Pianist Albright returns to Olympia for two concerts

Staff WriterApril 18, 2013 


    What: Charlie Albright performs as part of the 21st Century Masters series

    Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

    When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25

    Also: Albright leads a piano master class Wednesday

    Tickets: $5-$16

    Information: 360-753-8586, olytix.org, washingtoncenter.org


    Who: Charlie Albright is the featured soloist with the Olympia Symphony Orchestra

    Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

    When: 7 p.m. April 28

    Tickets: $23-$53

    Information: 360-753-8586, olytix.org, olympiasymphony.com

It’s been two years since Centralia’s Charlie Albright last played on The Washington Center for the Performing Arts stage. Since then, the 24-year-old concert pianist has played with the San Francisco, Seattle and Boston Pops orchestras, among others; collaborated with cellist Yo Yo Ma; won a handful of prizes; completed a master’s degree in music at the New England Conservatory and a bachelor’s degree in economics at Harvard University; and reached 1,300 “likes” on his Facebook page.

Now, near the end of a busy season that includes concert performances around the country, studying for an artist diploma at the Juilliard School of Music and working on his own compositions, Albright is back in town to play a recital, give a master class and perform a concerto with the Olympia Symphony, all at The Washington Center next week.

Albright’s endless procession of awards, achievements and accolades (including being labeled “among the most gifted musicians of his generation” by the Washington Post) probably wouldn’t surprise anyone from around here who’s followed the pianist’s stellar career. From picking out Disney tunes by ear at age 3, to making his debut with the University of Puget Sound symphony at 10, to gaining his associate of science degree from Centralia College while still in high school, Albright is the poster child for whiz kids.

But he also is your average 20-something: posting endless Facebook updates and YouTube clips, admiring cars, hanging out with his girlfriend. On the phone between concerts in North Dakota and California this week, he talked to The Olympian about Schubert, improvisation and why he doesn’t practice that much.

Q: Is it good to be coming back home for concerts?

A: Yes, it’ll be nice to be here again. I’ll be staying at home, so it’ll be a nice little getaway with time to hang out with my parents and my sister in Centralia.

Q: Tell us what you’ll be playing in the recital. You just received rave reviews for your all-Schubert Boston recital – any of that?

A: I was going to do the whole Boston program, but while Schubert is great, it’s really long. It’s very hard when it gets longer than a certain period, both to play and to listen to. It takes a certain audience, you know, Schubert aficionados. So I’m playing just the Impromptus Op. 90, which I played in Boston. Then the Chopin Étude Op. 25, which I’m playing in concerts this season, and Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca,” the Turkish march. And some improvisation. It’ll be a lot of fun.

Q: How do you improvise — on a set theme or completely from scratch?

A: Completely from scratch. I don’t like just playing something one way, then playing it another; I like to think of a whole, complete piece of music as opposed to just a bunch of ideas. I sit down for five minutes and come up with a melody or theme, then develop off of that. I play for about five to 12 minutes, usually.

Q: Is it easier than memorizing a formal recital piece?

A: In a way because I have more freedom. It’s something I’ve always done. I didn’t take piano lessons until I was 7, and before that, when I was 3, I would just pick out tunes by ear — you know, “Great Balls of Fire” and Disney tunes, that kind of thing. And I’d improvise on them, change them. So it’s always been a part of what I did. I never got away from it completely, even when I learned more formally. Lately, I’ve been doing it more and more, and people seem to like it.

Q: How about the Mozart piano concerto No. 21 in C major that you’re playing with the Olympia Symphony — did you choose that piece?

A: (Conductor) Huw Edwards chose that. It’s a great piece, and of course, the second movement is so famous. It’s not a ton of hard work like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, but it’s lovely.

Q: Which do you prefer — playing concertos or playing recitals?

A: I like them both for different reasons. Playing with an orchestra gives you a big, rich sound, but playing solo has greater flexibility without 60 or 80 other people.

Q: With study and a busy concert schedule, how much practice do you get done?

A: It really varies. Some days none, some days several hours. Never as much as I would like to do, but then I was never one to sit and practice for six hours straight. Even if you held a gun to my head, I couldn’t do it. Two and a half hours is my max.

Q: Your website is intriguing — you also have a Korean version. (Albright’s mother is Korean.) Does it get many followers?

A: I get surprised a lot at that. The No. 1 city for fans on my Facebook page is Seoul. I’ve never even played there, which is weird. ... Maybe I should.

Q: You’ve done a lot of interesting projects, including your 2011 debut CD and five collaborations with Yo Yo Ma. Anything coming up?

A: Next year, I’m doing this big Midwest tour. It’s completely different from what I’ve done before: I’m spending a month at a time in October and February touring tiny towns with one concert every day. It’ll be Real World USA.

Q: What do you do in your spare time, if you have any?

A: It’s kind of rough – I don’t have much spare time. I spend a lot of it with my girlfriend, and incredible amounts of time on Facebook and YouTube and other mindless, time-sucking activities. The neat thing about traveling a lot is that I know people in different places, so we’ll meet up, and that’s fun.

Q: Do you miss the science and economics part of your studies?

A: I think I was ready to get away from that side of things. To fill out the time, I’m doing a lot of composition — film scoring, big epic orchestral stuff, learning how to do that. It’s been a great hobby and keeps the more technical side of my brain happy.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568


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