For those who need it parsed: The Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium and Piano Festival gets its name from pianist Edna Golandsky, its artistic director. The Institute builds on the pioneering work of Golandsky’s mentor, Dorothy Taubman, who developed a healthy approach to piano playing that combines powerful technique with physical comfort.
Every July since 2004 the Institute has come to Princeton. The symposium offers participants a week-long set of daytime lectures, lessons, master classes, and practice opportunities. The festival consists of a series of evening concerts. All events are open to the public. Full information is available on the website, www.golandskyinstitute.org/summersymposium.
Among the daytime events of special interest to those in the Princeton area is a lecture celebrating the 200th anniversary of Frederic Chopin’s birth. Area resident Mariam Nazarian, who has performed repeatedly in Princeton, talks about Chopin’s B Minor Sonata on Wednesday, July 14, at 3 p.m., in McCormick Auditorium at the Princeton University Art Museum.
Other lectures treat Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu” and his “Polonaise-Fantaisie.” Symposium presentations include a talk about piano care and sessions on wholesome approaches to both violin playing and computer use. Music critic Tim Page tells about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome.
The roster of performers at evening concerts includes solo pianists Gulsin Onay (Sunday, July 11); Josu De Solaun Soto (Monday, July 12); Sean Duggan (Thursday, July 15); and Ilya Itin (Friday, July 16). Pianist Thomas Bagwell performs with baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert on Tuesday, July 13. Pianists Takeshi Ohbayashi and Christian Li perform with a bassist, saxophonist, and flutist from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute on Saturday, July 17. All concerts take place at 8 p.m. in Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall on the Princeton campus.
In a telephone interview from Florida, Sean Duggan talks about his July 15 Princeton program. A repeat performer at the Golandsky Festival, Duggan is the pianist in the clerical collar who specializes in Bach. As a concert artist, he lists himself as Father Sean Duggan.
“It will be all Bach this year,” Duggan says, “early, middle, and late.” Music from the early and middle periods comes before intermission. The “Toccata in D Major” represents the early period. Middle period pieces are the “Six Little Preludes” and the “Fantasy and Fugue in A minor.” After intermission comes Bach’s “Partita No. 4,” a late piece.
Two weeks before the performance, Duggan mulls over the possibility of enlarging the program. “The first part is probably not long enough,” he says. “I may add the ‘Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue’ or something else. I want to play at least 30 minutes before intermission. The Partita, after the intermission, takes about 35 minutes.”
Life interferes with performing. Duggan’s father died less than a month ago. “I had a different program in mind until my dad’s health took a turn for the worse,” Duggan says. “I wanted to play a program of ‘Spirituality at the Keyboard’ with Bach, Liszt, and Messiaen. It would have required more practice than I could give it. I think I’ll do it next year.”
Duggan was born in Jersey City in 1954. His father was an engineer. When Duggan was four the family moved to Seattle. About three years later, they moved to the Cape Canaveral, Florida, area. His mother still lives there. “The family was musical in a general way,” he says. “They cared about music. We sang and did some piano. My sister, who’s one and a half years younger than I am, has a wonderful voice and is involved with church music. My father’s younger brother was a pianist and a priest.”
Piano lessons for Duggan started at age 10 with the local church organist. He earned his undergraduate music degree at Loyola University in New Orleans and a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1979. For three years he was the Pittsburgh Opera Company’s pianist and assistant chorus master. He also taught piano at Carnegie Mellon and was a member of the Carnegie Mellon Piano Trio. “As long as we were around Carnegie Mellon we kept the trio going. It evaporated when we went our separate ways.”
Duggan left Pittsburgh to enter the Benedictine order at St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, Louisiana, in 1982, earned a master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1988. “The Benedictine encouragement of spirituality and the arts is what attracted me to the order,” he says.
After entering the monastery, he twice won the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition for Pianists in Washington, D.C. The prize each time consisted of concerts in the United States and a two-month concert tour in Germany.
From 2001 to 2004 he was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. Since then he has been on the faculty of the State University of New York at Fredonia, where this year he was granted tenure.
“As far as Fredonia is concerned, I can stay there indefinitely,” Duggan says. “But my religious community may not totally agree. Benedictines take three vows. One is the vow of stability. You agree to be with a particular religious community for life. That’s usually understood in a physical sense. But it can also be understood as relational. The life that I’m leading can be seen as a part of Benedictine spirituality. My monastery has been very generous to me.
“I am an unusual case. In the middle of my life I discovered an unusual love and ability for teaching piano on the college level. That’s why I’m allowed to do this. Still, I keep up with the religious life. At Fredonia I live in a rectory. I’m not part of the staff, but I’m in residence. I help out with masses and help the campus ministry. I’ve got a few irons in the fire at Fredonia.
“I’ll probably return to the community in 2013. Then, I won’t be as free to perform as I am now. I’ll have assignments that are not related to piano teaching and performance.”
At Fredonia, Duggan is recording the non-organ keyboard works of Bach. His goal is to finish by 2013. “What’s great about recording is that you can remove mistakes,” he says.
“I’m trying to preserve the feeling of a live performance. I’m trying to imagine that I’m playing for an audience, which I really am, except that the audience is not there yet. It helps to perform on stage, rather than in a recording studio. The live ambiance is there when you’re on stage.”
‘Fredonia has an SRT program — Sound Recording Technology. You can major in it. I’m lucky that one of the guys on the faculty is my producer. He leaves me alone when I record. I do as many takes as I want. That way I feel less pressure. Then we sit down together and choose. I can do as many takes as I want without thinking that I’m driving somebody crazy.”
In 1996 Duggan was invited to perform at what he calls “Taubman Institute gatherings,” summer workshops presenting the work of master teacher Dorothy Taubman, who developed the unforced pianism that Edna Golandsky carries on. Already then, the gatherings included performances by exemplary artists, as well as Taubman-trained pianists. “They kept inviting me back,” Duggan says. “I sat in on lectures and was fascinated. In the fall of 2001, when I was invited to Michigan on a three-year appointment, I thought it was a perfect time to learn more. I would fly to New York once or twice a month to study with Edna.
“The Golandsky/Taubman approach is useful for Bach,” Duggan says. “It’s useful for any piano playing. Ease at the keyboard, facility, and tone production come into play with Bach. Even pedaling. I believe that when you’re playing Bach on the piano, you should use the resources of the piano to make the music come alive. If you try to make the piano sound like a harpsichord, the pieces sound dry and lifeless. You have to be true to Bach and, also, true to the piano.
“Edna had a big impact on my performing and my teaching,” Duggan says. “My performing keeps improving, and my teaching has grown a lot. Edna is a remarkable teacher. She has incredible insight. She knows the right words to use to get you to do the right thing. She has razor-sharp eyes and ears. A lot of teachers have that, but she has it to an extent that I have never before experienced in anybody else.”
Piano Festival, Golandsky Institute, Taplin Auditorium, Fine Hall, Princeton University. Thursday, July 15, 8 p.m. Sean Duggan performs an all-Bach program. $25. 877-343-3434 or www.golandskyinstitute.org. For full schedule visit the website.