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‘The Frankenpianist’ to bring accessible new music in ‘madly’ inventive ways to ETSU, city

Contributed • Apr 4, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Award-winning pianist Christopher Taylor will perform on Thursday, April 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City. The program is part of East Tennessee State University’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts spring season.

Taylor was not born with a piano in his lap, but he did make the segue around age 7 from intense fascination with the numbers on the tape measure to the symphonies of Beethoven on his father’s LPs.

After a trip to Bonn, Germany, with his parents, he turned his sights to the upright piano at his Boulder, Colorado, home.

“Beethoven’s birthplace was a great inspiration to me, and so, finally that fall, after we got home, I started piano lessons,” said Taylor, who is now professor of Piano Performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I immediately became very, very committed to it – and the rest is history.”

At first, the prodigy only wanted to play Beethoven, but his passion expanded to Bach, then Schubert, Liszt and Chopin and during high school, to 20th-century music, of which he is now a “passionate advocate.”

Selections in his April 4 program will include Schubert’s “Der Wanderer” Fantasy in C Major; the virtuosic Liszt transcription of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major; and contemporary preludes in the jazz style by living composer Nikolai Kapustin. Bookending the April 4 program are the Schubert Fantasy and the shorter Kapustin pieces.

Often compared to a “mad scientist,” or “mad artist,” as he adapts the title, Taylor alternately turns his energies to masterworks and to invention, sometimes combining the two.

Taylor holds a degree in mathematics from Harvard University and is a computer programmer in his spare time. After gestating for a few years, the “mad artist” devised a concept for a new musical instrument, a computer-based, remote-control double-manual keyboard attached by sensors to two grand pianos. Taylor designed keyboards with custom piano keys and circuit boards to enable them to talk to the actual pianos that could be across the room.

“It’s this set up with three instruments on stage and two of them are actually making sounds and the other one is where the pianist is sitting and ‘playing,’ controlling the whole parade, so to speak,” Taylor said.

Thus, the Frankenpiano, or Frankenpiano II, really, was born, patented and performed on, about two years ago.

“One of my students nicknamed the instrument as it was starting to emerge the ‘Frankenpiano,’ although the official name is the ‘Hyperpiano,’” Taylor said. “There are still refinements to be done, but I’ve taken a bit of a break. I just exhausted myself with all the work that was involved, but it’s something that I’ll be getting back to at some point in the near future.”

Spring 2019 at Mary B. Martin School of the Arts has been marked by innovators in many artistic genres.

“Christopher Taylor is certainly on the cutting edge of innovation,” said Anita DeAngelis, director of the Martin School at ETSU, event sponsor. “He has many interests besides piano, including a degree from Harvard in mathematics and remarkable endeavors as an inventor and computer programmer. It’s exciting for me to think about him coming to ETSU and serving as an example for our students in so many disciplines.”

For more information about Taylor, visit www.music.wisc.edu/christopher-taylor.

For information about ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts or to purchase tickets, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587). Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors 60+ and $5 for students of any age with ID. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.