Compelling back stories are not the rule for two-piano teams. Most are married or colleagues who met during music school.
Not so the duo of Findlay Cockrell and Louis Lohraseb. Cockrell was Lohraseb’s teacher until Lohraseb graduated four years ago from Schalmont High School. The two will play a recital Sunday at the University at Albany.
“A talent like Louis comes along once in a lifetime,” Cockrell said. “When you have a certain kind of student, it’s teacher-student, but later it becomes student-teacher. I’m getting advice from him as I would a colleague at my level, and I will take any advice he gives me.”
Most regional classical music fans know Cockrell’s playing not only as a soloist with the Albany Symphony Orchestra and his many recitals and chamber music gigs, but as a 40-year member of the University at Albany faculty until he retired in 2006. Cockrell also founded the popular noon-hour series at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall 20 years ago and will be featured in one of those programs, “Findlay in Blue,” at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 23, on WMHT-TV.
Cockrell and Lohraseb
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: UAlbany Performing Arts Center Theatre, Uptown Campus, Albany
HOW MUCH: $25, $10
MORE INFO: 466-8456, www.albany.edu/pac
Lohraseb’s talents may be more familiar to those who followed childhood operatic efforts he says were as a “Pavarotti-wannabe.”
“He sang these arias even as an 8- or 9-year-old,” Cockrell said. “He was notorious for doing these things. I first heard him at a Schenectady Symphony Orchestra concert in Central Park.”
Lohraseb said his parents, who were not musicians, were very supportive.
“They took a huge leap of faith to listen to a 3-year old's request and bought me Pavarotti tapes,” he said, laughing. “They gave me total support, but always taught me to see I was part of a bigger picture. Now, I’m glad because you can get a big head as a conductor.”
Lohraseb also became a pianist and composer and wrote several works, including string trios, a bassoon sonata and a piano concerto.
“He took private piano lessons from me his last three years of high school, and we covered a lot of repertoire,” Cockrell said. “I was always amazed at him. He’d bring in compositions written in the style of Mozart and you couldn’t tell the difference.”
He played well enough to be part of a noon-hour concert with Cockrell and two other students at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and played the piano part in “Carnival of the Animals” with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra.
Taking the next step
At 18, Lohraseb had his first professional conducting gig in Mozart’s “Bastien und Bastienne” (which The Gazette reported on July 29, 2009). Once he entered SUNY Geneseo, his star continued to rise rapidly. Armed with his Gazette story as validation, he said, he was given the baton to conduct the school orchestra in Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture” his freshman year.
“It was quite the honor,” Lohraseb said. “Here I was, conducting 100 musicians when before it had been only a few players. I did so many things after [that concert]. I had my own chamber group, with me at the keyboard. Everything in my life feeds into every other aspect in a wonderful way. I’ve been very, very lucky.”
Not content with just developing his piano and conducting skills, Lohraseb became interested in research, especially of Anton Bruckner’s works. He wrote a paper about the composer that he submitted to the Bruckner Society. Society members were so impressed with his efforts that they invited Lohraseb to come to Oxford University in April for their annual meeting to read it. He couldn’t make it, but a member of the society did read the paper, and it is now published in the Bruckner Journal.
“And it was while he was still an undergraduate,” Cockrell said.
For Lohraseb’s senior year, one of 16 to be honored as a Presidential Scholar, which required him to serve as an ambassador for the college. In his continuing role as conductor, he coordinated a concert that featured cellist Cicely Parnas, a longtime friend and recital partner, and performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with the school orchestra. He also was instrumental in getting substantial funds to refurbish the school’s harpsichord, so he, Cockrell and William Carragan, a Capital District harpsichordist, musicologist and Bruckner scholar, could play a three-harpsichord recital.
“I’m lucky to have Findlay and Bill. They’re the backbones of my education. They’re always there and supporting me,” Lohraseb said.
But Lohraseb was looking ahead. He made a video of the Parnas concert, which he submitted when it came time to apply to graduate schools, along with his Bruckner paper. Oxford University accepted him for musicology and Yale University offered him its sole conducting spot out of 38 applicants to be the Yale Philharmonia’s assistant conductor.
“I love expressing myself as a conductor, and when you’re the only one accepted in the two-year program, I couldn’t say no,” Lohraseb said. “My dream is to be a conductor of a major orchestra if I work hard and do well.”
Once in graduate school, he discovered he was having a hard time balancing his interests. Too busy to compose, he said, he’s been lucky to find a great piano teacher, and, he said, he “relentlessly listens to recordings. It’s my relaxation. It’s how I am.”
Sunday’s program is mostly new to him. It includes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn;” the Scherzo from Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in Carragan’s two-piano arrangement; and Rachmaninoff’s Second Suite. Each pianist will also play a Chopin Ballade. The concert is part of the Renaissance Musical Arts series.
Both men are thrilled to be working together and to be playing such gorgeous music.
“I'm happy to be coming home and working with my teacher again,” Lohraseb said.