World of Piano series features Irish musician

Posted: January 24, 2013

The Winchester Star

Finghin Collins

Winchester — Music is the air Irish pianist Finghin Collins breathes.

He began his piano playing at age 3, and Collins, 35, of Dublin can’t remember a world without music.

Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven and Puccini aren’t just names to him; they are old friends who created masterpieces of art in song.

“Music is what sets me alive,” he said. “I live for music. It is something that moves me.”

Collins will bring that passion to Winchester when he takes the stage at 3 p.m. Saturday in Armstrong Concert Hall as the third performer in Shenandoah Conservatory’s World of the Piano series in its ninth season.

Collins previously played in the series in 2010, and as he did then, he will offer a master class from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday in Armstrong Concert Hall, said Elizabeth Temple, professor of piano at the conservatory. The event is free and open to the public.

Having Collins back was a boon to the series because of his “lyricism and beautiful sound,” Temple said. “He is powerful yet lyrical and poetic in his playing.”

Collins plays exclusively classical music, because even within that category, the music is diverse and includes pieces created for piano, chamber music, opera, orchestral music, concertos and symphonies, he said.

It is such a “huge repertoire and a vast array of music” that, as a pianist, he said he is still discovering it all.

“I don’t even have time to think about branching out into other genres, even to listen to for pleasure,” he said. “I don’t tend to branch out. I am quite happy to stay within classical because it is such a broad field.”

The concert Saturday will include selections from Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, and Sergei Prokofiev, he said.

Schubert is one of Collin’s favorite composers, and he will play “Drei Klavierstücke D. 946” during the performance. He added that performing the “hauntingly beautiful” music Schubert created is “one of the greatest experiences one can have.”

Also on the program is Brahms’ “Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79.” The piece is more romantic that Schubert’s work and very passionate, Collins said.

“They are very dark and melancholy in spots but they have great energy, drama and passion,” he said. “They link well to the Schubert, but they are also very contrasted.”

The final piece of the program Prokofiev’s “Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14” was written in 1912, when the world was on the brink of war. Prokofiev, who was about 20, wrote the demanding piece for solo piano “as a vehicle for himself as a pianist to show his incredible talent,” Collins said.

“In comparison to the rest of the program it will sound very modern and very jangling,” he said. “The harmonies are much more atonal and it has some very cheeky elements to it.”

One of aspects of the visit Collins said he is most excited about is having his friend and mentor, John O’Conor, Shenandoah’s world-renowned pianist in residence, come to the show.

Collins has been in the United States almost a week, arriving Saturday in time to perform the next day at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

He was in time for the inauguration, and recounted the excitement of standing in the crowd on the Washington Mall, watching President Barack Obama sworn in for a second term in office.

“I was holding a flag and I was waving my flag,” Collins said. “I will never forget it. It was a wonderful atmosphere.”

His life doesn’t allow for many hobbies, but Collins said the traveling he does is an all-encompassing activity in itself that lets him explore different cultures, languages and food.

When he is not traveling, Collins focuses on being the first associate artist of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the New Ross Piano Festival, both in Ireland.

The orchestra project involves performing all the concertos of Mozart and Beethoven with the orchestra over a three-year period, he said.

Collins studied with O’Conor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and with Dominique Merlet at the Geneva Conservatoire.

He has also recorded five CDs of music by artists such as Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy and Schumann.

Given his skill and background, he is a wonderful addition to the World of the Piano series, Temple said. She founded the series to bring world-class pianists to the conservatory for the benefit of students and the community.

Information

The third World of the Piano concert featuring Finghin Collins will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday in Shenandoah University’s Armstrong Concert Hall. Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for seniors and $10 for students and active military. Call 540-665-4569 or visit conservatoryperforms.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com