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Five Faves – Gilmore 2024

Must-see Gilmore performances to catch this month

The months (years!) of preparation for each biennial Gilmore Piano Festival are almost as fulfilling as the actual festival. Almost. When the festival arrives (as it did on April 24), it’s a wild ride, and I love every moment. I hope you find events that entertain and inspire you within our packed schedule, which includes jazz, pop and classical music, along with films, talks, theater and master classes. Here are five must-see artists performing this month, before the festival wraps up May 12 with the inimitable Patti LuPone and her one-woman show, A Life in Notes at Miller Auditorium (sorry, I had to sneak in a sixth fave).

May 1 & 5

Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan-born classical pianist, will take us on a trip from East to West in her solo recital, performing sonatas by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff (his Sonata No. 2 is one of the most challenging works for a soloist) and Stravinsky. Not only that, but she will improvise a classical soundtrack accompaniment to Charlie Chaplin’s short silent film The Immigrant. Only someone of Montero’s incredible musicianship could revive the art of improvisation in classical music in a way that would make Beethoven, who was famous for his improvisations, envious. Montero is also a remarkable composer, and we have commissioned her to write a piano quintet that she will premiere with the Calidore String Quartet. Montero will perform her solo show, Westward, at 7:30 p.m. May 1 in WMU’s Dalton Center Recital Hall. She will appear with the Calidore String Quartet at 2 p.m. May 5, also at the Dalton Center Recital Hall.

April 30, May 2, 4 & 6

The composer Franz Schubert is very close to my heart. His piano sonatas embody the ideal search for beauty and peace in a flawed world, and their exploration of emotional landscapes is sheer perfection. The English pianist Paul Lewis has returned to The Gilmore for a deep dive into every one of Schubert’s 12 sonatas over the course of four recitals. Schubert was always searching but not finding answers to the unanswered questions, embodying a wandering spirit, never finding rest or peace. His music remains timely and relevant, and these recitals are a rare epic presentation likely never to be repeated here. Lewis’s recitals are at 2 p.m. April 30 and May 2 in Wellspring Theater, 359 S. Kalamazoo Mall, Suite 204, and 2 p.m. May 4 and 7:30 p.m. May 6 in Western Michigan University’s Dalton Recital Hall.

May 4

At 80, Kenny Barron sounds as fresh and thrilling as ever. It’s incredible to witness his staying power and continued evolution as a jazz pianist and composer. It’s no surprise he’s been nominated a dozen times for a Grammy Award and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. When you listen to Barron, you hear the last 50 years of jazz in America — from the classic mid-century be-bop to the Latin and improvisational sound he has mastered. He and his trio will perform two shows, at 6 and 9 p.m. May 4 in WMU’s Shaw Theatre. Between the two events, he will join Gilmore Director of Jazz Seth Abramson for a conversation in WMU’s Gilmore Theatre Complex atrium. I can’t wait.

May 8

The Gilmore first came to know and love Yuja Wang when she was named a Gilmore Young Artist in 2006. Eighteen years later, we do take a little pride in her rocketing career. I’m sure many of you recall when she set the stage alight with her Chenery Auditorium performance at the 2022 Piano Festival — which closed with six encores! More recently, she slayed every single one of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos in a marathon performance at Carnegie Hall last year, and I was thrilled to be there. I mean it when I say, do not miss this concert by this phenomenal talent. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. May 8 at Chenery Auditorium, 714 S. Westnedge Ave.

May 9 & 11

2002 Gilmore Artist Piotr Anderszewski and I first chatted about this year’s festival 18 months ago. Anderszewski is a fiercely intellectual and deeply emotional artist whose quest for artistic truth makes him seem a bit eccentric to some. But these qualities combine to create performances that leave critics and audiences breathless and blinking in disbelief. He’ll be at the festival for a whole week: teaching, performing, chatting and sharing. Anderszewski will give two public performances. He will perform a solo recital at 7:30 p.m. May 9 at the Dalton Center Recital Hall. And in his performance with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra during a concert at 7 p.m. May 11 at Chenery Auditorium, he will play-conduct Beethoven from the bench, a skill almost impossible to describe. Also featured in that concert will be 2022 Gilmore Young Artists Janice Carissa and Clayton Stephenson, performing together on two pianos. Join us for a unique evening.

Pierre van der Westhuizen

Pierre van der Westhuizen, a native of South Africa, is executive and artistic director of The Gilmore, which presents a biennial piano festival, a Rising Stars and Piano Masters series of performances, and robust educational programming in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. He came to The Gilmore after six years as president and CEO of the Cleveland International Piano Competition. He lives in Kalamazoo with his wife, Sophie, and their four children. The couple, who are concert pianists themselves, perform occasionally in Southwest Michigan.

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From economic impact to international stature, the piano festival continues to put Kalamazoo on the map

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