On Sunday, Nov. 13, Fairfield University hosted pianist Orin Grossman, Ph.D., to present “Musical Borderlands” at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. 

Grossman is trained as both a classical musician and academic, focused on presenting and creating a variety of musical events, many of which are suited to universities, lecture series, historical societies and even libraries. He has performed full-length concerts, with and without accompanying artists as well as presented lectures that combine musical performances with informative descriptions of the composition and time period of the music.

He began his piano studies of piano and theory instruction at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. and later earned his Ph.D. in music at Yale University. Grossman was a part of the Fairfield University faculty starting in 1975. He was named the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1991 and the academic vice president in 1999. He is currently an Emeritus Professor of Visual and Performing Arts. More about Grossman’s musical background, performances and more can be found on his website.  

For a long time, Grossman has been fascinated with musical borderlands. These refer to the places in which pop culture and “high culture” connect in a sense. Many of his concerts and lectures are focused on exploring the connections between popular and classical music. This is exactly what is exemplified in “Musical Borderlands,” Grossman’s solo piano recital. The music is meant to take audiences through the Americas, presenting music from Brazil, Cuba and the United States. This recital features composers such as Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Ernesto Lecuona (often called the Cuban Gershwin) and Ernesto Nazareth, a pioneer of Brazilian music. 

Speaking in between pieces and informing the audience about the music, the time period and the composers, Grossman explained that he had chosen some of his favorite music from the borderlands, both classical and popular. We see these intersections between the two genres as Grossman both explains and plays the music. 

“Some of this music I’ll play, like the Joplin, started out as popular music and is just so good it has lasted a long time,” Grossman said. “It becomes a kind of classical music just by surviving all these years.”

Grossman opened with “Three Rags for Piano” playing three rags of Joplins: “Pineapple Rag,” “Solace – A Mexican Serenade” and “Maple Leaf Rag”. Hearing someone of such great musical talent play “Maple Leaf Rag,” a song that took me years to master myself, was awe-inspiring. I could not help but tap my foot along to the upbeat rhythm that filled the auditorium. A quick glance around the audience revealed to me that everyone else was enjoying themselves just as much.

From Joplin, Grossman moved to Claude Debussy playing “Two ‘American Preludes:” “General Levine, eccentric” and “Minstrels”. Once again, I was engrossed in the music: the dynamics, the articulation and the overall presentation on Grossman’s part. Music holds such a power in storytelling and emotional expression and it was clear from Grossman’s performances of this great work, that he is passionate about what he does. Grossman explained Debussy is “obviously by a classical composer, but he is going to draw on popular music”, once again exemplifying the borders and connections between popular and classical music. 

He moved onto the music of Ernesto Nazareth and the “Three Brazilian Tangos”: “Brejeiro,” “Perigoso” and “Escovado” as well as “El Salón de México” by Aaron Copland and arranged for Piano by Leonard Bernstein. It was in these pieces that melodies that can be found south of the border are featured. There is still European influence in this music, however, Grossman explains that in Southern American countries, it is largely Spanish melodies that hold great influence. 

After the intermission, Grossman continued with “Two Piano ‘Novelties’” featuring the music of Zez Confrey as well as “Fantasy on George Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’” featuring the music of Earl Wild. 

After attending “Musical Borders” performed by Orin Grossman, I am inspired to resume my own piano practices! I truly felt as if I traveled through the Americas with Grossman’s performance and selection of music. Grossman performed the work of various composers with such grace, talent and musicality and I truly hope that I get the chance to see him perform again before I leave Fairfield.

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