Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 1, 1995

Pratt Pauses Briefly to Give Local Concert

By Mike Giuliano
    Awadagin Pratt is a pianist on the move. The 1992 Peabody
Institute graduate, and winner that same year of the Naumburg
International Piano Competition, receives so many requests for
concerts and interviews that the blurry rush of music world
attention would be enough to give any musician pause.

   Although he moved from a Charles Village apartment to
Albuquerque, New Mexico, more than a year ago in order to gain
some quiet desert space, he's close enough to an airport to
easily get to concert destinations around the globe. 

     And while his management mentions how he's cutting back on
his hectic concertizing, attempts to reach him in recent weeks
translated to tracking his movements from Europe to New Mexico
and on to some master classes and performances in Kansas. It
seems as if the 29-year-old pianist is in demand everywhere.

     One place you can be sure to find him this week is on his
old training ground, the Peabody, where he is featured soloist
for the Arthur Friedheim Memorial Concert Wednesday at 8:15 p.m.
in the Friedberg Concert Hall. He'll be playing Brahms' Piano
Concerto No. 1 in D minor, accompanied by the Peabody Symphony
Orchestra under music director Hajime Teri Murai. On its own, the
orchestra will perform Prokofiev's Symphony No.5.

    Just as the Peabody was instrumental in nurturing his career,
Pratt has been generous in returning to the area for several
recitals in recent years. 

     Audiences here have heard him in venues including the Joseph
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Shriver Hall, Howard Community College's
Smith Theater, Kennedy Center and University of Maryland College
Park. And in November he'll be back for a recital at Loyola

     Like other young pianists whose careers suddenly zoom, Pratt
said yes to seemingly everything and only recently began cutting
back somewhat on his schedule. 

     "This is quite a lot of concerts, but if someone asks you if
you want to play in the Virgin Islands, it's hard to say no," he
told this reporter during an interview last year. "A lot of these
are concerts that came about because of the Naumburg. I simply
feel I need to play in cities where I've never played before--as
long as I'm not collapsing."

     Why have so many cities been calling him? He's a distinctive
pianist, to be sure, but he stood out in other ways in the still
fairly traditional classical music business. Although the
emergence of the African American pianist Andre Watts 30 years
ago should have made Pratt's racial heritage a non-issue, much of
the media attention focused more on his skin color than on his
keyboard abilities.

     But whatever his skin color, Awadagin Pratt cuts an unusual
figure on stage. There are the long dreadlocks that make him look
more like a rap star than a classical pianist. There are the
casual clothes that substitute a T-shirt for a tux. And then      
there is the sight of Awadagin Pratt lowering himself onto a
custom-made bench that puts his lanky frame only 13 inches from
the floor. The practical explanation for this strange bench is
that it once served as a lamp table in his Baltimore apartment.
The more inspirational explanation is that he was consciously
emulating his hero, the late Glenn Gould.

     Long before he acquired such a stage prop, he already was
acquiring the skills that would make so many people want to pay
for their seats in order to watch him sit down on that bench. 

     Born in Pittsburgh, he began studying piano at 6 and several
years later took up the violin, too. He grew up in Normal, Ill.,
where his now-retired parents were affiliated with the state
university; his father was a physics professor and his mother a
professor of social work. Incidentally, the name "Awadagin" comes
from his father's native Sierra Leone.

     At 16, he entered the University of Illinois to study piano,
violin and conducting. Then in 1986 he enrolled at Peabody, where
he was the first student in the Conservatory's history to receive
diplomas in three areas: piano, violin and conducting.

     The career that immediately soared after winning the
Naumburg in 1992 and an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1994
resulted in a media onslaught including writeups in the New York
Times and People magazine. He was named one of the "50 Leaders of
Tomorrow" by Ebony magazine. He has often been heard on National
Public Radio and the commercial TV networks. And he has performed
at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton.

     This summer he makes his debut at the Ravinia and Blossom
music festivals, and also makes his German recital debut. The
season ahead also includes a concert in Capetown, South Africa.

     Things remain busy on the recording front, too, with his
1994 debut CD A Long Way from Normal to be followed by a CD of
all-Beethoven sonatas this July, and a CD of piano transcriptions
next year.

     As if the playing and recording weren't enough, Pratt has
said that eventually he would like to devote much of his time to

     "I think I can have a dual career. I'd like to strike a
balance between playing the piano and conducting. It's possible
the conducting could eventually supersede the piano."  

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