Music at Midday with pianist Michael Coonrod

Feb 15, 2019

Michael Coonrod

Michael Coonrod will be the soloist with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra this Sunday. He will perform the world premiere of the Concerto for Piano, Left Hand by Kenji Bunch.

Michael was a guest co-host during Music at Midday this Thursday. Listen below.

Sunday's concert is conducted by Kevin Rhodes. It also includes Beethoven's Egmont Overture and the Symphony No. 3 "Eroica." Classical IPR's live broadcast starts at 2:50 p.m. with the concert downbeat at 3 p.m.

On his life and legacy and Interlochen

I have been at Interlochen for 43 years. I was actually a camper in 1967, right before my senior year in high school. It means a lot for me to be at one job for my entire life. The recordings [selected for this program] are the fruit of an almost entire lifetime – well, [it’s] not over yet. These are works that I had worked on for many, many years.

On the Siciliano by Johann Sebastian Bach

It is a transcription from a slow movement of a flute sonata. There's a recording I really love by [Wilhelm] Kempff, and I was always looking for that arrangement. I found it when I was taking some German students to Lucerne, Switzerland with our German teacher, and our son David was with me. He was 12 years old. He liked it and wanted me to teach it to him. So I did that, but I also learned it myself. It's just a very touching beautiful piece. It reminds me a lot of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” the same kind of pulsation.

On the Prelude in D major by Sergei Rachmaninoff

It's just a stunning, heavenly peace that I've heard several artists play, and I fell in love with it. I have many thoughts of how I'd like to have it played. Of course, there's many ways to do it, but I'm proud of the way I'm doing it [in this recording].

On the upcoming premiere of the Piano Concerto for Left Hand by Kenji Bunch

It is a work that everybody, I think, will like. I knew this composer [Kenji Bunch] when my wife and I taught at Maple Mount Music Festival two decades ago. Kenji Bunch was the artist in residence, and I liked his music very much. When I had my accident with my hand, I had the wonderful fortune of having colleagues and friends from all over the country and other countries donate thousands of dollars for me to commission a new work. It was a brilliant idea by my colleague Susan Day to bring out a new work for me, but after I perform it for the first time, it's open to anybody. What a wonderful gift to me to have added [this concerto] to the pianists’ repertoire. It’s a very attractive piece. I think everybody will really enjoy it. It's lyrical, it's exciting, it's entertaining, it has the kind of rhythmic energy that Bernstein's music has. I wanted to say that I'm very, very grateful for those donors who provided the funds for this concerto. It's not cheap to commission large-scale works. I'm just grateful that I have had this opportunity to perform with the orchestra and to have commissioned this and a few other pieces for left hand alone – so thank you, everybody.

On the accident that injured his right hand

I would not have had this opportunity if I didn't have any kind of an accident. So there's lemonade and lemons. I'm very grateful that it didn't happen to one of my students. I was taking a hike with my students - I was over a barbed wire fence, and I don’t to get into the details. But I was glad that happened to me [instead of to a student]. I'm 68 years old now. I have three recordings, I have a wonderful family, I've done a lot professionally, but it would've killed me to have had that [accident] happen to a student. I'm really grateful it happened in my fourth finger because that's the one that's expendable. If God said you lose a finger I'd say please take the fourth. If I'd lost the thumb or the fifth finger or any other digit, it would have been a much bigger deal.

On Leon Fleisher’s recording of the Piano Concerto no. 1 by Johannes Brahms

I grew up with this Leon Fleisher recording that he used when he won that famous competition [The Queen Elizabeth Piano Competition]. So that's the kind of benchmark that I have for it.

On Franz Schubert and his Cello Quintet

I suppose if you would press me to a corner and [make me] say what my favorite composer is - I don't know if I could answer - but all I can say is, I keep coming back to Schubert’s music. This quintet has two cellos in it. It's so very lyrical. Most of Schubert's beauty lies in his lyricism because he is the composer of the lied - over 500 art songs. You can hear that in this work - not just that, but the harmonic relationships that are so luscious and so unusual in this work.

On Schubert’s B-flat major Piano Sonata

This is the last sonata he wrote. It seems to be the sonata that everybody over the age of 60 wants to play because it's the epitome of Schubert's compositional career. It's not that people under the age of 60 can't play certain very mature pieces. I was 57 years old when I played that, so I beat the 60 benchmark by three [years]. But it is a good idea for young people to start with earlier works and work up to the big, monumental pieces. [For] people who are elderly, who just want to pick and choose the pieces that are their favorites, [it] usually boils down to the B-flat [major] sonata of Schubert  I have chosen the slow movement [for today’s program]. It's in C-sharp minor. I just can't describe it in words except to say, “How can anything be so beautiful?”

On the Symphony no. 2 by Johannes Brahms

When I hear this this piece, if it's the last movement and I'm driving the car, I have to pull over. I can't focus on driving if I hear this piece at the same time!