Passionate educator, solo/collaborative pianist, and recording artist Leann Osterkamp talks about her time in NYFOS’s Emerging Artist program and reveals her (crazy) solution to winter weather’s wear on her fingers. Leann will return to NYFOS’s Mainstage in Hyphenated-Americans on February 20, 2019 at Merkin Hall.
You were the first pianist to participate in NYFOS’s Emerging Artist program at Caramoor. What was your experience in that program originally designed with singers in mind? How did it impact your playing at the time? Is there anything particular from that residency that has stayed with you?
Caramoor was one of my first times getting to work extensively with Steve and Michael. I remember feeling star-struck every rehearsal. I would stare at Steve’s fingers for hours each day, trying to frantically absorb every bit of wisdom that I could. Steve’s way of improvising stayed with me and completely transformed how I approach American Songbook. I remember how infectious Michael’s coaching style was. His way of coaching and teaching has played a huge role in how I teach and conduct today.
You’ll be appearing with NYFOS in February 2019 in Hyphenated-Americans, which will feature primarily contemporary music, including the Daniel Sabzghabaei piece you premiered to rapturous audience response last December. How do you approach music that you are premiering? Is it different from how you would approach learning a piece with a long performance history or one that you might have become familiar with as a listener before performing it?
It is actually not very different in approach for me, personally. Even with music in the standard repertoire, I try to never listen to or have a pre-formulated approach to a piece before I work on it and perform it. I try to approach every Chopin Nocturne and Beethoven Sonata as though it is a premiere. The fun in music comes from reading and interpreting what is on the page, not from trying to uphold a performance tradition.
What advice would you give to prospective listeners who might feel like they don’t understand new music or know how to approach it as audience members?
Music is a soundtrack for emotions and life. It can really help, when you are baffled by a piece of art or music, to close your eyes and see what images and emotions appear to you. Instead of trying to understand the score itself, it can be more engaging to try to understand your own response towards the music. Learning about the historical and personal context behind a piece of music can also help as an entry point.
Are there any upcoming projects on your calendar that you are particularly excited about? (Other than Hyphenated-Americans, of course.)
I will be doing a solo recital for Steinway in Denver in March. It will be my first solo appearance in Denver since the move!
Both Colorado and NYC have cold and often snowy winters. What are your cold weather must-haves that keep you and your fingers in playing shape? Any favorite gear?
I keep myself in shape mostly through martial arts, running, and weight-lifting…. So, luckily, all of those can be done indoors yearlong. For my fingers, my secret is Krazy Glue. Yes, I know it is a wood glue. During seasons like last year, when I had a series of solo concerts that had a lot of technically demanding repertoire, my fingertips split with the cold weather (gross, I know). Over the years, I learned bandaids just get in the way, so I, desperately, put wood glue under my nails to try to repair my fingers. It is a miracle glue. I would usually put it on before the concert and then spend intermission putting on another coat.
What was the last music you listened to before answering these questions?
I just finished rehearsing Jerome Kern songs with my Boys Choir. In fact, it was music that I was introduced to by Michael and Steve when I was in school. It has been an amazing experience to carry on the Jerome Kern legacy to upcoming singers.
When you aren’t making music, what is your favorite way to spend your time?
I am a big fan of cooking, hiking, and Krav Maga and Jiu Jitsu. I love finding correlations between martial arts and musical arts. My new cooking discovery was learning to make ravioli from scratch! I also have started learning about motorcycles and am trying to learn how to ride so that I can go riding with family. I also have an amazing puppy named Rio that I spend a lot of time spoiling.
NYFOS is devoted to ‘song’ and the wide variety of styles that term encompasses. What is special about ‘song’ to you? Is there anything about this particular form that is significant to you?
This question is almost impossible to answer from a listener’s standpoint. Song has meant so many different things to me throughout my life. As a performer, however, song provides you with some of the most incredible personal performance/rehearsal experiences. The process of rehearsing and performing lieder with someone creates a very special and unique type of friendship that is impossible to describe. I met some of my best friends through song and we shared some incredible unspoken (though sung) moments together as we learned the repertoire. Perhaps that is why the NYFOS family is so uniquely connected and wonderful.