Pianist Robyn Carmichael
The Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine at 125 Canterbury Drive in Aptos has recently become an important venue for music events. The Reverend Tracy J. Wells Miller, who prefers to be addressed as “Mother Tracy,” was on hand yesterday to welcome music lovers who had come to hear pianist Robyn Carmichael present a piano recital on the newly-acquired, brand-new, Kawai semi concert grand piano. Although this event was an inaugural celebration for the new piano, acquired through the generosity of donors, Mother Tracy also pointed with pride to the recently-installed tracker organ, which had been acquired from another church and undergone significant renovation. It also will be celebrated and honored in an inaugural organ recital event coming up in the very near future.
Joe Sekon, Director of the Aptos Keyboard Series, beamed with pride as he welcomed the audience and thanked the donors. Mr. Sekon has worked hard and long to help make this church become a permanent home for the Aptos Keyboard Series. Those of us who have witnessed his efforts over the years to make this series successful admire not only his dedication and hard work, but also that of his charming wife Maria, who never ceases to be a vital member of the support team.
Our artist for this afternoon’s inaugural recital was the gifted and multi-talented pianist Robyn Carmichael, who was born in Los Angeles to a musical family where music was a natural part of her everyday life. Her piano studies began at age 6, guided by the steady and caring hand of her Mother. She made her solo recital debut at age 14, and developed a keen interest in all the arts — especially in ballet. Then, in the midst of her piano studies, she left to pursue a career in ballet for the next ten years. The rich influence of her teachers, many of whom were great Russian émigré artists from the Imperial Ballet School of St. Petersburg, has stayed with her to this day. As her dance career came to a close, Carmichael returned again to the piano and began working with renowned Polish pianist and pedagogue Adolph Baller, ultimately graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She later added independent studies with acclaimed teachers John Perry and Igor Schochetman. In the intervening years, Carmichael’s own survival from cancer, and the years of 2011-2014, when she cared for her dear Mother suffering with the same disease, significantly altered her life’s direction. Now she says, “through those experiences, my understanding of music has deepened, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share great music once again with my audiences.”
And share it with us, she did with grace and charm. Her demanding program included three works by Mendelssohn, three works by Chopin (including one of the most difficult sonatas in the piano repertoire — the four-movement Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58), three works by Schumann and ended with Liszt’s Liebestraum and Tarantella from the Années de Pelerinage. She rewarded an enthusiastic audience with a lovely encore of one of the more melodic and lyrical Scarlatti Sonatas in F Minor, K. 481.
Not only did Robyn Carmichael impress us with her powerful technique in this demanding program, she also moved us with her lyrical expressive playing in the slow movement of the Chopin Sonata, the soulful Schumann Widmung and Des Abends and the lovely performance of Liszt’s Liebestraum.
And, what about the new Kawai piano? It is obviously a noble instrument with breadth, beauty and power throughout its seven-and-a-half octave range. However, it is still a new piano that has arrived at the church after being stored on its side during shipment from the factory in Japan to San Mateo, and then shaken up (again on its side) in its trip from San Mateo to Aptos. It needs to settle in and be played more. Most importantly it needs tone regulation by a master technician to eliminate some of the tinkly-sounding notes in the treble. There is no doubt in my mind that this new Kawai is a great piano waiting for that master technician who will unlock and develop its inner beauty.