Jeffrey Siegel Returns for 45th Season in Scottsdale
Most of the blog posts I write for Scottsdale Arts take on a third-person, journalistic style of writing. Before I began working for Scottsdale Arts in public relations almost six years ago, I had a 13-year career in journalism. But this one is personal. There is no pretense of objectivity here.
I’m a fan of Jeffrey Siegel.
I’m not a fan because it’s part of my job. Yes, I do oversee public relations for Scottsdale Arts, including concerts at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, where Jeffrey will be performing again this season, starting in December. So, it is my job to be excited about Jeffrey’s Keyboard Conversations®, but my excitement is genuine because I truly enjoy what he brings to these shows, and I wish everyone could experience the magic of what he does.
That magic turns 45 this year, at least the Scottsdale version. Jeffrey’s actually been doing this for 55 years in his native Chicago, but we’re lucky enough to have had Keyboard Conversations® for nearly a half-century right here in Scottsdale.
What is a Keyboard Conversation? It’s one of those rare instances where a classical musician speaks directly to the audience, a practice with which Leonard Bernstein caused a bit of commotion back in the day. It makes sense that Jeffrey was once acquainted with the West Side Story composer because they have shared an affinity for educating classical music lovers and future fans of the art form.
Each Keyboard Conversation has a different theme. Looking at the program, it might appear to be like any other classical concert, with the exception of a question-and-answer session noted toward the end. When Jeffrey walks on stage, though, you realize you’re in for something quite different—and special.
First, Jeffrey introduces his subject, whether it’s a single composer or a theme featuring the work of multiple composers. Then he begins to talk about the first piece he plans to perform, offering background on how it was composed or the circumstances surrounding its composition—everything from the composer’s personal life to political goings on of the time.
Next, he sits down at the piano, where the “keyboard” component of the conversation happens. Jeffrey will often play a section and tell the audience what the composer was trying to do with that section or call attention to an aspect of the piece the audience should note. Then, after preparing his listeners to have an educated ear, he plays the piece in full.
For me, this was revelatory. I’m admittedly a classical music novice. I’m a big fan of the American roots artists we bring in for concerts at Scottsdale Arts, but classical music didn’t appeal to me until I started working here. Part of the problem was that I didn’t have the context that adds so much to the form.
The first time my wife and I attended a Keyboard Conversations® concert, we came away enriched and overjoyed. We had learned so much! And the music meant more to us because of Jeffrey’s meticulously researched details. We felt artistically fed.
In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we started telling our friends about him. We secured tickets for subsequent performances and invited them to join us.
The original Keyboard Conversations® began 55 years ago at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where they were presented by the late Dayton Grafman. When the Grafmans moved to Scottsdale, they introduced the concept, and Jeffrey himself, at the Center.
While he performs KBC, as we lovingly call it, in a variety of cities, he praises the “wonderful” acoustics of our Virginia G. Piper Theater with its intimate setting. And he says our experienced tech crew always delivers quality light and sound.
Through this job, I’ve also had the chance to get to know Jeffrey personally. Once a year, when he’s in town for one of his shows, we drive together to KBACH, the local classical radio station, for an interview to promote Keyboard Conversations®. When he found out my wife and I were fans, he told me he wanted to meet her. And after that initial backstage meeting, he always asks about her.
I’ve also seen how passionate he is about creating a new generation of classical music lovers. He told me recently that he’s touched to see an audience of all ages at his shows, including novices who might be attending their first classical music concerts. “In this day and age, the need to enrich people’s lives with great music is even greater than when I started at the Center 45 years ago,” he said.
To kick off Jeffrey’s 45th season with us on Dec. 5, he’ll be presenting a program based on the works of Chopin and Liszt, interspersed, as is customary, with his deeply researched, effortlessly engaging, and occasionally humorous commentary.
That’s right. Not only is this man extremely knowledgeable about dozens of composers, he’s also armed with an often subtle but always sly sense of humor. If you’re in the audience for a Keyboard Conversation, there’s a good chance you’ll be chuckling often and outright laughing from time to time.
And the Q&A that follows each performance is just as fascinating. We often find ourselves in awe of the facts stored in Jeffrey’s head and the deftness with which he uses them to lay some knowledge down on those asking the questions.
“One of the highlights for me in doing the series at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is the Q&A that concludes the program, in which the audience is encouraged to ask whatever questions they might wish to ask,” Jeffrey told me. “One night a boy of 10 or 11 spoke up and asked, ‘How many hours a day did Beethoven have to practice?’ and this brought down the house!”
Here’s the lineup for Jeffrey’s 45th season at the Center:
- Chopin and Liszt — Dec. 5, 2023: For his first show of the season, Jeffrey puts the focus on two composers whose works are known to millions who have never stepped foot in a concert hall.
- The Power and Passion of Beethoven — Jan. 9, 2024: This program, which includes the “Appassionata” and “Sonata for Theresa,” features music written as the composer was coming to terms with his deafness.
- A French Musical Feast — Feb. 6, 2024: Including music written by several composers, this program is meant to “enchant and delight the ears,” with beloved tunes like Debussy’s “Clair de lune.”
- Three Great Romantics — March 5, 2024: The final Keyboard Conversation of the season has “fabulous” short pieces by Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and Grieg—three popular composers who were only ever in the same room one time: New Year’s Day 1888.
Those intrigued by the story of that final concert will have to attend to hear it from Jeffrey himself. You can click on the link above to get your tickets.
Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel is sponsored by the Dr. David and Joan Goldfarb Trust.