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Celebrating Chopin’s 200th birthday

BY CAROLINE BERG | MARCH 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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Every famous composer receives a “Happy Birthday” decoration on Alan Huckleberry’s office door.

However, for the bicentennial of Frédéric Chopin’s birth, the UI piano assistant professor is throwing a party.

“I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” he said. “I set the date last May before anyone else could snag the [recital] hall.”

Chopin’s real birth date remains in dispute. Feb. 22 is on the composer’s birth certificate. However, March 1 is the birthday Chopin insisted upon. Hence, Huckleberry will honor the French-Polish pianist today with a recital of his favorite Chopin compositions at 7:30 p.m. in the Riverside Recital Hall. Admission is free.

“Chopin is quintessentially romantic,” Huckleberry said. “He led quite a few interesting relationships with women during his career, which shows through in his music.”

Within a year of Huckleberry learning to play piano from a Polish woman he was introduced to Chopin’s music, which left a lasting impression on him. Huckleberry compared his exposure to Chopin to learning a foreign language at a young age.

“Musicians like Chopin transcend history and time, just like I believe the Beatles do,” he said. “Now, will Beyoncé or Britney Spears have the same lasting effect? I doubt it.”

Huckleberry described Chopin as a soft-spoken fellow who preferred to play for a group of three in someone’s parlor rather than for a full concert hall. The composer steered away from the “bombastic” compositional trends of the time and instead mastered the art of “miniature” pieces.

Huckleberry said his only aim is to make every concertgoer leave happy. He believes this exposure to the arts is as important as sitting in on a lecture of a historical figure or event.

“Many times, students just sit there texting away on their phones,” he said in describing those audience members who are obligated to attend recitals for class assignments. “It’s my goal to get those uninterested students who are there just because they have to be to actually become engaged in the music.”

Along with his solo recital, he has organized his students to perform an all-Chopin recital to follow on March 7.

“We’re all very excited,” said Ana Orduz, a doctoral candidate in piano performance and pedagogy.

Orduz will play the six-minute piece “Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1,” which, she said, is about love as a result of 19th-century mystical ideas of the night realm.

“It’s one of the more lyrical pieces rather than technical,” she said. “What I found difficult [in playing it] was being able to keep and maintain a sense of drama throughout the piece without losing its lyrical sense.”

In fact, critics categorize this Nocturne as one of Chopin’s most commendable emotional achievements for his skillful expression of an overwhelming grief.

During today’s recital, Huckleberry will also lecture about the life and times of Chopin, including accounts of the composer’s personal tragedies.

He is thrilled to share Chopin’s legacy not only with the Iowa City community but also in Germany this spring break, where he has been invited to perform a recital at the Polish Embassy.

Most importantly, Huckleberry wishes to say, “Happy birthday, Freddy.”


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