CLAYTON — Jonathan Levin returned to his hometown from New York City as the artistic director of the second annual Clayton Piano Festival. Five professional pianists performed at a variety of venues to educate and entertain local audiences. The festival took place Feb. 7 through the 15.
“I wanted to create something that presented what I do in a unique and appealing way, rather than a typical concert series,” Levin explained.
Levin gathered a group of four additional pianists that he knows through professional and educational avenues. “They are tremendous performers,” Levin said. “Each is unique, so there was something that would appeal to everyone.”
Powhatan Elementary School was a venue that Levin himself played as part of the educational outreach portion of the piano festival.
“It was amazing to watch him,” said Powhatan music teacher Susan Marler. “He performed Peter and the Wolf [by Prokofiev] for the third through fifth graders.”
Levin began his performance to the students by telling them about his background. He grew up in Clayton and was a home schooled student. He began taking piano lessons at the age of seven or eight. After finishing high school Levin attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
He played his first recital at the Clayton Center as a child and feels like he is returning to his roots when he performs there now. Currently Levin is a professional pianist in New York who has played many venues including Carnegie Hall, but returns to Clayton two to three times a year.
As he played for the students, Levin narrated the action of the music and showed the students how the melody expressed different characters.
Powhatan students Foster Evans and Kelsie Nesselrode both study piano extracurricularly. They found his performance to be exciting.
“I couldn’t believe how fast he could move his hands,” said fourth grader Foster Evans. “His hands flew!”
Fellow fourth grader Kelsie Nesselrode also enjoyed the performance: “I liked the tunes for each of the different animals Peter met.”
“In second grade we teach a unit on Peter and the Wolf,” Marler explained. “So it was fitting that he chose that piece and reinforced the previous lesson.”
Following his performance students had an opportunity to ask questions of Levin. He said that some of the questions hit on general topics of his biography, but many were more specific dealing with the music itself. “It’s very rewarding to hear how closely the students pay attention to what I’m playing.”
Having professional musicians like Levin perform is a “tremendous benefit” to the students, Marler said. “It’s exciting for the students to see a person who can play an instrument like that.” She went on to say that it is also interesting for the students to see a person who grew up in their hometown and has moved to New York City and supports himself as a working musician.
In addition to the performance at Powhatan Elementary, Levin played concerts at the Clayton Center and the Smithfield Public Library and West View Elementary.
A seminar for young artists focusing on piano performance was held as was a concert featuring the music of the classical composers of Vienna. Finally a concert entitled “Dreams and Nightmares” was performed at the Clayton Center.
Levin has returned to his home in Brooklyn, but has begun planning for next year’s Third Clayton Piano Festival.