Q & A with Jeff LaDeur, Soloist for Summer Solstice Symphony Concert

May 15, 2018

Jeffrey LaDeur is an accomplished piano soloist and chamber musician who’s performed at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall, and San Francisco Jazz Center as well as internationally. LaDeur is a founding member of the Delphi Trio, Founder and Artistic Director of New Piano Collective and the San Francisco International Piano Festival. He brings his talents to our 2018 Summer Solstice Symphony Concert on June 19. We asked him a few questions to learn more about his life and music.

To start, tell us a bit more about yourself and your career as a professional pianist. How did you find your start?

I began piano lessons two weeks before the death of my father, so music has always been connected to a sense of healing and growth for me. Practically from the moment I started, I could not get enough of the piano and had to be asked to stop practicing in order to eat and sleep.

I was lucky to have exceptional teachers like Mark Edwards in the Chicago suburbs where I grew up, and I was especially fortunate to meet my late, great musical mentor and piano ‘mother’ about ten minutes away from my family’s home. Her name was Annie Sherter, a formidable pianist trained at the Paris Conservatoire in the 1950’s and favorite student of the great pianist, Vlado Perlemuter.

Annie prepared me for conservatory and professional life as an artist, and I continued on to the Eastman School of Music where I again received great teaching from Douglas Humpherys. After having studied so much solo piano music, an inherently isolated activity, I wanted to focus on chamber music for a few years, which led me to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for graduate studies with Yoshi Nagai, a wonderful pianist and insightful teacher, and the outstanding chamber music faculty. I met my fellow Delphi Trio members, violinist Liana Berube and cellist Michelle Kwon, married the violinist, and have been in the Bay Area ever since.

What other performances have you been a part of recently?

I made my solo debut at Carnegie hall in March 2018 on the centennial of Claude Debussy’s death, one of the greatest and most influential composers of the 20th century. That was the culmination of a three-year project, in which I performed all of Debussy’s solo piano music alongside the composers that influenced and inspired him.

With the guidance and expertise of my friend and producer Matt Carr, I recorded my first solo album which appears on the MSR Classics label. I also founded the San Francisco International Piano Festival with my colleagues in New Piano Collective, an artistic alliance between pianists that celebrates each pianist’s unique contribution as colleague rather than competitor. It is hard for me to believe that our second season is right around the corner in late August! My trio has been performing around the country, particularly with the world premiere of William Bolcom’s first piano trio, written for our ensemble. I really enjoyed playing recitals in Oregon, Vermont, Oklahoma, Illinois, South Dakota, and throughout the Bay Area in this last season.

For folks who are not musicians, it’s not always apparent how much goes into preparing for a single concert like ours. What has that preparation process been like for you and the other professional musicians?

The hours of work that go into a performance extend far beyond the weeks and months leading up to the concert. There is a cumulative experience that one brings to a concert like this, not only in terms of instrumental fluency, but musical culture, life experience, collaboration, and communication. Each musician has a different road that leads him or her to such a performance, but certainly thousands of hours of practice would be a common thread among them.

If one is motivated by a love of music and sharing it with others, these hours are mostly enjoyable, if challenging. I always remind my students that their love of music should be as unconditional as possible because no one is the soloist all the time. It is a special honor and treat to share music from that seat, but it is every bit as important and challenging to perform any of the orchestral parts or conduct the whole ensemble. I also think of playing concerti like big chamber music, the specific communication required to achieve precise and meaningful ensemble being as valid with orchestral as in a more intimate chamber ensemble.

What can concert attendees expect to hear you play at the concert?

I discussed with Paul Schrage [Musical Director and Conductor for Symphonia Caritas] several different pieces that we might offer together, and the Chopin emerged as the clear choice. I have come back to playing his music after many years of study and am falling in love with it all over again. I have changed and developed as a pianist and am delighted to find that my technique and approach to sound seems to fit Chopin’s music, and I am looking forward to presenting all-Chopin recitals in this next season.

In what way are these selected pieces indicative of your style and interests or past work?

Chopin’s Concerto in F minor is a special piece of music by any standard. Written when he was just 20 years old, it combines the elegance and transparency of Mozart, the bel canto style of Bellini, and the unique virtuosity of Chopin’s pianism. The slow movement in particular is unique in the literature: Chopin fuses the ornate coloratura and dramatic recitative of Italian opera and instrumental music so naturally that one does not realize that it had never been done before nor would it be done so beautifully again. On a personal level, my teacher Annie Sherter performed this piece many times and always had a great fondness for it. In 1957, she took third prize behind Martha Argerich in the Geneva Competition and performed this concerto in the finals.

What does it mean to you that your performance will support veterans in the Bay Area community? Why is it important to you to perform in a benefit concert?

It is an honor to support veterans in the Bay Area through this collaboration with Symphonia Caritas and Swords to Plowshares. I am proud know and love so many family and friends that are veterans and knowing that music will further this essential cause makes it a special joy to participate.

Jeff, we can’t thank you enough for joining us as our featured soloist. We couldn’t serve the nearly 3,000 at-risk, low-income and homeless veterans from the Bay Area community without the support of stakeholders like yourself, and we know having you as a soloist will help us a great deal in achieving our fundraising and community engagement goals through the Summer Solstice Symphony Concert.