UW News

April 17, 2015

Sheppard on Shostakovich: Professor of piano discusses upcoming recital

UW News

Craig Sheppard interviewed in advance of his perormance of Shostakovich's Preluded and Fugures at Meany Hall.

Craig Sheppard

Craig Sheppard, professor of piano in the School of Music, will perform all of the 24 Preludes and Fugues, Opus 87, by Dmitri Shostakovich in a faculty recital at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, in Meany Hall. He answered a few questions about the music and his approach to the performance.

In a 1993 review of a performance of the Preludes and Fugues by well-known Russian pianist Tatyana Nikolayeva, for whom Shostakovich composed the music, the New York Times wrote: “Although these pieces were quickly condemned by the Soviet regime as formalist, they are by no means mere exercises in counterpoint. Many have a strong Russian flavor, whether bell-like and ceremonial or melancholy. And each captures a different aspect of the composer’s mercurial spirit.”

Q: Why did you choose these pieces of music for your 2015 faculty recital? What makes these compelling pieces to perform?

CS: The impetus for doing this cycle started a couple of years ago with a conversation with our director at the School of Music, Richard Karpen.  I had performed several of the preludes and fugues when I was younger, and Richard encouraged me to do the entire lot.

What I discovered, upon investigation, was a whole world, largely unbeknownst to not only myself, but to many if not most of my colleagues, let alone their students. In Opus 87, Shostakovich takes elements of the Russian Orthodox Church and folk influences from a variety of sources, and turns them into intellectual, imaginative and emotional tours de force.  In my experience, these are collectively the greatest single corpus of 20th century solo piano pieces, bar none.

Q: Playing all 24 of Shostakovich’s preludes and fugues in an evening seems a downright athletic feat. What are the physical challenges for a pianist in such a lengthy performance? How do you prepare?

CS: The truth is, I’m so involved whilst playing that I barely notice how long the program actually is. And, not every piece need be played at a high octane level! What has been incredibly rewarding is that I have already performed the cycle in Houston, San Francisco, Oberlin, Shanghai and Beijing, and in every instance, audiences have responded positively in ways that exceeded my wildest expectations. They come along with me 100 percent on this journey, and we all feel enriched by the end.

Q: A critic wrote that these pieces are great to hear played live because each requires a personal interpretation, not only in tempo but also in what notes to emphasize and what emotions to draw from the music. How do you navigate this? Is it unusual for a composer to leave so much room for interpretation?

CS: Regarding interpretation, these pieces, for the most part, require no more interpretative skills than any others — i.e., the composer has given many indications throughout most of the pieces, all of which act as guidelines for the performer.

As we pianists are all so very different, no two interpretations could possible turn out the same. And, true, there are a few of the pieces where there are no markings whatsoever, and the artist is left on his/her own. This is as it was in Bach’s time. But, the latter is the exception rather than the rule.

  • Learn more about the recital and purchase tickets online.