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Piano Masters Series: John O'Conor

Performing October 1, 2013 at 8 p.m. in Seully Hall

JOHN O’CONOR, piano—is an Irish pianist who has earned a reputation as a masterful interpreter of the Classic and early Romantic piano repertoires through recitals, concerto appearances and critically-acclaimed recordings. Praised for his formidable technique, eloquent phrasing, mastery of keyboard color and unique sound, he is often referred to as a true “Poet of the Piano.”

O’Conor has performed in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand and has appeared with such orchestras as the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, l’Orchestre National de France, the Scottish and Stuttgart chamber orchestras, the Israel Camerata, the NHK, Yomiuri, Kyushu, Kyoto and Sapporo symphonies in Japan, the KBS Symphony in Korea, the Singapore Symphony, the New Zealand Symphony and the orchestras of Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Seattle, Montreal, Toronto, Tampa and Washington DC in North America. He also appears frequently with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland (and was soloist with them on their inaugural tour of the U.S. in 2004) and with the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

He has given concerts in many of the world’s most famous halls, including Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Wigmore Hall and South Bank Centre in London, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Dvořák Hall in Prague and the Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo. He also enjoys collaborating in lieder recitals and performing chamber music with many instrumentalists and ensembles such as the Cleveland, Tokyo, Vanbrugh, Vermeer, Takacs, Vogler, Ying, Audubon and Navarra quartets.

O’Conor has made significant contributions to the arts in his native country and has championed the works of Ireland’s leading 19th-century composer, John Field. He has become a key figure in the development of young artists through his role as director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music and was a co-founder of the Dublin International Piano Competition, of which he is artistic director and chairman of the jury.

O’Conor first gained widespread attention in the U.S. in 1986 with the release of the complete recorded Beethoven Sonata cycle, which was issued as a box set in 1994. CD Review described O’Conor’s performance of these sonatas as “piano recording of the highest caliber and Beethoven playing at its best” and went on to say, “This Beethoven series should become the complete set of choice.”

O’Conor has made more than 20 recordings for the Telarc label including the complete Beethoven Bagatelles, which was cited by The New York Times as the best recording of these works; four volumes of Mozart Piano Concertos with Sir Charles Mackerras and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra; numerous works of Schubert, including the late A Major Sonata, the complete Impromptus and Moments Musicaux, Waltzes and the Trout Quintet with the Cleveland Quartet; and two volumes of short piano pieces entitled Piano Classics and Autumn Songs. He has recorded most of John Field’s major works, including the complete Concertos, Sonatas and Nocturnes. His recording of Field’s Nocturnes was featured on Billboard’s classical charts for many weeks. He has also recorded his favorite Irish Airs with the Irish Chamber Orchestra entitled My Ireland. In 2007 and 2008, he recorded the complete Piano Concertos of Beethoven with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andreas Delfs, which have received great acclaim.

O’Conor’s early studies began in Dublin, where his main piano teacher was Dr. J.J. O’Reilly. He was awarded an Austrian Government scholarship that enabled him to study in Vienna with the renowned pedagogue Dieter Weber. He also made a special study of Beethoven with the legendary German pianist Wilhelm Kempff. In 1973, O’Conor was unanimously awarded First Prize at the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and, in 1975, he won First Prize at the Bösendorfer Competition.

O’Conor is deeply committed to the development of young pianists in Ireland and in other countries. He is professor of piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and has given masterclasses at the Juilliard and Manhattan Schools in New York, Harvard, Yale, Temple, Rutgers, Indiana and Seattle Universities, the Ravinia Festival, the Adamant Music School in Vermont, the Hamamatsu Piano Academy in Japan, the National University of the Arts in Korea, the Australian National Academy and the Sydney Conservatorium in Australia, the Paris Conservatoire and the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music in London. He has been a member of the faculty of the Aspen Music Festival and School since 2006 and is a regular performer at the festival. He has served as juror for most of the world’s most prestigious International Piano Competitions, including those in Leeds, Moscow (Tchaikovsky), Vienna (Beethoven), Warsaw (Chopin), Tel Aviv (Rubinstein), Hamamatsu, Beijing, Shanghai, Munich, Bolzano (Busoni), Cologne, Vevay (Clara Haskil), Cleveland, Salt Lake City (Gina Bachauer), Sydney, Pretoria, London, College Park (William Kapell), Valencia (Jose Iturbi), Hilton Head and Seoul. His students have won many international prizes. Since 1997, he has taken on the mantle of his revered professor Wilhelm Kempff and gives the annual Beethoven Interpretation Course in Kempff’s own villa in Positano, Italy, where Kempff gave the course from 1957. 

In August 2010, O’Conor retired as director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) after 16 remarkably successful years at the helm. He continued to serve as professor of piano at the RIAM, and he has also taken on a new position as distinguished visiting artist and professor of piano at Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA. He has also recently been appointed visiting professor of piano at the Showa University of Music in Kawasaki, Japan. 

For his services to music, O’Conor has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by the National University of Ireland, by Trinity College Dublin and by Shenandoah University, and he received an Honorary Fellowship by the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He has been decorated with the title Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France, awarded the Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst by Austria and has also been decorated by the Italian and Polish governments. Most recently, Japan awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun and Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.


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