Campus News

Noted UGA pianist and teacher Richard Zimdars to present lecture-recital

Noted UGA pianist and teacher Richard Zimdars to present lecture-recital

Richard Zimdars has unlocked a world of success in the past year, and it only took 88 keys.

Zimdars, the Despy Karlas Professor of Piano in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia, released a solo piano CD called American Piano Music, 1900-1930 that is drawing rave reviews nationwide. Now, he will be sharing some of that music, along with a lecture about it.

His lecture-recital “American Innovators: Henry Cowell and Dane Rudhyar” will be on Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., in the Edge Recital Hall in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music. The event is free and open to the public, and afterward his CD will be for sale.

James H. North, noted critic for the music journal Fanfare, set the critical tone when he wrote of the CD:

He [Zimdars] displays breathtaking chops, producing cascades of sounds with fistfuls of notes . . . I don’t get to review many piano recitals, but this is my favorite in recent memory.”

The CD features music by American innovators Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Dane Rudhyar and Aaron Copland. By turns knotty and lyrical, the music presents technical and musical challenges, but critic Jeff Simon of the Buffalo News says Zimdars is more than up to it.

‘”A brilliant record,” Simon wrote. “An exemplary exploration of the piano music of some of America’s greatest composers in their greatest and most experimental period.”

Zimdars, who has been playing much of this repertoire for years, recorded the disc on a nine-foot Steinway grand in UGA’s Ramsey Hall.

“The piano is beautifully maintained by our piano technician Steve Cox,” said Zimdars, “and my colleague Adrian Childs made a superb session producer. The recording engineers Doug Moore and Will Marlow rounded out what I think was a first-rate team.”

Zimdars came to the Franklin College of Arts and Science’s music school in 1984, and he bears the Karlas Professorship with pride, since Karlas was a pioneering figure in music at UGA and is still an active part of musical life in Athens.

Zimdars has performed and lectured in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Brazil, Canada and the United States. He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recitalist Grant, first prize in the Music Teachers National Association Collegiate Artist Competition and a Fulbright Grant for piano study in Germany. From 2006-2008 he served on the Fulbright National Screening Committee for piano applicants.

He first came to love this repertoire as a doctoral student at the University of Iowa in the early 1970s, partially under the influence of his teacher James Avery, who specialized in it. Zimdars first performed the music of Cowell on the CD during a recital at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in Ireland in 1974, an amazing experience that has stayed with him.

“I played in a 13th century cathedral, and I thought Cowell’s Three Irish Legends [on the CD] would be perfect for that venue,” said Zimdars. “It was moving and kind of spooky and thrilling.”

The Piano Variations by Copland was actually the first piece on the CD that Zimdars learned, back in 1966. Over the years, his interest in this repertoire has grown, and he now occasionally teaches a graduate seminar in piano literature called “U.S. Piano Music 1900-Present.” Not surprisingly, piano majors love the course.

The Ives Sonata No. 1 is, he admits, his “good luck piece,” since he performed it at his debut recitals in New York City (1985) and London (1989).

North’s review is expansive in his praise of Zimdars performance of the Ives on the CD:

“Of the several pianists who have essayed it on records, only Joanna MacGregor, on a Collins Classics CD, has come close to Zimdars. Whereas MacGregor seems more poetic and imaginative at a few moments, her performance does not leave us shaking our heads in wonder, as this one does.”

The American Record Guide especially praised Zimdars’ performance of Dane Rudhyar’s Third Pentagram—Release, of which this is the first complete recording. While Rudhyar is not as widely known as the other composers, this disc may help change that.

“Somehow this goes to the heart of what it means to be an American composer and musician,” said Zimdars. “They helped find a voice for what is American music, and it’s music that still isn’t played enough. As a teacher, this is the kind of music I want to lead students to.”

Those students may have another chance to hear their teacher on CD with similar repertoire, since he plans next to record a disc of American piano music from the 50s-70s. More pressing may be an international event set for UGA next year. Zimdars is director of the 2011 American Liszt Society Festival celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of Franz Liszt, scheduled for UGA from Feb. 17-19, 2011.

The recording was supported by funds from the University of Georgia Research Foundation and the Despy Karlas Piano Professorship Fund.