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Issue Date: March 2008 Issue

Behind the Music

Rachel Szuch
Jeffrey Siegel, internationally renowned pianist, has been giving audiences a history lesson in classical music for the last 20 years with the Kulas Series of Keyboard Conversations. This combination of commentary and music is so “I don’t bore the expert and I don’t lose the novice,” he says. On March 9, Siegel will perform “Russia: Rebels on the Red Carpet” at Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium.

Where did the idea for Keyboard Conversations come from?
The guiding light and the inspiration were the programs that Leonard Bernstein gave where he would talk about the music before conducting the orchestra. The listener would be on the edge of his chair.

Can you give us an example of your commentary?
Almost every piano student plays Beethoven’s “Für Elise” — there are cell phones that go off to that. What’s not generally known is that he never wanted it published at all — it was a private gift to a lady friend.

What’s the best question you’ve been asked?
A 9-year-old boy who finally got away from his mother’s grasp held up his hand and said, “Mr. Siegel, how many hours a day did Bach have to practice?”

If you could meet any musician who would it be?

Franz Liszt. He was probably the most extraordinary personality and lived the most extraordinary life of all the great composers. He was once asked, late in life, why he didn’t write an autobiography. And his response was, “It has been enough to live such a life.”

If you had to choose between the work of Beethoven and Mozart, which do you prefer?

Impossible. If you’d said John Smith and Beethoven, it wouldn’t have been difficult. But when you’re talking about Mozart and Beethoven, you’re talking about the greatest there is in music. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Behind the

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