Legacies come in all sorts of symbolic shapes and sizes, some exaggerated by history, others understated in humility. The legacy of pianist and teacher Evelyn Miller, though, is one that has such fundamental value to Knoxville’s music history that its importance cannot be overstated. As a 25-year old pianist, Miller was the first soloist with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on its inaugural concert in 1935. Beyond her career as a performer, Miller’s life as a piano teacher in Knoxville influenced and inspired scores of young musicians, many of whom have gone on to have substantial national careers. Although Miller died in 2006 at the age of 96, her legacy now continues through the piano recital series she founded.
After attending the William Kapell International Piano Competition at the University of Maryland in the late 1970s, Miller recognized the need for performance and reputation-building opportunities for the young winners of piano competitions. In 1980, she gathered a board of directors, applied for grants from the state of Tennessee, and launched the first season of the Young Pianist Series in Knoxville. David Northington, now a professor of piano at the University of Tennessee, was its first performer.
After 10 years of active management of the series, Miller stepped down in 1990 due to ill health. Since that time, executive director Sandra Murphy and a volunteer board of directors have maintained the program, now called the Evelyn Miller Young Pianist Series. An artistic committee consisting of local pianists and teachers—Stephen Radford, Charles Goan, and Rebecca Doyle—recommends performers to the board for each season, often after hearing them at one of the many international piano competitions. One criteria of the series is age—pianists must be 35 years old or younger.
“We occasionally have a favorite artist return to play for us,” Murphy says. “Spenser Myer, who played on our series twice and then was soloist with the KSO, has returned a fourth time to Knoxville just to visit with us and spend vacation time.”
The 5 Browns, five Juilliard-trained siblings who have made a career of performing as a group, were perhaps the YPS’ biggest draw, according to Murphy. “The 5 Browns played for us in 2006 to a sold-out audience at the Tennessee Theatre. Then they came back a year later to perform again at the Tennessee Theater. The two oldest girls, Desire and Deondra, had played for us twice before they became the wildly successful 5 Browns.”
In addition to the performance opportunities for pianists, the series offers Knoxville-area audiences the opportunity to hear young pianists who are often at exciting break-out moments in their careers. That appears to be the case for the first of this season’s recitalists, Dmitri Levkovich. Since 2005, the 31-year old Ukraine native and Canadian resident has won prizes in 10 international competitions, including first prizes at the Jose Iturbi and Hilton Head international competitions and second prizes at the Cleveland and New Orleans international competitions. This season he won third prize at the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition and first prize at the China International Piano Competition.
Levkovich’s Sunday afternoon program will include a variety of works featured on his competition programs: three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (D Major, K. 45; D Minor, K. 213; and F Major, K. 17), a Haydn sonata (C Major, Hob. XVI: 48), Chopin’s Scherzo in B-flat minor, op. 31; Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka; and Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor.
After performing in the now-razed UT Music Hall for a number of years, the series had recently found itself in church sanctuaries. This season marks a move to the Lambert Recital Hall at the new Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville. While the additional drive might prove a bit onerous for Knoxvillians, the acoustics and comfort level of the year-old venue should make it all worthwhile. A similarly sized and equipped space does not currently exist in Knoxville.
Following this weekend’s Levkovich recital, the series continues on Feb. 27 with pianist Soojin Ahn and on March 20 with Roberto Plano.