard teachers, Jerome Lowenthal (piano) and Samuel Adler (composition), he did such a perfect impression of both of them that I almost felt off my chair laughing.
It was a very busy and exciting summer for Michael. He had just came back from the Fubis summer composition course at the Freie Universität Berlin, where Adler teaches. While Michael was there, several of his own compositions were performed. He also traveled to other cities while he was in Europe—in Leipzig he visited St. Thomas’s Church, where J.S. Bach worked for 27 years; Mendelssohn’s house, where he played the composer’s piano until he was kicked out; and Schumann’s house. (After spending a summer in Germany, he now feels more comfortable speaking German and drinking beer.)
Michael grew up on Long Island listening to Billy Joel, Raffi, and Mozart. He started out playing the violin when he was 4, but a year later transferred his interest to the piano, which gradually became his passion. He auditioned for Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, and Yale and was accepted to all three schools, but decided to come to Juilliard because he wanted to study with Jerome Lowenthal. When I asked Michael how he balances piano and composition, he replied, “Oh, it’s all about doing everything all at once. Say I’m practicing a piano piece, and when I get tired, I jump right into a piece I’ve been writing. The score is usually on top of the piano, anyway.”
Michael also has co-created a new music series called New Paths, New Music with his friend and fellow composition student Eugene Birman (who is also taking courses at Columbia), which will unite the composition departments of Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, and Columbia University and present new music concerts throughout the city of works from these three schools.
For the Gina Bachauer concert on September 26, Michael will perform music by Mompou, Copland, and Chopin, as well as some of his own work.
I had to interview Rachel Kudo, the other winner of this year’s Gina Bachauer Piano Competition, by phone because she was on her way to Chicago, where her family currently lives. She was very soft spoken, and extremely polite.
Born in Washington, D.C., Rachel grew up in various parts of the world. As her father was an economist who traveled a lot, Rachel’s family moved to Japan, Korea, and Chicago. She has been immersed in many different cultures and languages, and speaks Japanese, Korean, and German, in addition to English.
Like Michael, Rachel started playing the violin at 4 and switched to the piano a year later. She talked about how much she enjoys going away for summer festivals. For three years in a row (2001-03), she went to the Casalmaggiore Festival in Italy, where she performed concerts for the locals. This summer, she was in Aspen participating in the music festival with her teacher, Yoheved Kaplinsky.
Rachel is also keen on many different sports. She plays basketball and badminton, and enjoys ice skating and skiing. When asked about her goals, she says that she would like to continue her career as a concert soloist, but she loves all aspects of music, including chamber music. Rachel, who was recently named a 2008 Gilmore Young Artist, has impressive credentials: she made her orchestral debut at age 16, performing with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and later that same year played with the Chicago Symphony in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. She was a master class fellow at the 2004 Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, where she worked with Christopher Taylor and Lori Sims.
Despite her many accomplishments, Rachel’s manner is very modest. She gives credit to the “great influences” that surround her, including her teacher and her peers. When she has free time, Rachel heads off campus and goes to the park or hangs out with her colleagues, enjoying what New York City has to offer.
For her portion of the Gina Bachauer concert, Rachel will perform Carl Vine’s Piano Sonata No.1 (1990).
After speaking with these two multitalented young artists, I feel confident that the future of classical music is bright. I can’t wait to hear them in future concerts.