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Week of 19 September 1997

Vol. I, No. 4


Actor William Lacey, professor emeritus at SFA, and Virginia Eskin, pianist and SFA teaching assistant, get Victorian in anticipation of their September 24 concert and reading. Photo by Fred Sway

Eskin and Lacey to re-create salon

Finding the words that frame the music

By Judith Sandler

In 19th century Paris -- as well as before and since -- musicians, writers, and statesmen gathered at grand houses to exchange ideas and listen to music. That world of the Paris salons is the inspiration for the faculty concert presented by popular local concert pianist (and SFA teaching assistant) Virginia Eskin and SFA Professor Emeritus William Lacey on Wednesday, September 24, at the Tsai Performance Center.

With props and costumes to suggest the Paris of the 1800s, Eskin and Lacey will dovetail the music of Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt with readings from letters, diaries, and poetry of the day. Each work Eskin performs will be set in context by Lacey's reading.

"The richness and vitality of the Paris salons inspired me to bring the flavor of this world into the concert hall," Eskin explains. "The gatherings provided a laboratory for these artists' experimental artistic works -- these evenings were part of the entertainment of the day."

Eskin has long wanted to pull together the music and the text. "But it's taken a long time to find quotes from people who inspired the music," she says. "I'm playing the music that was composed in relationship to the text read by Bill."

Eskin's approach to this concert is similar to her approach to teaching. "As a trained pianist, I enjoy putting all those years of training into a new format because I think that today teaching requires a new spin." For example, she says, she plays recordings of Prince along with Mahler, or the Beatles with Beethoven, and asks her students to listen for chord progressions common to both. "I give their music context and treat it with respect, and I have been successful in reaching my students."

When Eskin went looking for a collaborator, William Lacey was a natural choice. "I knew I wanted to marry Bill's acting with my music," she says. "He has such a dramatic flair and affection for something new."

Recently retired from SFA's Theatre Arts Division after 34 years, Lacey was equally eager to collaborate: "We had such a rich experience linking music and text in the Ravel/Bertrand 'Gaspard de la Nuit' we performed last year. The link between spoken text and music is always very exciting for an actor. This project intrigues me as an experiment; I wanted to see if adding the text would heighten the pleasure for a contemporary audience by suggesting the world for which these pieces were composed and performed."

Virginia Eskin will perform Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Moonlight; Liszt's Liebestraumes and Valse Oubliée; and Chopin's Prelude in B-flat, Two Etudes, Tarantella, and Sonata in B Minor; and William Lacey will read selected texts on Wednesday, September 24, at 8 p.m. in the Tsai Performance Center. Admission is free. Call 353-3345 for further information.