David McKinney/University Relations

Steven Spooner, assistant professor of piano, is pictured with one of KU's Steinway pianos. Spooner will be the only American-born pianist taking part in a prestigious celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of pianist and composer Franz Liszt.

Spooner picked for prestigious international Liszt festival

Prof only American-born pianist to take part in celebration

Steven Spooner has been a lifelong devotee of Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. Soon, he’ll be the only American-born pianist performing at an international event marking the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Spooner, assistant professor of piano, will play as part of a series of the complete works of Liszt at Academia Santa Cecilia, the “Carnegie Hall of Italy,” in March 2011.

Michele Campanella, a noted Italian pianist, is creative director for the event and chose Spooner to perform.

"It will be an event not only for the city of Rome but for the entire musical world," Campanella said. "Among the 64 pianists, I have the pleasure to invite four American pianists, including Steven Spooner, who is outstanding for his young age, for his bravery in accepting such a difficult program of large opera paraphrase, and for his Lisztian faith."

The difficult paraphrase Campanella alluded to is a piece called “Roberto Diablo” or “Robert the Devil.” A notoriously difficult piece, Spooner has been performing it for several years and will include it as part of his recital in Rome. Liszt composed the piece as an incorporation of the vocal and orchestral components of an opera by Meyerbeer. Additionally, his recital will feature another opera transcript called “Le Prophette,” or “The Prophet,” also by Meyerbeer.

The event is sponsored by the Italian Liszt Society and several Italian government agencies and will feature some of the world’s top pianists. Dutch record company Brilliant Classics will record the performances.

Both Spooner and KU have notable ties to Liszt. Last year, Spooner was instrumental in KU’s hosting the American Liszt Society National Festival.

The university also is home to Liszt’s last piano. A Bechstein made in 1886, it was discovered in a church in London and now is housed at the Spencer Museum of Art. One day of the festival was devoted to performances on the piano.

“It truly is one of the best preserved instruments of Liszt’s in the world,” Spooner said. “It’s been a focal point of my research, and I was even able to make a recording on it.”

Spooner has performed around the world, but the Liszt event will be among his career highlights, he said.

“I’m just very honored to be part of this and to be the only American-born pianist,” he said. “To be numbered among so many outstanding pianists is really an honor for me.”

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