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The Mind Over Finger Podcast

Nov 29, 2019

This week, I have the incredible honor of welcoming renowned pianist Ursula Oppens to the show.

A legend among American pianists, Ursula is widely admired for both her original and perceptive readings of new music, and for her knowing interpretations of the standard repertoire.

As you’ll hear in the episode, she’s an incredibly passionate and wise musician!  Her and I covered several topics, from the reality of a career in music today, to how she approaches learning repertoire, and how she’s stays focused in the practice room!

In this episode, Ursula expands on:

  • Her love of new music and how it developed early on in her life
  • How she approaches bringing new music to life
  • Why she doesn’t think musicians should have a niche but should, instead, be interested in learning
  • Her view of the musical landscape of today
  • What improvisation can bring to our playing
  • How she loves practicing (and I love that she said that so much!)
  • How mental and muscle memory develop together
  • Why she thinks it’s important to memorize music in order to learn it better
  • Her strategies to find energy, motivation, and focus to practice
  • Why flexibility is a crucial skill to develop
  • How a well-rounded education is also very helpful
  • Her very wise piece of advice for young musicians
  • Ursula is a force of nature and very generous with her insight. I know you’ll love this discussion!



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Ursula Oppens, a legend among American pianists, is widely admired particularly for her original and perceptive readings of new music, but also for her knowing interpretations of the standard repertoire. No other artist alive today has commissioned and premiered more new works for the piano.

A prolific and critically acclaimed recording artist with five Grammy nominations, Ms. Oppens most recently released a new recording of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, nominated for a Grammy in 2016, and Piano Songs, a collaboration with Meredith Monk. Earlier Grammy nominations were for Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano; Oppens Plays Carter; a recording of the complete piano works of Elliott Carter for Cedille Records (also was named a “Best of the Year” selection by The New York Times long-time music critic Allan Kozinn); Piano Music of Our Time featuring compositions by John Adams, Elliott Carter, Julius Hemphill, and Conlon Nancarrow for the Music and Arts label, and her cult classic The People United Will Never Be Defeated by Frederic Rzewski on Vanguard. Ms. Oppens recently added to her extensive discography by releasing a two-piano CD for Cedille Records devoted to Visions de l’Amenof Oliver Messiaen and Debussy’s En blanc et noir performed with pianist Jerome Lowenthal.

Over the years, Ms. Oppens has premiered works by such leading composers as John Adams, Luciano Berio, William Bolcom, Anthony Braxton, Elliott Carter, John Corigliano, Anthony Davis, John Harbison, Julius Hemphill, Laura Kaminsky, Tania Leon, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Harold Meltzer, Meredith Monk, Conlon Nancarrow, Tobias Picker, Bernard Rands, Frederic Rzewski, Allen Shawn, Alvin Singleton, Joan Tower, Lois V Vierk, Amy Williams, Christian Wolff, Amnon Wolman, and Charles Wuorinen.

As an orchestral guest soloist, Ms. Oppens has performed with virtually all of the world’s major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the American Composers Orchestra, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), and the orchestras of Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Milwaukee. Abroad, she has appeared with such ensembles as the Berlin Symphony, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the

Deutsche Symphonie, the Scottish BBC, and the London Philharmonic Orchestras.  Ms. Oppens is also an avid chamber musician and has performed with the Arditti, Cassatt, JACK, Juilliard, and Pacifica quartets, among other chamber ensembles.

Ursula Oppens joined the faculty of the Mannes College of Music in the fall of 2017, and is a Distinguished Professor of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. From 1994 through the end of the 2007-08 academic year she served as John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. In addition, Ms. Oppens has served as a juror for many international competitions, such as the Concert Artists Guild, Young Concert Artists, Young Pianists Foundation (Amsterdam), and Cincinnati Piano World Competition.


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Most sincere thank you to composer Jim Stephenson who graciously provided the show’s musical theme!  Concerto #1 for Trumpet and Chamber Orchestra – Movement 2: Allegro con Brio, performed by Jeffrey Work, trumpet, and the Lake Forest Symphony, conducted by Jim Stephenson.

Also a HUGE thank you to my fantastic producer, Bella Kelly!