ARMSTRONG State University’s Piano in the Arts series is in its fourth year, and Dr. Benjamin Warsaw couldn’t be happier with the program’s growth.
Warsaw, an Assistant Professor who teaches piano and theory, established Piano in the Arts when he came to Armstrong from Georgia Perimeter College.
In that time, he says the series’ expansion and the audience’s reception has been exponential.
“Nothing quite like this existed in Savannah,” he recalls.
“We have an orchestra, we have all these different concert series, The Savannah Music Festival, but there was nothing that just focused on concert music for piano. I wanted to create a series in which we could expose the different genres of piano—piano is one of those different genres to a Savannah audience—and just focus on piano.”
Over the years, Piano in the Arts has hosted an impressive roster of guests, from vocalists to dancers to Savannah’s own Velvet Caravan, and continues to innovate and inspire (stay tuned for a program highlighting pianos and electronics in February).
“It’s been picking up steam every year,” Warsaw says.
Going from having no sponsors in its first year to support from a number of companies and families, including Membersfirst Credit Union, Marriott Springhill Suites, GPB, and Mano and Brigitta Solinski, Piano in the Arts is ready to step into 2017 with fresh selections for music fans of all walks of life.
On Thursday, the series highlights classical, traditional, and original songs played by Warsaw himself with vocal accompaniment from Elissa Alvarez, known for her vocal fluidity and striking timbre.
Warsaw and Alvarez met while pursuing their doctorate degrees at Boston University and even formed a duo, Alvarez-Warsaw Duo, with Warsaw writing original music inspired by Alvarez’s voice.
This week’s concert marks Alvarez’s second appearance in Savannah, and her former classmate is thrilled to welcome her back.
“She’s my number one!” Warsaw says. “She’s amazing; she came and performed here before, and we just had to bring her back.”
The evening is a celebration of diversity in piano music, and Warsaw’s program is geared to appeal to many different folks. Many pieces will be familiar to music enthusiasts—great composers like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Wolfgang Mozart, and others are included—while other pieces might become new favorites.
Audiences will also hear originals from Warsaw, who released a debut album of 24 preludes of original music for piano, Warsaw Plays Warsaw, in 2015.
“The first half [of the program] is all European,” Warsaw explains. “We’ve got traditional Hebrew songs, we’re going to do some Spanish music, some French music, some German. The second half of the program is American song standards.”
In addition to having shifted Savannah’s musical landscape, Piano in the Arts has been vital for students of Armstrong State, who receive a master class from each performer the day before the concert.
“They’re really learning a bunch,” says Warsaw. “A lot of students come up to me after and say, ‘I’ve never seen a professional concert.’ For me, that’s the best. Of course, it’s rewarding when people from the Savannah community say, ‘We love your series, we love what you’re doing,’ and especially when students say, ‘We’ve never seen a live concert of professional quality before,’ and then they’re inspired.”
Above all, Warsaw is grateful for Armstrong’s support in the program.
“Armstrong has been incredibly supportive the whole day,” he says. “Armstrong supported everything from the beginning; I think it’s rare to find that in a school.”