Q&A with pianist Nicholas Roth

Elkhart native and pianist Nicholas Roth will play at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, at the Ruthmere Museum.

Posted on Nov. 27, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Nov. 27, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.

ELKHART — Piano virtuoso and Elkhart native Nicholas Roth has traveled around the world to perform, but nothing beats coming back to his hometown.

Roth, an associate professor at Drake University in Iowa, will return to Elkhart’s Ruthmere Museum for its last performance of its fall concert series. He will play at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29.

The performance marks Roth’s last concert in Elkhart until 2014, which is shaping up to be a busy year for the accomplished pianist. He will travel in February to France with colleagues from Drake University as part of the Drake Trio. His newest solo recording of works by German composer Robert Schumann will be released by spring on Blue Griffin Recording. He will return to Elkhart in the summer to play with the Elkhart County Symphony Orchestra and conductor Brian Groner.

Tickets for Roth’s performance at the Ruthmere Museum, 302 E. Beardsley Ave., are $10 for members and $20 for non-members. Silver patron level members and above will be admitted for free. Call 264-0330 ext. 104 to reserve seats.

Q: How do you prepare yourself for a performance, whether that’s a huge crowd at a music festival or an intimate gathering of people at Ruthmere?

Roth: Preparation is essentially same for every concert, whether it’s a solo recital, concerto with orchestra or a chamber music event; whether it’s in a small venue of 50 people or a large hall of over 3,000. In the highly competitive world of concert performance, you can’t afford to offer anything but your very best for any performance. Preparation always involves a great deal of time engaged in the solitary activities of practice, planning and reflection. Practice requires considerable repetition of musical material at varied tempos — slow practice is especially important. Practice includes thorough examination of macro elements (i.e., compositional structure, aspects of style and interpretation) and micro elements (i.e, mastery of the myriad technical difficulties in a given piece of music). I owe it to my former teachers, my students, my audience, and of course my own soul and professional reputation to prepare in such a way that I can always offer my best. The goal is to offer a performance that not only reflects my love for the music, but better yet, also provides the audience the opportunity to experience something larger than all of us, namely, a glimpse into the truth and beauty of music.

Q: How did you get started playing piano?

Roth: My case is somewhat unusual in that I truly did not begin piano study of any kind until the age of 12. Up to that point, I had always been a child with singular, though all-encompassing interests. Childhood was marked by short periods of obsessive interest in various non-music topics such as dinosaurs, fish, and whales. All along the way, music held a special fascination for me. I clearly remember sitting for hours at a time in a tiny rocking chair listening to music on a phonograph in our home at age 4, memorizing the lyrics and singing along. Formal music study began with percussion in second grade, then the trumpet in fifth grade, followed shortly thereafter by the piano. The piano was the last of these obsessive childhood interests. It took hold and it never let go.

Q: Is it true that your first piano recital was at the Ruthmere when you were just 14 years old? What do you remember about that?

Roth: Yes, the first recital included Bach Prelude and Fugue in C minor (Well-Tempered Clavier I), Beethoven Pathetique Sonata (complete), short pieces by Scriabin, “Un Sospiro” by Liszt and some other things. At that time, I had a very nurturing, grandfatherly teacher named Ray Barbour, who was also the teacher of Elkhart natives Jim Pickley and Robert Spano. Mr. Barbour taught the piano, but he also taught me the value of reading, laughing and thinking. He would read philosophy to me, and share stories of his experiences hearing the great concert pianists of the early 20th century, including Vladimir De Pachmann, Ignaz Paderewski, Josef Hoffmann, Sergei Rachmaninov, Josef Lhevinne, Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein. These pianists came to life through Mr. Barbour’s stories and they influenced me greatly.

Q: What is it like for you to come home to Elkhart after performing all over the world?

Roth: It’s always a pleasure and an honor to play in my hometown. I am ever grateful for the opportunity to play for such a supportive audience.

Q: What can music fans expect at your upcoming performance at Ruthmere?

Roth: I’ll present an all-Beethoven program including four sonatas: Opp. 13, 54, 78 and 90. This represents selections from two different programs I presented at the International Beethoven Festival in Chicago in 2012 and 2013.

Q: Do you have any upcoming music projects that you’re working on now?

Roth: My current “big deal” project is the inauguration of the Drake University Keys to Excellence Piano Concert Series, which was created to raise awareness of Drake’s fundraising efforts for the purchase of 70 brand new Yamaha pianos for the music department. Keys to Excellence features internationally acclaimed artists performing on our magnificent YAMAHA CFX concert grand piano. The first concert in the series will feature me and several of my Drake piano students and I’m truly excited about it.


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