Born in Cleveland and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., pianist Judy Widrig, 45, has performed with numerous ensembles in the Pacific Northwest, including with the Whatcom and Skagit symphonies, and with many of her colleagues at Western Washington University.
She and WWU violin professor Grant Donnellan perform at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Bellingham Music Club, 10:30 a.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 119 Texas St. The event is free and open to the public. Details: bellinghammusicclub.org.
Question: What's your education background?
Answer: I have degrees in piano performance from The Hartt School, the University of Minnesota and the University of Colorado.
Q: When did you start playing piano?
A: When I was 13 my parents bought a piano for our home and I began serious study when I was 15. I'm not sure why my teacher took me on; the rest of her students played circles around me. She was both demanding and inspiring, and after two years of study with her I was winning the upstate New York piano competitions. She then conceded that I might be a good piano teacher.
Q: What brought you to Bellingham?
A: I worked my way west with each college I attended, finishing a doctorate at the University of Colorado before settling in Bellingham in the 1990s. Now I teach piano and keyboard theory at Western Washington University and I also teach a motivated group of teens at my home studio.
Q: What have been some of your most memorable experiences?
A: I had the experience of touring the Northwest, Canada and Alaska several times with Hungarian violinist Denes Zsigmondy.
My favorite musical experiences involve either chamber music or modern music. A memorable performance for me was playing the Schoenberg Piano Concerto with the Whatcom Symphony. The work overlays a lush Viennese romanticism onto a strict 12-tone serial structure, and on the first hearing it is quite dissonant. It was challenging both for the performers and the audience, but I think that everyone has forgiven me.
I love playing new pieces written by local composers. It is exciting to be a part of the creative process and to be able to have a dialogue about the music with the person who wrote it. I also enjoy playing in small ensembles with friends. Before we all started raising children, several WWU music faculty members and I had a chamber music series called Bellingham Chamber Players. Someday I would like to revive that group.
Q: Who are some of your favorite composers?
A: When I am playing for pure pleasure, I turn to the music of J.S. Bach most often. The range of emotion in Bach's keyboard music alone is enough to keep a pianist satisfied for life.
But as a performer I especially enjoy playing music by French composer Olivier Messiaen, as well as other works written in the early to mid 20th century.
On the Nov. 7 Bellingham Music Club recital program, Grant and I will present "Theme and Variations" by Messiaen. It is an early work that shows the influence of Debussy and also looks ahead to the more mature style of Messiaen's later piano works. It is a very accessible piece for the audience - a real crowd pleaser. We will also play transcriptions by Debussy in honor of his 150th birthday year.
The Bellingham Music Club has done so much to promote classical music in Bellingham and to support high school musicians with its scholarship awards. We are fortunate to have this organization in Bellingham and I'm excited to perform for the club again.
Q: What else is fun in your life?
A: Playing in the outdoors with my family is tops on my list of fun, including hiking and backpacking, biking and skiing. We also enjoy growing and raising much of our own food, and I've recently been making cheese with milk from our dairy goats. I also like to read and do yoga. Travel has been an important part of my life and it is fun to share that experience with our kids.