UPDATE: The College of Charleston Department of Public Safety has closed its investigation of sexual misconduct charges against Enrique Graf, saying that it has has “determined that there is not sufficient evidence to support an arrest or criminal charges.” Read more here.
When pianist and College of Charleston professor Enrique Graf resigned this June amid allegations of sexual misconduct with his students, one question he left in his wake was what would happen to the International Piano Series (IPS)? The series, which Graf founded in 1990, brings four nationally and internationally renowned pianists to perform and offer masterclasses at the college each year. Graf served as the IPS’s artistic director, and was largely responsible for selecting each year’s performers.
The series has been an important player in developing Charleston’s sophisticated concert scene, as the pianists who are part of it are often winners of major competitions like the Van Cliburn, the Beethoven International, and the Cleveland competitions, among others. And although leadership transitions are often rocky — especially when the outgoing leader is also the founder, not to mention embroiled in an investigation — the IPS is poised to have the “best season we’ve had in years,” according to Dr. Edward Hart, the chair of CofC’s music department. “This series belongs to the College of Charleston,” Hart says. “Obviously, it’s unfortunate, the circumstances surrounding Mr. Graf’s departure, but we’re still in business.”
When it became clear that Graf would be leaving the college and hence IPS, Hart hired Evie Christou, the wife of CofC music professor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis, and Robin Zemp, a pianist and CofC professor, to help him put together the 2013-14 season. “The three of us got together and put together a list of performers we wanted to try to get. Some of these [pianists] were just a wish list,” he says. “If we could have seasons like this every year, we’d be doing great.”
The first pianist of the season, Pavel Kolesnikov, is one of those wish listers. Kolesnikov, who is Russian and in his early 20s, is the 2012 winner of the Honens International Piano Competition, which awards $100,000 and a three-year artistic and career development program to a young pianist each year. The artistic and career development program includes worldwide artist representation, the scheduling of debut recitals in major concert halls, and an album recording, among other things. “[Kolesnikov] might just be the rising star of the series,” says Hart. Spoleto audiences got the chance to see the pianist perform during the 2013 Spoleto Festival USA chamber series, but this will be his first solo concert in the Holy City.
Another notable performer this year is Jon Kimura Parker, a Canadian pianist and technical master. Parker has been in music news recently for his transcription of Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. This masterpiece, which caused literal riots in the concert hall when it debuted in Paris, is generally played in its original orchestral form, but Stravinsky also arranged the score for two pianos. Parker, however, has transcribed the score for solo piano. “It really takes 20 fingers to pull this off, so it’s going to be a feat of magic seeing him play this,” Hart says.
The two other pianists on the roster this season are Roberto Plano of Italy, a great player of Scarlatti, and Konstantinos Papadakis of Greece, who performs contemporary music as well as the classics.
While the concerts are a highlight of the music season for concert-goers, they also provide great value to CofC’s music students. Taking a master class with a technical genius like Parker or a passionate player like Plano can have a huge influence on a student’s studies, and sometimes open doors to other opportunities. And since all CofC students can see the concerts for free, the series provides high-culture events without the high-culture price tag. “We’re evangelistic about it,” Hart says. “We want to make future listeners of classical music.”
What makes this year’s season even more impressive is that Hart, Christou, and Zemp only began scheduling the concerts this June. Often concerts by musicians like these must be scheduled a year or more in advance. “I think there’s somebody smiling on us,” Hart says. “We didn’t have to work at it — a lot of these guys just fell into place … A lot of this too is that top-shelf performers want to come here. We’ve got Spoleto, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and a good, appreciative, and knowledgeable audience.”
Tickets to IPS concerts are $20 and free for CofC students. A season subscription is available for $70. All performances are held on Tuesdays at the Sottile Theater at 8 p.m. The season opens with Pavel Kolesnikov on Sept. 24 and continues with Roberto Plano on Jan. 21, Jon Kimura Parker on Feb. 18, and Konstantinos Papadakis on March 18.