Pianist Charlie Albright was praised by the New York Times for his “jaw-dropping technique and virtuosity meshed with a distinctive musicality” and by the Philadelphia Inquirer for his “ease and smoothness that refuses to airbrush the music, but animates it from within.” Recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and the Gilmore Young Artist Award, he is a graduate of Harvard, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Julliard School, and is sought after not only as a performer, but also as a speaker, masterclass instructor, teacher and competition judge. His debut recording, Vivace, sold worldwide and the first of his 3-part Schubert Series of live, all-Schubert recordings was released in 2017. In January 2019, he had his debut performance at Carnegie Hall.

This July, he will perform at the Newport Music Festival for the second time. Stay Thirsty Magazine was pleased to visit with Charlie Albright when he was recently in New York City for this Conversation.

STAY THIRSTY: What motivated you to want to perform for a second time at the Newport Music Festival?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: Last year was my first time visiting Newport, RI, and I was absolutely blown away. The scenery and history are all amazing in Newport, and performing at the Breakers was incredible…not to mention the wonderfully welcoming and supportive audience who came to the concert to have a great time. In addition, working with Executive Director Pamela Pantos last season was a joy. When I was invited back to the Festival, there was no doubt that I wanted to return!

Charlie Albright

STAY THIRSTY: Your July 24, 2019, Newport concert will feature Bach, Beethoven and improvisation. How did you select your repertoire for this performance?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: Improvisation is something that I love to do and have been incorporating more and more into my performances lately, whether it be through improvising cadenzas in concertos…to taking notes from an audience and composing a sonata on the spot. For my Newport recital, I wanted to incorporate both traditional classical music along with live improvisations, hopefully bridging the two along the way. I will begin the program with an improvisation on the theme from Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, one of his most famous works. I will then perform one of my favorite contemporary classical pieces, the Ricercare and Toccata on a Theme from “The Old Maid and the Thief,” by Gian Carlo Menotti, before ending the first half with an improvised 3-movement sonata based on random notes I will take from the audience. The second half will start with an improvised group of short pieces which I think I’ll call “Newport,” and end with one of the most iconic pieces in classical music: the Beethoven “Moonlight Sonata.” I am really thrilled to share both classical music, new and old…alongside brand new music, made up on-the-spot, this summer with Newport.

Volodos/Mozart Turkish March - Charlie Albright 

STAY THIRSTY: What is it about the Newport audience that stands out to you?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: Music connects people, expresses emotions, and is a reflection on humanity. It should also be fun. The Newport audience “gets” that. I love to throw out the “classical” rules of classical music and instead talk to audiences, improvise, cross genres, and make concerts a time of sharing with each other, rather than a one-way, I-will-play-and-audiences-will-listen event. The Newport audience is fantastic in their enthusiasm and excitement for this.

STAY THIRSTY: What goes through your mind when you are doing the improvisation section with notes suggested by the audience? How do you so quickly conceptualize a piece and bring it to life?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: When I ask for random notes from audiences, I will often get three or four that are completely unrelated. I quickly try to figure out a key that would make these four notes “sound good.” Once I begin a piece, I do not think about keys or harmonic changes…or really much of anything other than the emotion and “feel” that I want to bring out in a piece of music. Other than a general length of the piece in the back of my mind and a desire for it to be cohesive (ideally, it has a beginning, middle, and end so that it is not just me rambling on and on for 5 to 30 minutes), that emotion is what I really try to bring out in the work. I hope that each piece I perform, whether improvised or not, “says” something worthwhile.

STAY THIRSTY: You are also known for your performance of “Amazing Grace.” What is it about that song that moves and inspires you?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: “Amazing Grace” is a gorgeous piece of music and I think it really speaks uniquely to people; it might mean something slightly different to each individual. Whether it be love, loss, or even simple kindness, it has the power to mean so much to so many…but to each in its own way.

STAY THIRSTY: Your debut performance at Carnegie Hall occurred this past January. How did that feel and what did it mean to you?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: It was thrilling to perform on the main stage of Carnegie Hall! In January, I performed the New York City debut of the Vivian Fine Concertante for Piano and Orchestra with Maestro Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra. The hall was full, the audience was excited, and I had a blast. It was a dream come true to be able to be the soloist there. The theme of the concert centered on American Composers…and so for an encore, I couldn’t resist capping off my performance with Great Balls of Fire. I think they liked it.

STAY THIRSTY: What do you admire about Liberace’s music?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: Liberace brought music to everyone and introduced many to the classical genre. One of his greatest skills was to make music fun and enjoyable; everyone was welcome, and everyone had a great time.

STAY THIRSTY: In your quiet time late at night, what composer’s music most often runs through your mind? Which composer has had the greatest influence on your music?

CHARLIE ALBRIGHT: I don’t believe I have a favorite composer, but I am often drawn to the romantic period of music. I tend to really like Chopin and Beethoven. And for fun, I listen to everything from Korean Pop music to Hollywood movie music.

Charlie Albright     

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.