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Pianist has a plan for global harmony

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel performs Saturday with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

Some musicians like to try new things: rarely-played or unusual pieces, commissioning new works by established or up-and-coming composers, or pairing new works with familiar old ones.

Pianist Jeffrey Biegel likes all of that and more. Not only does he want to perform all of the above himself, but he also wants to perform them with full orchestras — and not just once. He believes new works should be played around the country, and, ultimately, around the world.

Why play a new piece once and put it away for years, he says, when you can present it multiple times to many audiences in a variety of locations?

To prove his point, Biegel’s latest project involves eight American orchestras, one in Canada and another in England, all scheduled to play the same piece, starting right here in New Orleans. On Saturday night he will perform the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taffe Zwilich’s Shadows for Piano and Orchestra with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, before taking it on the road, so to speak.

It’s all part of his very serious belief that orchestras can play a part in global harmony by sharing new works. That sounds great — who could be against global harmony? But few musicians could probably achieve it. Biegel (pronounced like the lovable dog), however, thinks it’s possible.

Judging by what he has already achieved, he might actually get there.

“I gave Ellen the title Shadows,” he recalled yesterday, the day before the first rehearsal and, in fact, the first time anyone would ever have heard it live with a full orchestra. “Because she said what she wants is for listeners to feel the shadows of the place they are in, no matter where that is.”

Biegel believes we are in a time in our history when all of us should be open to possibility.

“I feel we need to explore and not be afraid to go outside our stereotypical music boundaries,” he says. “I have this passion to do projects that haven’t been done before. It’s almost a calling.”

Biegel’s own family, not surprisingly, is both artistic and musical. His wife teaches piano and his 19-year-old son is in his second year of college, “in an eight-year art and pre-med program,” he says. “The younger son is in high school and is a drummer and all involved with math.”

Coincidentally, in addition to the piano, Zwilich’s premiere features a drum set on stage. Taffe Zwilich “may be strictly a 20th century Juilliard-trained composer,” Biegel explains, “but she includes other elements that surround her in her compositions – in this one I hear a little jazz and something that sounds a bit like Native American chanting, among many other sounds — which is why her music is all encompassing.”

Now approaching middle age, Biegel says it’s time to look to the next generation and their musical expressions, and that’s what he’s planning for his next marathon multi-orchestra project. He’s not ready to reveal exactly what it is. But, clearly, we haven’t heard the last of musical global harmony. And that’s a good thing.

If you’d like to hear Shadows in its world premiere, it will be performed Saturday, October 29 at 8 p.m. at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in Armstrong Park. For information and to purchase tickets go to or call 504-523-6530.



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