November 15, 2022

Longtime MSM piano faculty member Solomon Mikowsky celebrates recent student successes

Longtime MSM faculty member Solomon Mikowsky is not slowing down. In addition to teaching at MSM, he’s working on several projects, including his annual festivals and a compilation of videos by 32 of his former students.

Dr. Mikowsky’s roster of exceptionally accomplished students is long, and their achievements are numerous, and are detailed in his faculty biography.

In the photo above taken in 2018, Dr. Mikowsky poses with some of his former MSM students. From left to right: Chun Wang, José Ramón Mendez, Kirill Gerstein, Wael Farouk (MSM faculty), Yuan Sheng, Simone Dinnerstein, Dr. Mikowsky, Ruiqi Fang, Alexandra Beliakovich, Adam Kent (MSM Precollege faculty), Inesa Sinkevych (MSM faculty; Co-Head, Piano Department), and Alexandre Moutouzkine (MSM faculty; Co-Head, Piano Department).

We caught up with Dr. Mikowsky to learn about a few recent “success stories” and why he values being part of the MSM Community.

Solomon Mikowsky in Mikowsky Hall at MSM, November 2022. Photo by Anna Yatskevich.

What recent accomplishments of your students would you like to share with us?

I am very pleased with the accomplishments of my students, including right here at MSM: Alexandre Moutouzkine (MM ’03, PS ’05, AD ’06) and Inesa Sinkevych (PS ’06) are now co-heads of the piano department at MSM, Wael Farouk (PS ’06), has joined the MSM piano department, and forte pianist Audrey Axinn (BM ’86) has joined the MSM history department.

Here are other success stories that have taken place in recent months.

Yeontaek Oh

Yeontaek Oh, a current doctoral student from South Korea, won first prize at the 2nd International Piano Festival Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. and 2nd prize in the Prix du Piano Berne international competition in Switzerland.

Adam Kent (BM ’86, MM ’87)

A CD released this summer by MSM Precollege Faculty member and alumnus Adam Kent (BM ’86, MM ’87) features him performing all the piano works of composer Tania León. It’s been receiving rave reviews, including in The New York Times, which named it a first pick in an article entitled “Five Classical Music Albums You Can Listen To Right Now.” Adam will soon be presenting a recital of piano works by Jewish composers who perished in concentration camps; a CD will likely follow.

Ahmed Alom (BM ’21)

Alumnus Ahmed Alom (BM ’21) performed Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto on November 13 with the Academia Orchestra 1830 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. He has been invited again to perform the Chopin Concerto No.2 next year.

Yuan Sheng (BM ’95, MM ’97)

Yuan Sheng (BM ’95, MM ’97), who has been called China’s “premier interpreter of Bach” by International Piano Magazine, is performing extensively in China, as well as lecturing and giving master classes around the world on Bach and Chopin. He continues as a piano professor at the Central Conservatory in Bejing where he has recently been appointed Chairman of Piano Major Studies. Yuan has recorded nearly all the keyboard works by Bach, Chopin, and Ravel, among others.

Kirill Gerstein (BM ’99, MM ’00)

Kirill Gerstein (BM ’99, MM ’00) demonstrated an incredible ability to adapt to last-minute programming changes within a few-weeks span this past summer for high-profile performances: He arrived in Havana in early June to perform Brahms Concerto No. 1 the following day at my international piano festival. I had to inform him that he would instead be playing Beethoven Concerto No. 3. Later, on June 17, he jumped in last minute to perform Gershwin Concerto in F in Switzerland with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, then stepped in, also last-minute, to perform Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor at the Berliner Philharmoniker’s season finale at the Waldbühne outdoors venue in Berlin a week later, attended by 32,000 people.

This was followed by performing Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in North Carolina at the Brevard Music Center on July 1, and then he stepped in last-minute yet again on July 20 at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland to perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.

This helps me explain to my students what it takes to have a successful career.

An excerpt of Kirill Gerstein performing with the Berlin Philharmonic in June 2022

Gustavo Díaz-Jerez (BM ’92, MM ’94, DMA ’01)

I am delighted with the success that Gustavo Díaz-Jerez (BM ’92, MM ’94, DMA ’01) is having. A recipient, with Alicia de Larrocha, of the Albeniz Medal, he is considered one of the foremost Spanish pianists and composers of his generation. His symphonic works are being performed by major orchestras, and his opera La casa imaginaria, which debuted in 2018, was critically acclaimed.

Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz (BM ’89, MM ’91)

A critically acclaimed and multi-award-winning Filipino pianist, Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz (BM ’89, MM ’91) has been performing recitals in Manila and Kuala Lumpur; he has dedicated these to me by performing repertoire he studied with me more than 38 years ago.

Simone Dinnerstein (PC ’89)

Grammy-nominated pianist Simone Dinnerstein, a former Precollege student of mine, was featured at Miller Theatre at Columbia University on November 17 and also on December 8 as part of the Bach series that she has curated. Her November 17 concert  included cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach who studied with Simone at MSM’s Precollege program. The December 8 Bach Keyboard Concertos concert featured pianist and MSM alumnus Wael Farouk (PS ’06) of whom I spoke at the beginning of this interview.

Simone Dinnerstein

Sophiko Simsive

Georgian-born doctoral student Sophiko Simsive — who performed the Brahms Concerto No.1 at the start of this MSM concert season as winner of the Concerto Competition — was selected as the pianist for the Claremont Trio following competitive auditions. She recently returned from concerts in Europe and the US.

Seth Schultheis (MM ’24)

One of my current students, Seth Schultheis (MM ’24), this summer won the Fourth Prize and the Commissioned Work Prize performing Sonata No.3 by Israeli composer Avner Dorman in the New York International Piano Competition.

Solomon Mikowsky with longtime student Sining Liu

You’ve had several composers recently dedicate compositions to you. Can you tell us about that?

Gustavo Díaz-Jerez is dedicating one of his Metaludios to me and Leo Brouwer dedicated to me his Boceto “Amelia Peláez” (one of my favorite Cuban painters) premiered by Kirill Gerstein in his recital at my international piano festival in Havana on June 11. Also, composer Juan Piñera dedicated his 12 Solomonic Etudes for the Right Hand Alone to me, which Alexandre Moutouzkine is planning to record for Steinway Records in a CD of Cuban etudes of the 20th and 21st centuries.

You are involved with a festival in Cuba; what can you tell us about that?

I’ve always tried my best to find performing opportunities for my MSM students and alumni. It started many years ago in Beijing and Shanghai, organizing recitals at the leading conservatories there, then in Korea, and in the Philippines. At the same time, thanks to being invited to hold master classes in various places in Spain, I was available to create festivals in the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Las Palmas, Lanzarote, and Fuerteaventura, with two symphony orchestras), as well as Valladolid, Vila-Seca Toledo, Graus, Torrelodones, and Madrid.

The success of those events led to organizing courses, master classes, and recitals at many places, including the Schola Cantorum, the College d’Espagne, at the Yamaha Center in Paris, the Schumann House and Museum in Leipzig, and at St. Thomas Church there, where Bach composed and performed many of his masterpieces.

After 2013, I began concentrating efforts in Havana, the city of my birth, by starting the International Piano Festival — which still runs there today — with the Cuban National Symphony and the Havana Chamber Orchestra.

The list of my students and alumni who have performed in these festivals over the years is very extensive. Just this summer, MSM faculty members Wael Farouk, Alexandre Moutouzkine, and Inesa Sinkevych, alumnus Kirill Gerstein, and students Daniel Rodriguez Hart, Yeontaek Oh, and Guangshou Tian performed recitals and also concertos with the two orchestras. Kirill and I offered master classes.

Looking ahead to the rest of the current academic year, what are you looking forward to?

I will be interviewed on December 19 by Isabella Li the founder of Musicale, an on-line music education platform which features interviews, lectures, and master classes by leading pianists and teachers around the world. I’m also working on helping prepare my current students for the many challenges they have coming up, including jury exams, school recitals, and competitions in Europe and in the US. This all keeps me very busy!

What other projects are you working on right now?

Recording producer Joe Patrych is helping me assemble a collection of recordings on YouTube of 32 of my students over a span of 52 years!

What do you love most about teaching your students at MSM?

I love my students’ openness to learn, to widen their cultural experience, and to understand that being a good musician entails so much more than just practising. I relish bringing their musical knowledge and understanding up to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, as well as studying repertoire that is unusual and which adds diversity to the concert scene.

Why do you feel MSM is such a valuable institution?

MSM prepares its students for survival, whether reaching for the stars or playing an important role in our profession. There are no second-class students at MSM! Teachers teach students the importance of respecting each other. Their values are transformed from loving themselves into loving Music! They receive the most solid musical and academic foundation possible here, giving them self-esteem and personal security as musicians.

Solomon Mikowsky inside Mikowsky Recital Hall in front of photos of some of his students

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