Susan Starr, the pianist from Philadelphia, returns to Baltimore tomorrow night after eight years to play George Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F Major with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a piece "you have so much fun playing, you think,'what a career and you still get paid.'"
Some years ago, Starr was advised by a friend to learn the piece. Trained on Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven and Bach, Starr had some catching up to do. "So I started listening to the big bands, the blues, jazz, ragtime. I've played it a lot since. The original orchestration has been allowed to stand, there's a lot of piano features. It's fun."
Gershwin composed the concerto for piano and orchestra on commission as part of a contract for a series of piano solo concerts. Before its premiere, Dec. 3, 1925, in Carnegie Hall, it was known as the New York Concerto.
Associate conductor Chosei Komatsu leads the orchestra and Starr in the three movements of the rousing piece including elements of the Charleston, blues and other contemporary styles.
In an interview, Starr lamented Leonard Bernstein's announcement this week that he was retiring from conducting because of health reasons. "What will he be remembered for? What won't he? Conducting, composing, teaching, writing, everything. I worked with him on his own composition "The Age of Anxiety" and think I know its most authentic form because of that."
Almost three decades after winning second place in the 1962 Tchaikovsky Competition, Starr is as active as ever in solo, orchestral, teaching and other capacities. In coming months she will perform twice in Mexico, once in Venezuela and once in Finland. Among her goals are to learn and perform the Brahms Second Piano Concerto, "maybe the most difficult or the grandest of all concerti."
"I'm having a wonderful life", she notes. It revolves around music and her son, Eric Amada, and her daughter, Lori Amada, the principal horn with the South Bend (Ind.) Symphony and, at Notre Dame football games, the conductor of the marching band. "At half-time, she's slightly off to the side, the one with curly hair."
Starr regrets two trends in the training of young pianists today. One is that in many -- but not all -- places she feels they are not focused as much as years ago on the technical basics, the scales, arpeggios, the classical and Baroque composers. Specifically, she says, "they should go back to the beginning, to Bach."
"I also am distressed that we're breeding a generation of wimp student pianists who shy away from playing with their utmost energy because they worry about pain or getting hurt or using new muscles. So some students play with 70-75 percent of their energy."
The BSO under Komatsu will play two other selections at 8:15 p.m. tomorrow night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. They are Coleridge-Taylor's "The Bamboula" and Franck's Symphony in D Minor. The concerts are repeated at 8:15 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.