Several weeks ago, the fellows met a local musician with a diverse background and career. He is a concert pianist, recording artist, accompanist, music director, educator, musicologist, and music critic. His name is Myron Silberstein and he is currently a composer and keyboardist for Storycatchers Theatre, an organization that the Citizen Musician Fellows are working closely with this season to present an original musical featuring young women who are incarcerated at the Illinois Youth Center in Warrenville.
Myron’s dynamic career in music began when he decided to avoid attending a conservatory or music school immediately following high school. Instead, he moved to New York City to privately study with David Bradshaw, customizing an education for himself that allowed him to jump right into a professional musical career while working intensely on his art. Saving his college fund for lessons, recitals (including a solo recital in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall), and professional recordings, he invested in a lifetime of music.
During this period, he became fascinated – I would even say borderline obsessed – with the work of composer Ernest Bloch, particularly his piano sonata. There was something about Bloch’s music that spoke to Myron in a way that no other composer’s music had before. Hungry for more music in a similar American neo-classical/romantic mid-twentieth century style (music that is explicitly influenced by the classical traditions of form, melody, counterpoint, and harmony), he sought after lesser known composers of this period with the hope of finding works that may have fallen through the cracks – works that, somehow, were overlooked by a culture eagerly trying to define its musical style and voice. This brought him to the music of three rather obscure American composers that all had ties to New York City and, specifically, the Juilliard School. They are Vittorio Giannini, Peter Mennin, and Norman Lloyd.
Myron made his debut recording in 1994. It featured solo piano works by Bloch, Giannini, and César Franck, revolving around Myron’s beloved Bloch piano sonata. As debut recordings go, his repertoire selections were considered exceptionally bold and unusual. The response was nonetheless positive and encouraging, eventually ending up on Fanfare Magazine’s 1996 “Want List.” After receiving some pressure from his teachers and record labels to record something more “standard” and “traditional,” he went on to release his second album featuring the virtuosic piano music of Franz Liszt (1996). The reviews were less favorable than his first album and ultimately distracted Myron from his desire to perform and record the music that meant the most to him, i.e. the work of Bloch, Giannini, Mennin, and Lloyd. He wouldn’t go on to record another album for 18 years, finally releasing a CD on the Naxos label this year that features the complete piano works of Norman Lloyd and Peter Mennin.
For him it’s all about the music. More importantly, he believes in advocating for the visibility of composers whose works may have fallen by the wayside amidst the complexities and anxieties of premiers, hidden estates, or family feuds.
During our seminar with Myron, he spent a great deal of time discussing these recordings and the recording process, stressing the value and fulfillment it gave him. This got me thinking about the role/purpose that recordings of classical music play today. It’s widely known, more so now than ever, that making recordings – regardless of the musician’s status or experience – is not an economically viable or lucrative venture for anyone involved, including the record label. So then why, 18 years later, did Myron decide to record works of lesser known composers, even if it took a Kickstarter campaign to do so? Well, for him it’s all about the music. More importantly, he believes in advocating for the visibility of composers whose works may have fallen by the wayside amidst the complexities and anxieties of premiers, hidden estates, or family feuds (Myron told us a story about discovering a library of supposedly lost Giannini scores in a bank vault on the East Coast).
Recorded music in the 21st century is often regarded as a means of elevating a musician’s status, building their brand/image, and reaching and engaging a broad audience (mostly via the internet). But Myron works to accomplish something that transcends this. This selfless act is the essence of what it means to be a Citizen Musician. Unearthing the hidden gems of our past contributes and enriches our culture and will act as a resource for generations to come.
By Zachary Good
Photo by Dennis Sevilla