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Pianist Naoumoff returns to Music Hall

Pianist Naoumoff returns to Music Hall

Declared a prodigy at the age of 5; So Percussion performs Wednesday night at the venue
Pianist Naoumoff returns to Music Hall
Emile Naoumoff performs at the Music Hall tonight after a long absence.
Photographer: photo provided
The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall welcomes the return on Saturday (Nov. 11) of pianist Emile Naoumoff after a 31-year absence as part of the Troy Chromatic Concerts series and the debut on Nov. 15 of the iconic percussion quartet So Percussion.
Naoumoff has had a long and distinguished career as a recitalist and soloist with critics comparing him to Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubenstein. Currently, he’s been a professor at Indiana University’s School of Music since 1999. It is his early life, however, that is so compelling.
Born in Bulgaria in 1962, he was declared a piano prodigy at five years old and a composition prodigy at six. His parents were not musical but they were very supportive of him having a musical future even though they considered a musical career very risky, Naoumoff said.
“My mother wanted me to drink my thirst for music,” Naoumoff said. “My father, who was a doctor, investigated who I should study with and a Bulgarian teacher recommended Nadia Boulanger in Paris,” Naoumoff said.
Boulanger was then in her 80s with a reputation as a pedagogue that was akin to a guru to famous composers and students, among them Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, and Elliot Carter. In the 1930s, she was also famous for being the first woman to conduct major orchestras in Boston, New York and in London.  But she was charmed with Naoumoff.
“It was a miracle that she became my teacher,” he said.
But to get to Paris meant that he not only had to learn French but that his parents had to flee Bulgaria.
“It was Communist, so it was a one-way journey. They had to leave their jobs,” Naoumoff said. “My mother and I lived in Paris, but my father got work in (then) West Berlin.”
Over the next nine years that Naoumoff worked with Boulanger until her death in 1979, his mother home schooled him. By the time he was ten, he was also speaking fluent English and there are several archival videos of him being interviewed via YouTube when his first piano concerto (with him as soloist) premiered and at some of his lessons with Boulanger that often included a small audience. As for Boulanger, she was often quoted as saying that she never had to teach Naoumoff, only “to peel the orange.”
Now that he is a teacher, Naoumoff said he still feels her presence.
“It was an intense period for me and the aftershocks are still unveiling to me,” he said. “She still teaches me even as I teach.”
His program includes several of his own transcriptions of works by Faure, Ravel, Bach, Tchaikovsky, as well as pieces by Boulanger and her sister Lili, who died at age 25.
In complete contrast is what So Percussion brings to the hall’s stage: cactus, conch shells, pots, rattles, tom toms, tin cans, a drum set, percussion instruments from Mexico, Central America and Native American, even an instrument that links guitar necks. (So means to play an instrument in Japanese.)
“We’ll give a good sampling of what a percussion quartet can do with some of our greatest hits,” said Josh Quillen.
The group, which formed in 1999 and now teaches at Bard College and Princeton University, likes to show that percussion is more than just rhythm and noise.
“We have a unique, weird approach to music and do a lot of original music,” Quillen said.
They’ll perform works by John Cage, Paul Lansky, Caroline Shaw and Bryce Dessner that explore repetitive patterns, subtly changing harmonies, mantras, complex rhythms and “a lot of tiny sounds” that require them to bring their own sound engineer.


Emile Naoumoff, pianist
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Nov. 11
HOW MUCH: $35, $25
So Percussion
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15
HOW MUCH: $34, $29
MORE INFO: 518-273-0038; www.troymusichall.org
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