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Classical pianist to teach students fun
of improvisation as artist-in-residence
February 15, 1999

Improvising can help classical musicians relax and let go, says pianist Steven Osborne.

Classical musicians are often "afraid of doing anything spontaneous because they are so trained in reading the notes," says Osborne, an internationally renowned pianist from Scotland. As artist-in-residence in the music department this semester, Osborne will offer more advice about improvisation at the workshops he is leading for students.

During his stay, he will also give several performances at von der Mehden Recital Hall, including one with some of UConn's most talented students in a concert celebrating the art of improvisatio n. His residency is sponsored, in part, by the Holcombe-Palen-Bamford Performance Fund.

Osborne says improvisation is "very, very relevant for performing classical music." It helps people loosen up. You've got to let yourself go, you have to give up control, he says. He enjoys experimenting at home. He has also improvised at public concerts, where he has inserted five- or 10-minute slots of improvisation into his classical recitals, although he doesn't improvise on music that has already been written. "You have a very different feeling when you perform when you do improvisation in public, because it can be a much more direct communication with the audience," he says. "It's a very different experience when you don't know and the audience doesn't know what is coming next, when it's absolutely the first time been done."

While at UConn, he will encourage his students to discover the fun of improvisation. "The point of the course is to try to get people to be much more creative and discover that they can actually initiate music themselves," he says. "People do it naturally when they're young, but often the training stifles that creativity by focusing simply on what's written on the page," he says. He says improvising helps "get back to the childish enjoyment."

Joint first-prize winner in the Naumburg International Competition, he has a reputation as one of Britain's most highly regarded pianists. He has performed to critical acclaim across the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States, giving recitals at both Alice Tully Hall and the Kennedy Center.

Born in Scotland in 1971, he studied piano with Richard Beauchamp at St. Mary's Music School in Edinburgh and in 1987 continued studying with Renna Kellaway. He graduated in 1991 from Manchester University with a first class honors degree and completed his master's degree at the Royal Northern College of Music. He won first prize in the Clara Haskil Competition in 1991 and was a finalist in the piano section of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition in 1988.

On February 16 at 8 p.m., Osborne will share the stage at von der Mehden with cellist Eugene Friesen of the Paul Winter Consort for an evening of improvisational chamber works. He will also give performances on April 7 and 11.

Sherry Fisher