MSO concert is 'throughly Romantic'
Like many concert pianists, Andrew Staupe began playing piano at a young age.
Perhaps unlike many others, though, he also quit playing at a young age.
“I just gave up quickly because I didn’t want to practice,” Staupe said during a telephone interview. “It’s totally ironic.”
He remained involved in the arts, studying ballet and theater in the Minneapolis, Minn., area from which he hails. Around the age of 10, inspired by the piano playing of an adult he knew in the theater, he got back into music.
“He was playing during a rehearsal break and it riveted me. He encouraged me to take lessons from his daughter’s teacher. He knew I would need to have music theory and practice scales, chords, all those things, to do what I wanted to do,” Staupe said.
Performing internationally as an award-winning pianist is what Staupe does now. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, he will join the Maryland Symphony Orchestra Romantic Rachmaninoff in celebration of Valentine’s Day at The Maryland Theatre. In addition to Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor,” the program includes Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s “Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan” and Richard Strauss’ “Don Juan.” The concert is part of the MSO’s Masterworks Series.
Staupe has played with vocalist Bobby McFerrin, The Assad Brothers and numerous other well-known artists. He appears as a guest artist at notable music festivals and has premiered a number of works for solo piano and chamber ensemble. He has performed in concerts at the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, and at Carnegie Hall, and he has appeared on American Public Media’s “Performance Today” and Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.”
The piece that drew Staupe back into piano playing all those years ago after taking a break was Chopin’s “Fantaisie Impromptu.”
“It is a really popular piece. I wanted to play it and I started learning it,” he said.
Because he had already studied piano years before, and he read music regularly working in the theater, he already had a solid music foundation.
“My teacher recognized I wanted to play the really difficult pieces but he knew I needed to have my ground base. So he let me work on the pieces I wanted as long as I also worked on the other stuff. It worked well,” he said.
Staupe said he has used a similar approach in teaching other students, carrying on that legacy of personalized, individualized instruction to keep his students motivated.
He received his bachelor’s and Masters degrees at the University of Minnesota and earned his doctorate at Rice University in Houston, Texas. In addition to his career as a performer, Staupe values his work as a teacher.
“I wanted to be on faculty somewhere. I am finishing up my first year as an assistant professor at the University of Utah where I get to teach music majors, adults who want to do this as a living,” he said. “Teaching kids, you can’t get too complex, but I can talk music with these students.”
Seeing his students grow and perform is a high point for Staupe.
“I just saw two of my students play with an orchestra for the first time. I was the happiest guy in the room,” he said. “It is totally gratifying. I think a lot of artists want to give forward because of what they have been given by good teachers. There is a legacy, a sense of duty to pass it on. And music is such a tradition-based art form.”
During his upcoming performance with the MSO, Staupe will play Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” which he said is “one of the most popular piano concertos.”
“It’s been that way since it was written. Rachmaninoff knew how to write tunes. He knew what audiences wanted. It’s a perfect composition,” he said.
Staupe related the genesis of the piece, stating that it followed a period of dark depression for its composer.
“The premier of his first symphony was just a disaster, panned by the press. But it was the conductor’s fault. He was intoxicated during the performance,” he said. “So Rachmaninoff stopped composing for a long time.”
Eventually, he following a recommendation to visit a hypnotherapist, which was not a common practice at the time.
“The therapist would say, ‘Mr. Rachmaninoff, you will write great music.’ And sure enough, the first piece he wrote and dedicated to his shrink was a great piece with great melodies, great orchestration. The piano is not as overtly showy as it sometimes is. It is seamlessly integrated into the music,” he said.
The concerto befits a Valentine’s celebration, Staupe said, because though it was written in the 20th century, it is “thoroughly Romantic.” Romanticism, or the Romantic Era, peaked from 1800 to 1850.
“It works really well in film and in pop culture. People use Rachmaninoff’s music for romantic movies and romantic moments. It has that lush, evocative spirit that really applies not only for Valentine’s Day, but for a date or anything that is romantic. I might have to walk onstage with flowers,” he said, laughing.
The concert will be Staupe’s first time playing with the MSO and meeting Maestro Elizabeth Schulze.
“It’s a small world and especially in music, so I’ve known some of her accomplishments. When you are a soloist, you get to know conductors and you hope that they invite you,” Staupe said. “I love meeting new people, new audiences.”
If you go ...WHAT: Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks Series, “Romantic Rachmaninoff”WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 27 S. Potomac St., downtown HagerstownWHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12COST: Ticket prices range from $15 to $65.CONTACT: Go to MarylandSymphony.org or call 301-797-4000