Milbauer to present competing methods of teaching music


Yemi Falodun| Staff Writer

Teacher doesn’t always know best — even if he is a legend.

At 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, 10-year Chautauqua instructor and pianist John Milbauer will sound off on contending schools of classical music.

Milbauer, a 2011 Steinway Artist, will play pieces that premiered exactly 100 years ago to pay homage to composer Arnold Schoenberg. The anniversary marks the birth year of composer John Cage, Schoenberg’s prized pupil.

“It’s hard to imagine Cage and Schoenberg in the same classroom,” Milbauer, who studied at Juilliard and the Franz Liszt Academy in Hungary, said about Schoenberg, who taught Cage at UCLA.

An Austrian native, Schoenberg is noted for his traditional disciplinarian outlook and direct 12-tone method, whereas Cage was a soft-spoken, free-spirited Californian, who pioneered indeterminacy, or music that relies on improvisation.

“Cage plays exquisite little miniatures and makes a lot of use of silence,” Milbauer said about the American composer, who was highly influenced by Hinduism and Zen Buddhism.

But it was that ingenuity which caused Schoenberg to skip Cage’s performances, despite a personal invitation from Cage.

In his autobiography, John Cage: Composed in America, Cage recalls Schoenberg saying in an interview that he had no interesting pupils in California. Schoenberg then followed up by saying there was one. But, “of course, he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor — of genius.”

Milbauer looks to revitalize the intense discourse of competing styles.

“So the first 10 minutes of my recital is a back-and-forth alternation of short pieces by the two (composers),” he said. “Yes, there are some common threads there … the brevity, in particular.”

Though he enjoys Schoenberg, Milbauer, who serves as an associate professor at University of Arizona, follows less strict teaching principles.

“I hope that my teaching is more about listening and understanding than about rigid styles of play,” Milbauer said. “That’s something that has certainly been a part of the Piano Program here at Chautauqua since my student days.”

Milbauer will also be playing selections from Johannes Brahms, Francis Poulenc and Béla Bartók.

The second half is extremely colorful, Milbauer said, because the latter part of his recital will feature pieces that are cleanly constructed with infectious melodies.

“Poulenc makes the piano sound really gorgeous,” Milbauer said about the French composer.

Milbauer has recently released his solo CD that mixes Modern and postmodern music.

“I think it is unique in putting all those composers on one CD of piano music, so you hear the connections among all of them.”