MOSCOW, Idaho – Steven Spooner, an assistant professor of piano at the University of Idaho, exemplifies that passion and dedication can lead to national and international success professionally. It also leads to major feats within the classroom. Spooner will be joined by famed Hungarian pianist Adam Gyorgy for an extraordinary performance at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall on Sunday, Oct. 22.
Their performance, sponsored by the Hungarian Consulate in the U.S. and the American Embassy in Budapest, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. It’s also a celebration for several of Spooner’s students, who will fly across the country to witness their teacher in action.
“Steven’s performance is an amazing opportunity for him to showcase his talents at the national level,” said Katherine Aiken, dean of the university’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. “Beyond his contribution to cultural and social enhancement, this experience will provide him with more tools to use in the education and professional development of his students.”
In particular, his ongoing professional career enables him to relate to his students and the struggles they go through as they learn. “I’m still a student, and as a result, I am continually learning,” said Spooner.
While being on stage can be terrifying, he said his most scrutinizing audience is his students. “How I prepare, both mentally and physically, is seen by my students and hopefully duplicated in their studies and performances. It allows me to understand what they are going through as they sit through lessons with me, and I’m able to tell them we’re learning together.”
To prepare for his national performance, he’s stepped up his practicing from three to four hours a day. He said the sense of devotion to practice is paramount as he prepares for a performance, a trait he’s instilling in his students.
Spooner said that one of the biggest challenges for a professor is to interact with students on a legitimate personal level. He’s come up with some unique solutions to bridge that gap, including a Facebook group called “Spooner Studio” that allows him to converse with his students and follow the daily lives of those he’s influenced.
Kezia Schrag, who is working on her doctorate degree in piano, has been a student of Spooner’s for two years and is part of his Facebook studio group. “It's really just a place for all of us to communicate with each other and our professor, whether to whine or leave updates. While it seems a small and perhaps silly element of our studio I think it easily demonstrates our ability to get along as a group,” she said.
Schrag said Spooner’s “infinite devotion to our improvement at any cause is the most striking aspect of his abilities as a teacher.” Despite his rigorous performing and teaching schedule, he is an active member of his students’ advising committees.
“He refuses to allow us to do poorly in any music class, whether it’s history, theory or something else,” said Schrag. “Also, he’s been known on occasion to just call us up at home to see how we’re doing with things – music, school or life in general. That’s a gesture unique to him.”
Schrag already has arranged to attend his performance. She said that while it’s inevitable that students sacrifice in his absence, it’s worth it having him gone from the classroom so they can learn from the quality and traits he exhibits on the national stage.
“It’s fascinating to watch Steven – I wouldn’t miss his debut at Carnegie Hall for anything. I’m overwhelmed with excitement just thinking about it,” said Schrag. “I am full of pride that he is my teacher. As an artist, and now a teacher myself, I can only hope to duplicate his abilities as a musician.”
Schrag believes his off-campus work actually is beneficial to the campus. “As a performer and adjudicator, he’s exceptional. He’s attracting so many people from around the country with his abilities; he’s transforming the university’s piano program. Steven is a tremendous asset to the University of Idaho.”
Outside of his teaching at the University of Idaho, Spooner plays some 40 concerts a year. He’s established a local presence in Moscow, too. This past year on the university’s campus he continued his Historic Recital Series with recitals of music by Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven.
Spooner’s selections for the Carnegie Hall performance are all written by Hungarians, including Liszt and Bartok. Known for his improvisations, Gyorgy will play a mixed program, including some American tunes. Mostly, they will alternate at the piano, but plan to play a duet.
The celebration performance at Carnegie Hall is the brainchild of Philip Reeker, assistant chief of mission at the American Embassy in Budapest. He was inspired to commemorate the occasion with a musical performance featuring Spooner and Gyorgy after attending their recital at the Great Hall of the Liszt Academy last year in Budapest. He started planning the celebration event more than a year ago.
“What sets these concerts apart from the normal debuts in New York or D.C. is that the recitals are sponsored in part by monies from both our embassies and several corporate sponsors in Europe, including Steinway and Sons, Hamburg, distinguishing it from the often self-funded efforts of aspiring artists,” said Spooner.
The performance will take place in Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall at 8:30 p.m. and will feature works by Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Bartók and Dohnányi. Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased online at www.carnegiehall.org or by calling (212) 247-7800.
Spooner and Gyorgy also will perform at other venues as part of a larger tour, including: a kick-off performance in Moscow on Wednesday, Oct. 18; a performance as part of the Silvermine Artist Series in New Canaan, Conn., on Saturday, Oct. 21; and a final debut at the Katzen Arts Center at American University in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Oct. 28.
For more information about the University of Idaho’s Lionel Hampton School of Music, call (208) 885-6231, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.class.uidaho.edu/music.