Click here for the archive of profiles that takes you behind the scenes with some of the featured performers who bring their special talents to Emmanuel Music.
Pianist Randall Hodgkinson has created his ideal musical career, playing music that reflects the wide range of his interests and taste. His performances span centuries, styles, and genres, and bring him into collaboration with a variety of other musicians. “Building a career was the farthest thing from my mind,” Hodgkinson says. “The greatness of the music has always been in the front of my mind. There’s so much out there to explore.”
Hodgkinson chose to pursue his love of chamber music despite his manager's admonition that doing so would ruin his career. Instead Hodgkinson has found both satisfaction and success performing chamber music regularly, in Boston with Emmanuel Music and The Boston Chamber Music Society, in New York City with BargeMusic, and many chamber festivals nationally. He also is a member of the Gramercy Trio and also performs four-hand and two-piano repertoire with his wife Leslie Amper.Hodgkinson has been a featured pianist in Emmanuel Music’s chamber series for over 20 years. His first appearance was in 1990 in the Debussy Chamber Series, where he played where he played a book of Debussy Etudes, a piece that pushes the limits of what an “etude” is. Hodgkinson became a regularly featured performer in the subsequent Brahms, Schubert, Harbison, Schumann, Haydn/Schoenberg, and Beethoven chamber series.
Because the Emmanuel Music chamber concerts feature chamber, piano, and vocal music, Hodgkinson has had many opportunities to accompany singers and learn a new (to him) vocal repertoire. “It was a deep experience learning that repertoire and the whole universe of playing with singers. That collaboration has been very satisfying.”
One of Hodgkinson’s most memorable Emmanuel Music concerts was an unprecedented 2007 performance of Bach’s The Art of Fugue, featuring 13 notable Boston-area pianists who had often appeared with Emmanuel Music. (The pianists included Leslie Amper, >Bruce Brubaker, Katherine Chi, Ya-Fei Chuang, Judith Gordon, John Harbison, Michael Lewin, Robert Levin, Robert Merfeld, Sally Pinkas, Sergey Schepkin, and Yehudi Wyner.) Hodgkinson notes that Craig Smith had long wanted to present this encyclopedic piece, and that doing so was a major event. “Bach is the greatest of all composers, and performing this piece was such a treat on so many levels,” Hodgkinson says. “You have to admire the imagination of someone who could write so much music on one theme. It’s an incredible experience to hear the variety and imagination that Bach brings to bear and to see where he can take the music.”
Hodgkinson is a busy pianist who is much in demand and whose performance calendar fills to overflowing. For someone who has been “music-obsessed” since childhood, Hodgkinson revels in the chance to steep himself in so much music and so much variety. For example, this past 2013-14 season he played Bach’s Goldberg Variations in various places and a new piece by Gunther Schuller written for the Gramercy Trio. In that season Hodgkinson brought to fruition a personally favorite idea – to play the epic Roger Sessions Piano Sonata No. 3, written in memoriam for John F. Kennedy, on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. Hodgkinson performed the piece at Bargemusic in New York City, the culmination of “a huge psychic effort to master the music and get the performance to happen.”
Performances in the upcoming 2014-15 season include the Stravinsky Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra with the New England Philharmonic in October and an interesting presentation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in September with the Boston Chamber Music Society. Hodgkinson, a long-time member of BCMS, will play both the solo piano version and a version for string trio in this group’s opening concert.Hodgkinson also performs frequently with his wife, Leslie Amper, playing pieces both for two pianos and for piano four hands. One of their staples is the four-hand version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which they have performed frequently over the years, most recently at Rockport Music. Their latest collaboration is a piece for two pianos written expressly for them by Bernard Hoffer (a serious composer who is probably best known for the theme for the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour). This piece is a suite of movements that reflect life in New York City. Hodgkinson and Amper are now looking for a venue where they can perform this piece.
Hodgkinson’s home is ideally suited to the needs of two busy professional pianists. He and Amper had an unusual real estate requirement – they needed a house where two pianists can practice at the same time without imposing on each other – and their house in Sharon fills the bill perfectly. They are often home, deep in their own practice sessions, but not hearing a sound from the other’s piano. They rehearse pieces for four-hand piano in their home, and have found space at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and Wheaton College where they can rehearse pieces for two pianos.
In his practice and performances Hodgkinson is always thinking about communication with the audience and about how he can get through and sustain engagement. “You always feel the vibe with the audience and you always try to reach out of your shell and to connect, maybe by trying to communicate with a particular person, maybe by changing a tempo. No matter how brilliant and knowledgeable people in the audience may be, it’s always a challenge to connect and speak the same language, and always a joy when it succeeds.”