By Sue Wade
Now in its eighth season, the Grand Piano Series continues to captivate audiences with new artists, chamber music, and now, a delightful smattering of storytelling, jazz, film, and Broadway.
With its mission of preserving extraordinary musical repertoire, the series not only showcases award-winning rising stars and world-renowned artists. It also educates the public with personally engaging online programs and reaches into the community to bring the love of music into its schools.
The Grand Piano Series is both expanding and laser-focusing its reach this season, now performing all concerts at the St. Leo Auditorium, centrally located just off U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs, on the campus of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church.
Designed for performance, the venue offers excellent acoustics, giant projection screens that bring the pianists up close to everyone, and a seating capacity large enough to accommodate any audience comfortably yet cozy enough for intimacy.
This season’s mix of matinees and evening performances also offers more options for everyone.
The new season brings local debuts of internationally renowned performers, as well as comebacks for a few, all touring the United States while here.
“This year, we are bringing back some of our beloved crowd favorites,” said president and artistic director Milana Strezeva.
“Eric Lu graced our series in 2018 and has since earned international recognition by winning the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition and performing with such renowned orchestras as the Chicago Symphony, Boston Symphony and London Philharmonic.
“Ying Li amazed audiences at our ChamberFest last year with a captivating rendition of Stravinsky’s Firebird. Joining her onstage this year is Shannon Lee, a wonderful violinist and top prize winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Belgium,” said Strezeva.
Virtuoso Spanish pianist Martín García García, 26, brings extraordinary international experience to Bonita Springs Nov. 15. Top prize winner of the 18th International Chopin Piano Competition and winner of the Cleveland International Competition, he traveled to 70 international venues from New York to Tokyo in 2022 alone
Versatile variety marks the Dec. 14 program of Eric Lu. Framing Mendelssohn and Chopin between Bach’s delightful Capriccio and a Prokofiev wartime masterpiece, he runs the gamut of music history in a single evening.
This season, the Grand Piano Series continues to go beyond the piano, pairing it with an exceptional chamber quartet and, later, the sweet violin of Shannon Lee.
January features a top-tier performance by series director Milana Strezeva, a founding member of the award-winning Manhattan Piano Trio, on piano with the American-Canadian Callisto Quartet — four musicians who share a passion for spreading chamber music worldwide. Praised for their “lush intensity and bravado,” they are also dedicated educators who believe in the importance of mentoring students and connecting with audiences.
Educational programs this season will provide even more community engagement between Grand Piano Series artists and Title I elementary school students in Lee and Collier counties. Guest artists initially introduce students to various composers and musical styles, then perform for the children, followed by an engaging Q & A session.
“It’s an opportunity these kids have never had before,” said Strezeva. “Our aim is to introduce young individuals to excellence, and each of our artists possesses remarkable talent. Witnessing someone excel in any field can be a source of inspiration for children to thrive in their own passions.”
The season’s concluding concerts promise a popular potpourri mixed up by raconteurs Clayton Stephenson and Konstantin Soukhovetski; Florian Noack, a transcriber of classical favorites into new musical experiences; and the dazzling young piano-violin duo of Ying Li and Shannon Lee.
The charismatic 2022 Gilmore Young Artist, American pianist Clayton Stephenson, has been described as “not just a remarkable virtuoso, but a poet, a dramatist and a master storyteller.” His performance will lead the audience from the worlds of Scarlatti and Bach to the bluesy beauty of Gershwin’s jazz age classics.
Soukhovetski delivers original paraphrases of beloved operas (“La Bohème”), Broadway hits by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and film music (“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”), all in a Vegas-style narrated experience that puts him in an entertainment league all his own.
Purchase single tickets at $45 ($50 at the door), or save $105 with a seven-concert discounted season package for $210, at grandpianoseries.org. For assistance, call 469-333-3231. All concerts are in St. Leo Auditorium, 28290 Beaumont Road, Bonita Springs.
Here’s the season at a glance:
Nov. 15, 3 p.m. – Martín García García, Music of Chopin and Liszt
Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m. – Eric Lu, Music of Bach, Chopin, Handel, Mendelssohn and Prokofiev
Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m. – Callisto Quartet and Milana Strezeva, Music of Mozart, Ravel and Franck
Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m. – Clayton Stephenson, Music of Scarlatti, Bach, Scriabin, Stravinsky and Gershwin
Feb. 29, 7:30 p.m. – Konstantin Soukhovetski, Music of Puccini, Massenet, Legrand and Andrew Lloyd Webber
March 20, 3 p.m. – Florian Noack, Music of Shubert, Bach, Liszt, & Lyapunov
April 24, 3 p.m. – Ying Li and Shannon Lee, Music of Schubert, Poulenc, Liszt, and Beethoven