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Fong captivates audience with music, insights to creative process

September 29, 2010

Dr. Grace Fong, presenting Lectio Magistralis.

Acclaimed pianist Grace Fong, Ph.D., treated a Memorial Hall audience to an artistic journey Monday night, delivering a multimedia presentation that was part performance, part instruction and completely fascinating.

“I’m just the bridge from the composer to the music,” Fong said.

She certainly connected with her audience Monday, holding a rapt crowd as the presenter of Chapman University’s third annual Lectio Magistralis, a premier event hosted by the Office of the Chancellor that showcases the work of accomplished faculty. Dr. Fong, who has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, in Europe and in Asia, is director of keyboard studies at Chapman. In her lecture, titled “Behind the Notes,” she used an overhead slideshow, a second screen with a camera projection of her piano keyboard, recordings and a conversational lecture style to illustrate how she prepares for a concert.

The talk also provided a glimpse into the life of a world-renowned pianist with a demanding touring schedule.

“It can be lonely with this wonderful box of wood and strings,” Fong said. But when her fingers meet the keys, “The music really does bring me home.”

The music Fong chose for her home audience this week was Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, which she performs in concert next month with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. She played bits of it throughout her lecture, demonstrating how she goes from the first practice to final performance. Fong said she tries first to see a copy of the original manuscript. For example, she put a copy of Schumann’s scribbled concerto up on the overhead. She studies such manuscripts, hoping to detect something of the composer’s intent. Sometimes she wonders if “that’s an ink spot or a note,” she joked, but it’s an important step that brings some of the composer’s personality and temperament to life.

Then the bulk of her work is a combination of old-fashioned practice to master the music and creative exploring to find the poetry.

“It’s like a conversation between the fingers,” she said.

Finally, it’s show time. And yes, she still gets nervous, sometimes more so than others. Sweaty fingers, trembling hands, uncomfortable dresses – even a spider that crawled across her neck – have all vexed her during concerts. But none have undone her.

“My duty is to the music,” she said.

A short video of Fong’s Lectio Magistralis will be posted on Panther Productions’ YouTube Channel later this week.

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