Musician on a Mission

Opus Osm

Pianist/music teacher Diana Fanning is on a mission to promote all of Janáček's works -- and not just to classical fans.

Diana Fanning is the kind of person you’d love to have as a patient, tolerant piano teacher. But beneath her tranquil exterior, her music awaits, ready to burst into rich, emotional color.

Smiling gently, Mrs Fanning floats across the sanctuary at the Prague 2 Evangelical church to the grand piano. Her selections from Mozart, Chopin, and Debussy are elegant, stately, and textured.

You can easily imagine this 35-year piano teacher at Middlebury College, Vermont fitting right in to a Sunday salon in the Boston social circle of Emerson and friends.

But when Mrs Fanning comes to the Janáček portion of this American Spring Festival concert, the picture changes. There’s still the rich interpretation of the music, but with an additional element. The American Spring concerts aim to strengthen ties between American and Czech music, and with Mrs Fanning’s reading of Janáček, it’s clear that the bond has just gotten stronger.

“I never say ‘no’ to the chance to perform in concert, and I especially love to play Janáček,” Mrs Fanning tells Opus Osm after the concert. “I’m a ‘missionary’ for Janáček; I just love his music,” she explains. “And I want people to know about him, more than just his most famous piano pieces. His ability to translate emotion to music – it’s just beautiful,” she smiles.

Opus Osm

Diana Fanning tells the story behind the music

As part of her mission, this pianist who studied in New York and at the Paris Conservatoire says she always tries to chat with the audience during her concerts. At this afternoon’s concert she explains the history behind Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path (Po Zarostlém Chodníčku) before playing the first ten short works.

However, today’s audience, mostly seniors attending the Dvořák Society’s monthly afternoon concert series May 7 as part of the Festival, probably needs no introduction to Janáček.

Their prolonged, enthusiastic applause after the final note indicates they appreciate her sharing not only the story behind the work, but Mrs Fanning’s perceptive “translation of the emotion” as well.

The Student with Bleeding Hands
And there’s another motive behind Mrs Fanning’s piano work: her efforts to attract more young people and non-music majors at the College to classical music. “I encourage my piano students to perform a lot – a lot,” she emphasizes. “It’s important for their higher level of development, of course,” she says, “but also, they bring friends who may never have been to a classical concert before. Then they can see that classical music is — not so bad,” she laughs.

“I have a student who’s on the rowing team,” she says, “and she comes to lessons right from rowing – her hands are literally blistered and bleeding. But she still comes to our lessons. And the great thing is, she invites her rowing friends to her concerts. You have the whole rowing crew there to support her. And they find out what classical music is like – some, for the first time.”

Opus Osm

But will they race to classical concerts?

She continues with great energy, “Young people don’t realize there’s a reason why classical music has survived for 200 years: it isn’t that different from rock music. It has the drive, energy, even pathos of rock — you can find it all in classical music, too.”

It’s a pity that her Prague appearance was limited to just one venue. We can hope for the day when her worldwide audience fills university sports arenas – and not just with seniors and young rowing crews. — oo

– Mary Matz

The Prague concerts in the International Dvořák Society’s American Spring Festival continue with American Andrew Staupe, piano, May 29 at 6 pm at Chodovská Tvrz.

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička; bottom, Middlebury College website

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