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'From the Top' host Peter Dugan on great chamber music and finding one's own voice

Pianist Peter Dugan smiles and sits in front of a Yamaha grand piano
Jacob Blickenstaff
Pianist Peter Dugan
Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff

Pianist and From the Top host Peter Dugan visited IPR's Studio A to discuss being a musical omnivore and how he works with young musicians for the show.

Peter Dugan is many things - he's a pianist, an educator and the host of From the Top.

He and his From the Top colleagues recently visited Interlochen Center for the Arts to record segments for an episode of the show.

Classical IPR managed to grab a few minutes with Dugan during his visit, and he played a few solo pieces and talked with us about his collaborative process and the importance of having eclectic musical tastes.

Hear the entire conversation with Dugan's performances on demand in this post, and scroll down for a transcript.

Music performed in Studio A
Frederic Chopin, Nocturne op. 27, no. 2
John Lennon & Paul McCartney, "Yesterday"
Alberto Ginastera, Danza del gaucho matrero

Excerpts of the interview are transcribed below, and they have been edited for clarity.

Pianist and From the Top host Peter Dugan talks with IPR's music director Amanda Sewell in Studio A at Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Pianist and From the Top host Peter Dugan talks with IPR's music director Amanda Sewell in Studio A at Interlochen Public Radio

On performing as a collaborative pianist with a young musician for the first time

That first rehearsal is one of my favorite moments of any recording session. With the first few notes that the young musician plays, you immediately start to learn about who that musician is - even before the first note, just the way they pick up their instrument and breathe into the first note. It's a very quick learning process of discovering what kind of a player I'm going to be working with and where they find joy in the music.

I approach every interaction with the young musician who comes on From the Top just like I would if I was rehearsing with a peer. These young musicians are so sophisticated, and they have a lot to say. They also are flexible enough that they can adapt to the interpretation that I'm bringing to the table too. I'm not going into the room, just looking to accompany them and play it the way their teacher wants them to play it. [laughs]

It's definitely a meeting of two minds, and a negotiation, and a discovery of how we can work together to create a product that we're both happy with. And that's what great chamber music really should be.

On how he encourages young musicians to find their own voices

As we mature, it takes a long time to have the confidence and the courage to do something that's different from what we've been told [by a teacher] or what we've heard on a recording. I'm not trying to get every musician who comes on the show to reject tradition or what they've been taught [laughs], but I see it as a valuable learning opportunity. They can take with them this kind of empowerment where, down the road, they feel they can put out their own voice in their performance.

A lot of times that's just me asking questions and putting the power in their hands, so that they are there in the decision-making seat. And if I don't agree with something that they say, I'll ask them. I'll say, "Oh, why are you doing it that way?"

It's just as I would do for any of my friends who I perform chamber music with. I invite them into a dialogue back and forth, where it's not about authority or who's right or who's wrong, but it's just about a real exploration of the score and of how we feel about the score.

On his varied musical tastes, such as pairing music by Antônio Carlos Jobim, the Beatles and Frederic Chopin in concert as well as his original fantasy on a theme of Britney Spears

There's a set I've been putting on programs lately that I'm calling Three Nocturnes [of Jobim's "Corcovado," Lennon & McCartney's "Yesterday" and Chopin's Nocturne op. 27, no. 2]. They're not all titled "nocturne," but in a way, they're all nocturnes. What I love about it is, that with three pieces from three totally different genres, we're able to kind of go on one singular journey.

I've always loved music of any style, as long as it moved me. If it moves me, I see it as fair game to play and to program.

Kelley DiPasquale engineered this edition of Studio A.

Thanks to Amanda Roth and Erin MacCurtain for additional support.