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Beethoven to Duke Ellington at Bermuda Piano Festival

In 2017 Alex Tuchman gathered a group of musicians for the Bermuda Piano Festival. It was held at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art before an appreciative audience; in ensuing years demand moved the concert to a larger venue, the Trudeau Ballroom at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, where it repeatedly sold out.

After a year’s break due to Covid-19 the Bermuda Piano Festival returns for a free, virtual series – four shows presented by the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts.

“We’re opening the festival with a programme of works by Ludwig van Beethoven which actually was meant for our 2020 festival, as 2020 was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth,” said Mr Tuchman, the Piano Festival’s founder and artistic director. “We decided to feature that programme this year because we don’t need an anniversary to celebrate Beethoven, of course, and we’re sure people will enjoy hearing his music.”

The three concerts that follow are “classical masterpieces for solo and duo piano, as well as jazz/contemporary works” that he will perform alongside Eteri Andjaparidze, Sung-Soo Cho, Stephen Cook, Santiago Lomelín and Jeremy Ajani Jordan.

“The other performing artists are my distinguished colleagues, and some were also my classmates at Mannes School of music and the Cleveland Institute of Music,” said Mr Tuchman, a former Bermuda resident who now lives in New York. “I’m also very honoured that my former professor at NYU, Eteri Andjaparidze, is part of the festival as performer, teacher and adviser.”

The Piano Festival was initially presented through the Bermuda School of Music. Mr Tuchman came up with the idea having fallen in love with the island while living here with his family during high school.

“My family continued to reside in Bermuda for six years after I left to study music in the States, so whenever I would go ‘home’, I would go to Bermuda. We often attended concerts at Bermuda School of Music and the Bermuda Festival, and I saw first-hand that there was a strong audience for classical music.

“As a student I had attended piano festivals abroad during the summer months and it occurred to me that it would be great for music lovers and students in Bermuda if there were a similar kind of festival on the island. So that’s where the idea came from.”

He spoke to former teachers – Ms Andjaparidze “was very supportive” from the beginning – and to Bermuda School of Music.

“We all worked together to make that inaugural year happen. And it’s been going since,” Mr Tuchman said.

He continued: “The Bermuda Piano Festival worked in collaboration with the Bermuda School of Music to make the inaugural 2017 Festival happen. And it’s been going since, with the exception of last summer due to Covid.

“After three successful years of collaboration with Bermuda School of Music, we felt that it was part of the natural progression of the Festival to align with an organisation dedicated to presenting performances to the Bermuda public. We’re excited to be presenting our 2021 festival in collaboration with the Bermuda Festival.”

Mr Tuchman started piano lessons at age six. While living here, he would travel to New York every weekend to continue classes with the preparatory division of Mannes College of Music.

He stayed at Mannes for his undergraduate degree in piano performance but transferred to NYU Steinhardt for his master’s.

He then earned a doctorate in music of arts from the Cleveland Institute of Music where he “played at lot of chamber music as well as solo music” and came up with the idea of the Bermuda Piano Festival.

“We were definitely encouraged by the reception and the attendance,” said Mr Tuchman, a concert artist who also gives lessons out of his private studio in New York. “We hope many of those people who came and heard us live will tune in for our virtual concerts in August.”

The Piano Festival was last held in 2019 under the auspices of the Bermuda Festival; Mr Tuchman performed alongside Ms Andjaparidze, Mr Cho and Mr Cook.

“This year we’re also very happy to present two newcomers to the Bermuda public and those are Santiago Lomelin and Jeremy Ajani Jordan,” he said. “Every year we change our roster slightly or, depending on the year, we change it completely. It depends on the programme we want to present.”

Audiences will hear some of Beethoven’s “most famous and beloved works” and also some of his less familiar pieces.

“The other programmes are varied. I’m playing a solo recital on August 14 of music by Brahms, Schumann and Liszt; a programme of Romantic music [that is] very emotional and transcendental in spirit and tone, very expressive music.”

Mr Jordan takes the stage the following week for Music of the World: From Minimalism to Duke Ellington, a programme he curated specifically for the Bermuda Piano Festival.

“Jeremy will perform classics by jazz legends Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus, a piece of Indian classical music, and original compositions and arrangements – a unique blend of classical, jazz, and contemporary idioms.”

The closing concert on August 28 will showcase what has become the Piano Festival’s “signature theme” – music for two pianos.

“[It] will feature a mix of styles – from Mozart to Gershwin. Those who are able to tune in will hear a wonderful variety of pieces,” Mr Tuchman said.

His big hope however, is to get back to performing on stage in Bermuda next year.

“For me, performance makes the same demands whether it’s for a live audience or for the camera,” he said. “We prepared our concerts as if we were performing live for our audience in Bermuda, but we can’t wait to back in 2022, live and in-person.”

The Bermuda Piano Festival opens at 8pm on Saturday and continues on August 14, 21 and 28. Watch the free concerts on bermudafestival.org or bermudapianofestival.com