Pianist Christopher Guzman serves as international ambassador for Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When Christopher Guzman, assistant professor of music, won the 10th Concours International de Piano d’Orléans (Orléans International Piano Competition) in 2012, he won more than international recognition for himself as a pianist. He gained international visibility for Penn State, thanks to a November 2013 tour of France and a CD — released this month — produced as part of his prize.

The Concours International de Piano d’Orléans, held every two years and one of the most prestigious music competitions in Europe, emphasizes the performance of modern music. “My CD project was to cover German and Austrian composers from the Second Viennese School — the first group of composers to systematically compose music without a tonal center, otherwise known as atonal music — through today,” Guzman explains.

He selected works by Jörg Widmann, Peter Ablinger, Arnulf Herrmann, Wolfgang Rihm, Hans Werner Henze, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Anton Webern. Thanks to a grant from Penn State’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities, he was able to meet with three of the composers: Widmann, Ablinger and Herrmann; in Germany before recording their pieces.

“I would not normally have the chance to play for these composers, and I am extremely grateful to the institute for the grant that allowed me to go play for them before my recording,” he said. “Since these works were going to be on record, I wanted to make sure that I was coming as close to the composers’ intentions as possible.”

Christopher Guzman

Christopher Guzman is an assistant professor of music.

Image: Penn State

According to Guzman, Widmann, at age 40, has already established himself as one of the great composers of his generation. While arranging a meeting was challenging — Widmann does not use email and Guzman was not given his phone number, so he had to go through the composer’s manager — it was worth it.

“My lesson with him was almost like a fantasy — I hadn’t been inspired musically like this in such a long time,” Guzman noted. “Practically, he helped me with some revisions to the score that hadn’t made it to the printed edition, which was invaluable for the production of the recording.”

Guzman performed the works on the CD when he toured Paris and the Loire Valley in late 2013, giving masterclasses and recitals in 10 cities. “In total, I performed for about 1,300 people, and taught about 70 students, a huge promotional tour for me and great international publicity for Penn State.”

Guzman, who joined the Penn State faculty in 2011, trained at the Juilliard School, as well as the New England Conservatory in Boston and the University of Texas at Austin. His performances have brought him to some of the world’s finest halls, including London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, the Seoul Arts Center and Leipzig’s historic Gewandhaus, among others.

Last Updated April 22, 2014