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Piano concerts celebrate anniversaries

Anna Polonksy and Orion Weiss perform in the

Anna Polonksy and Orion Weiss perform in the 10th anniversary concert of the "Rising Stars Piano Series" at Southampton Cultural Center, Southampton, June 8, 2013. (2013) Photo Credit: Handout

It's a summer of classical music anniversaries in the Hamptons.

First, Saturday night, the Rising Stars Piano Series observes its 10th anniversary with a concert by married couple Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky at the Southampton Cultural Arts Center. On Monday, Pianofest opens its 25th summer of intensive training and performance inspired, in part, by the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary season starting July 24.

"Our premise is that you can never have enough good music," says director Paul Schenly, who's taught piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music longer than he's taught at Pianofest. "I came here at first for rest and relaxation," he recalls. "But then I got together with volunteers for the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival. We decided someone needed to bring more classical music to the Hamptons."

"Someone" turned out to be Schenly.

BY THE DOZEN He leads two sessions of 12 students each, typically from conservatories around the nation and the world, plus an exceptional high school student or two.

Weiss, who performs Faure, Stravinsky and Gershwin with his wife in tomorrow's Rising Stars concert, was the youngest-ever Pianofest enrollee at 15. "He was and is remarkable," says Schenly, who also points to Weiss as an example of what he attempts to accomplish in a few summer weeks. "We strive to help them become happy, accomplished people," he says.

To that end, Schenly accommodates students in an East Hampton house equipped with 11 pianos. "Not quite one each," he acknowledges, "so at least one has to take time out playing video games or going to the beach."

It's a rough life.

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However, his students are responsible for household chores. "Usually one or two become our chefs. The rest handle other duties," says Schenly, noting that students come from all economic strata. "One summer, we had a kid who worked his way through college washing dishes and another who said she'd never washed a dish in her life. Guess who they assigned dish duty."

CONCERT EXPOSURE Besides practice and instruction, the students also get to perform in concert each Monday evening and on other public occasions. Schenly introduces the players, traces the musical history of pieces on their program and, at the end, a critique. This session's students are from Juilliard and other top U.S. music schools, plus the Moscow, Paris and Glasgow conservatories and Longy at Cambridge University.

"Part of our success has been a real interaction with the community," says Schenly. "There are important connections young people can make in the Hamptons. We offer an opportunity for them to grow as pianists and as people." With a wistful laugh, Schenly adds, "Some students don't believe it, but I remember when I was a young pianist like them."


WHAT Rising Stars Piano Series concert

WHEN | WHERE Saturday night at 7, Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane

INFO $15, students free; scc-arts.org, 631-287-4377


WHAT Pianofest

WHEN | WHERE Opening concert 5:30 p.m. June 17, Southampton Cultural Center, Mondays and other dates and locations through Aug. 5

INFO $20; pianofest.org, 631-329-9115

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