Up Front

Five Faves – Gilmore Festival Moments

Longtime director notes memorable Gilmore Festival moments
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Ingrid Fliter is an Argentinian pianist and the recipient of the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award.

After 18 years, 10 Gilmore International Keyboard festivals and hundreds of performances by accomplished and aspiring artists, I have accumulated more than just gray hair from my time as the executive director of The Gilmore — I have also amassed a treasure chest of memories. From the inspired and moving to the scary and humorous, each year The Gilmore offers a surprise or two, a few of which I am happy to share with you:

The Best Award Annunciation

Some of the most gratifying experiences for the Gilmore director are the occasions every four years when the recipient of the Gilmore Artist Award is informed that he or she has won this most significant and generous award. Since the candidates for the award don’t know that they are under consideration, these surprise moments are always special and unique occasions.
Of the five times that I bestowed these awards, my favorite took place at a modest restaurant outside Atlanta, where I met the wonderful Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter face-to-face for the first time. She had a very bad morning after discovering the piano she was to play that evening was in terrible condition and it was too late to get a replacement. When I told her I thought things were going to get better for her that day, she looked at me incredulously. Then I told her why I was really there and that she had won the 2006 Gilmore Artist Award. She sat quietly for a moment as I blabbed on about the award. Then she teared up, stood up, came around the table and gave me the warmest and most wonderful Latina abrazo (embrace) that I ever hope to experience!

Credit I Didn’t Deserve

The fabulous ensemble Pink Martini was halfway through their 2012 festival program at Chenery Auditorium when their pianist-leader, Thomas Lauderdale, called out to the audience for someone to come onstage to help him play the important keyboard part in their next selection. “Come on,” he said, “this is a piano festival — surely there’s someone out there who can help me play this part!”
Audience members began pointing to a young man seated in the 10th row who appeared to be trying to hide himself. Encouraged, but somewhat reluctantly, 2010 Gilmore Artist Kirill Gerstein made his way to the stage amid cheers from the audience. Lauderdale, recognizing Kirill and clearly astonished at what he had wrought, melodramatically fell to his knees and said, “OMG, I’m not good enough to play with this guy!” But play together they did, much to everyone’s amusement and enjoyment, and they earned a huge ovation as Kirill returned to his seat. For days afterward, people kept coming up to me to say how clever I was and what a masterstroke it was to “plant” Gerstein in the audience — a real coup de theatre!
Truth be told, I didn’t plan it at all — it was a spontaneous festival moment that “just happened.”

Related story: Gilmore Fest aims to make Kalamazoo a 'cultural destination'

How Not to Treat a Donor

The Gilmore has many dedicated and generous donors who help us make ends meet and keep our ticket prices moderate. One of the most important is a man (who will remain anonymous) who truly loves music and has enjoyed the festival since its inception. Fortunately, he also has a terrific sense of humor. My wife and I invited him to our home for a light repast between festival concerts one year, and as he walked up to the house, our normally docile dog, Max, (that's him pictured above) ran out and bit him on the leg. To make matters worse, we were standing in the doorway and began laughing, thinking that he was faking the whole thing. Fortunately, despite our embarrassment, the bite wasn’t at all serious, and we’ve had many laughs with him about it since.

My Scariest Festival Moment

The great young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, at left, made his festival debut in 2014. He drove here with his girlfriend (now his wife) and brought along their dog, so they needed to stay in a pet-friendly motel outside of town. As the time for his concert neared, Trifonov was nowhere to be found. Nearly the entire audience in Chenery Auditorium was seated and waiting when a frantic telephone call came in backstage — Trifonov had been stopped for speeding. After some quick moves on the part of Festival Operations Director Maria Schneider, the police let Trifonov go with the understanding that he would pay his fine the next morning. He managed to get to the auditorium by 8:03 p.m. and two minutes later was on stage performing for the audience, none of whom knew anything of the offstage drama.

Related story: New Gilmore director believes in serendipity

The Hexameron Mashup

A work for six grand pianos, a conductor and full orchestra? What a crazy idea! Who else but Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist of the 19th century, would consider such a thing? Well, Liszt did indeed create such a piece called Hexameron, and since The Gilmore had plenty of young hotshot pianists around, as well as the big stage of Miller Auditorium at our disposal, we decided to produce it for our 2004 festival. Then we discovered that this rarely heard work was never officially published and that there were no individual parts developed for the six soloists with appropriate cues. Well, our six Gilmore Young Artist soloists were undaunted. They planned “a scissors and paste party,” at which they each copied and cut out their parts from the full score and pasted them into individual parts for themselves. One of the young artists, Kirill Gerstein, remarked wryly afterward, “I’m happy to do this for The Gilmore, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it for a living.”

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About our author: Daniel R. Gustin

Daniel R. Gustin

Daniel R. Gustin is director emeritus of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and Awards. He has overseen The Gilmore since 2000 and is helping with the transition as the new director, Pierre van der Westhuizen, takes the reins. Gustin will retire after the 2018 festival. He plans to spend time with his wife, Barbara, on the Maine coast and at their principal residence in Kalamazoo.
Illustration by Tom Bachtell