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Keyboard Collaboration



To pianist and composer Dan Tepfer, style is not all that important. Rooted in his bilingual upbringing, the American Pianists Association (APA) Jazz Fellow recipient would rather musically express himself in whatever way comes naturally.

"I grew up playing both classical and jazz, and I've also been interested in lots of other styles of music for most of my life, so I guess early on, the idea that music could be expressed with different languages was pretty clear to me," Tepfer explained in a phone interview, having recently returned to his home in New York from a three-week stint on the road. "I think over the years, I've realized there's obviously a relationship between making music in different languages and speaking different languages."

Dan Tepfer is a jazz pianist who also has training in classical music. - COURTESY OF AMERICAN PIANISTS ASSOCIATION
  • Courtesy of American Pianists Association
  • Dan Tepfer is a jazz pianist who also has training in classical music.

This Saturday evening, Feb. 8, Tepfer will take part in the APA's Grand Encounters classical piano recital series at the Jazz Kitchen, joined by 2013's APA DeHaan Classical Fellowship winner Sean Chen. Combining classical and jazz idioms in two performance sets, Tepfer and Chen's joint embrace of musical expression will be on full display.

Having appeared as a soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and many more, the 25-year-old Chen shares Tepfer's passion for collaborative exchange.

"The point is that there is a dialogue, a conversation," Chen said. "It's about two different perspectives on music, and on certain aspects of music. The goal is that our performances will inspire one another, through musical choices, through common or contrasting themes, and through character."

Originally rooted in a discussion between Joel Harrison, artistic director and president/CEO of APA, Chen and Tepfer, the performances will serve as a fitting way of showcasing the APA's current fellow Chen, and Tepfer, a previous fellow, ultimately representing the APA's mission to discover, promote and advance the careers of young, American, world-class, jazz and classical pianists.

Sean Chen is the 2013 APA DeHaan Classical Fellowship winner. - COURTESY OF AMERICAN PIANISTS ASSOCIATION
  • Courtesy of American Pianists Association
  • Sean Chen is the 2013 APA DeHaan Classical Fellowship winner.

With their upcoming Indianapolis performances (Chen and Tepfer will also be performing at New York City's SubCulture in March), Tepfer explained the vital preparation required in order for collaborative performances, such as this, to speak effectively.

"The main thing is to find a seam, some kind of common thread that can tie our work together," he said.

Saturday night's performances will be built around the idea of dance styles in music -- something Tepfer is already very familiar with.

"I have a longstanding project where I want to make different pieces inspired by different dance styles that exist these days. This is something composers have done all through classical music," Tepfer said. "Bach used to write suites where each movement was in a different dance style, and Sean will be playing a suite by Debussy that is also in different dance styles. So once we got that idea, the idea of dance in music, then it was easy to come up with a program that really made sense."

Pinpointing the central concept with which to work around is what Chen sees as the "main challenge" in teaming up.

"But once that has been worked on and decided upon, the rest is up to the performers. Repertoire is important to a project like this," he said. "Finally, if the musician is up for exploring different things, then it really isn't very difficult to collaborate."

Although known for his jazz piano work, Tepfer's background as a multidimensional pianist is particularly exemplified in his 2011 album Goldberg Variations /Variations, where he played Bach's Goldberg Variations, using his jazz piano skill set to improvise upon the 18th-century masterpiece and "build a bridge across centuries and genres," as described a couple years ago in a Wall Street Journal piece.

"Melding those two worlds is definitely something I've done a lot in my life. It's something I'm interested in," Tepfer said.

While the audience will surely gain from this meeting of masterful piano minds, you can guarantee Chen and Tepfer will be soaking in each other's musical wordings even more.

"I think Sean is a very interesting musician, and I'm looking forward to getting together on a concert and inspiring each other, because that's really what these things are good for," Tepfer said. "Sean will play one thing in a particular way, and when I get on stage I'll be inspired by that, and hopefully what I play will inspire him to play his next piece in a slightly different way."

With Indianapolis being the home of the APA, both pianists look forward to returning to familiar territory where they've spent much time. Nevertheless, Saturday's appearances at the Jazz Kitchen will be more than a homecoming of sorts for these musically gifted communicators -- it will truly be a grand encounter.

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