BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
July 10, 2013
“The piano is the most divinely inspired instrument on the planet. It presents a great attraction to our left-right brain relationship. My goal is to create entertainment that also provides enlightenment.”
That quote comes from the artist’s biography of David Lanz, one of five world-class pianists coming to Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley for the inaugural version of a new music series on Whidbey Island called PianoFest Northwest. The event is Friday through Sunday, July 19 to 21, and is a fundraising initiative for the arts center.
Lanz,a Seattle native, is a Grammy-nominated contemporary composer and one of the pioneers of the “New Age” movement in music. He will be joined during the weekend by Walt Wagner, also a Seattle native with a long list of piano credentials, and a trio of highly talented women called Thirtyfingers, who perform simultaneously at the same piano. They are Natalya Ageyeva, Lisa Bergman and Deborah Dewey.
“I’m so excited. This will be fabulous,” event artistic director Maureen Girard said. “It’s a great way to support musical performance.”
Girard, a local jazz piano teacher and owner of 88 Keys Piano Studio in Langley, will kick off the festival on Friday, July 19 with a performance at the gala opening with three of her outstanding students, Grant Neubauer, Eric Vanderbilt and Amelie Petit. As a piano educator, Girard is dedicated to creating opportunities for students to perform and is thrilled to have PianoFest NW kick-off with a youth component. Lanz will follow as the featured performer that evening. Wagner will perform on Saturday, July 20 and Thirtyfingers will take the stage on Sunday, July 21. All these performances will be on WICA’s Michael Nutt Main Stage at 7:30 p.m. and are $25 per night, or $65 for a festival pass.
Wagner has many fans here on Whidbey Island, where he has performed a number of times. His performances feature his unique, technically fluid, jazz and rock-influenced style of playing, which has brought more than one audience to their feet. As a composer, Wagner has worked with many well-known celebrities and singers, as well as with various Seattle symphonies and orchestras.
As a special feature, PianoFest offers a Walt Wagner House Concert at a private home on West Whidbey Island at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 21. Wagner’s house concert in an intimate setting and with more limited seating is $150.
Girard said that PianoFest is modeled after DjangoFest with a vision to attract some of the world’s greatest musicians to Whidbey for an annual event that will give the community a distinct profile as a destination for music lovers. Moreover, the event will serve to inspire the local music community and help raise funds for music education, which is of primary importance to Girard.
“It has been said that creativity is the new currency of the 21st century,” she said. “And that is what many CEO’s and world leaders believe.”
Girard sees art and music education as central in developing creativity. Two of her students who will perform have recently received university degrees with double majors; one in Biology and Music Performance, the other in Engineering and Music Performance. Such achievements serve as perfect illustrations to Lanz’ belief that the piano is an instrument that creates a strong left-right brain connection.
Girard has many plans to expand the festival as it grows in the coming years. In particular she wants to create opportunities for local musicians to perform in front of their friends and neighbors. She envisions, for example, a series called “Who Knew?” that will present piano players who are not known as such in the community.
“I love this community,” she said. “I love the kids [her students] and the almost magical relationship I have with them, as well as the heart of the people here and their values, especially their support of the arts.”
(Pictured at top, Thirtyfingers at the piano./Photo courtesy of the artists)
Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He also is a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.