Israeli Pianist Alon Goldstein Visits Philly for Annual Piano Festival

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Alon Goldstein sitting next to a piano
Alon Goldstein (Photo courtesy of Sharla Feldscher)

It’s difficult for Alon Goldstein to define his home: He was raised in Israel, owns a house in Maryland, has a job in Missouri and travels every weekend to cities around the world to perform for hundreds.

And the legendary pianist is now coming to Philadelphia.

Goldstein, 48, teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City as a distinguished visiting professor in piano. He also serves as the artistic director for the Distinguished Artists Concert & Lecture Series in California and as the artistic director of the Mount Angel Abbey Bach Festival in Oregon.

Accomplishments include winning the Arianne Katcz Piano Competition in Israel, the Nena Wideman Competition in the United States and the Francois Shapira competition in Israel. He created the Emerald Coast Music Alliance, whose annual festival in Florida brings free classical music concerts to the public.

While today he is a master of his craft, that wasn’t always the case. Goldstein said his childhood was nothing out of the ordinary. Back then, he wasn’t a prodigy — he was a boy from a Jewish family in Tel Aviv who enjoyed playing basketball with his friends.

His parents deemed it important for each of their kids to play an instrument, so Goldstein took up the piano after his older brother. He became proficient, even attending a high school for fine arts. But it wasn’t until attending a classical music concert at 17 that he began to take it seriously.

“I was very good by then, but I was not there yet in terms of the commitment. And I was so moved by the concert, and the next morning I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to go 150% every day, all day, or I go zero. It’s not 98%; 99% is not enough,’” Goldstein said. “If I want to do something, then it will be completely, wholeheartedly commitment. Not little bit, or a little but not everything. No, it’s everything and then some.”

At 18, Goldstein made his orchestral debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He graduated from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, studying with Jewish pianist Leon Fleisher. From there, he was a fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Since then, he’s performed with orchestras across the United States.

Now the pianist will be featured at the Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy seventh annual piano festival from Aug. 2-11.

The festival kicks off for the first time at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in the Perelman Theater, with a concert by world-renowned pianist and PYPA founder Ching-Yun Hu at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 2. Subsequent concerts will take place at the Academy of Vocal Arts.

Hu said Goldstein is a great addition to the lineup.

“Alon’s playing is very colorful, very imaginative. He’s very good with classical repertoire like Beethoven,” Hu said. “Alon’s performances, along with his teaching, he’s very personable, which is really wonderful for audiences.”

Another legendary Jewish pianist appearing at this year’s festival is Gary Graffman, 90, who taught at the Curtis Institute of Music and served for years as its director and president. This will be his third year leading a master class at the festival.

The master class allows performers to play in front of teachers like Graffman to get a third-party perspective from someone hearing them, in most cases, for the first time. In a few minutes, Graffman has to make a critique and offer advice about what would benefit them most. It’s an experience he enjoys.

“They bring, I found, very interesting young people,” he said. “It’s a nice atmosphere. It’s on a very high level because the playing is on a high level.”

Goldstein also will teach a master class, open to the public, on Aug. 4. He’ll be playing a recital at 7:30 p.m. the day before.

He described performing live as a journey and an opportunity for an artist to be vulnerable, as there are no walls or boundaries separating the musician from the audience. It’s something he encourages everyone to experience.

“They should come backstage to say hello. Because although my name has a lot of ‘Alon’ in it, I don’t like to be alone.”

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