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BIOGRAPHY

Donald Shirley
Pianist With His Own Genre, Dies at 86
New York Times Published: April 28, 2013

Link to Obituary


Donald Shirley
,
(1927 - 2013) concert pianist, and composer Carnegie Hall Apartment resident since 1956 and recipient of the Isaac Stern Medallion, the only studio tenant besides Leonard Bernstein to play solo concerts at Carnegie Hall. He played as soloist with the orchestra at Milan's La Scala opera house in a program dedicated to Gershwin's music. Only two other pianists have performed there as soloists—Rubinstein and Richter. Igor Stravinsky has said of him, "His virtuosity is worthy of Gods." Appearances in New York followed, notably at the Basin Street, where Duke Ellington first heard him. Here started their warm friendship which was highlighted by Don's performance in 1955 of the premiere of Duke's Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall with the NBC Symphony of the Air. An appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Show launched his career nationwide. He has composed 3 symphonies, two piano concerti, a cello concerto, three string quartets, a one-act opera, works for organ, piano and violin, a symphonic tone poem based on "Finnegan's Wake" and a set of "Variations" on the legend of Orpheus in the Underworld.
from: http://carnegieartiststudios.com/portfolio.html

 

 



Shirley in his Carnegie Hall Apartment.

Following from : http://www.joyousjam.com/jamaicasclassicalmusicians/id17.html

Don Walbridge Shirley was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 29, l927. He began playing the piano at age of 2 ˝, being taught at first by his mother; he gave his first public performance at the age of 3. When he was 9 he was invited to study theory with Mittolovski at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music, where he spent a great part of his youth. Later he studied with the famous organist Conrad Bernier and studied advanced composition with Bernier, and with Dr. Thaddeus Jones at Catholic University of America in Washington D. C.

He made his concert debut at the age of 18 with the Boston Pops on June 25, 1945, playing the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor concerto. His first major composition was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in l946. In l949 he was invited by the Haitian government to play at the Exposition International du Bi-Centenaire De Port-au-Prince and gave a repeat performance at the request of President Estime.

At this period he gave up his career as a concert pianist and turned to the academic field where he achieved outstanding successes. He obtained Doctorates in Music, Psychology (Univ. of Chicago, Phi Beta Kappa), and Liturgical Arts. He speaks eight languages fluently, and is considered an expert painter as well.

While teaching Psychology at the University of Chicago in the early 50's he returned to a musical career, virtually by accident, as a result of being given a grant to study the possible relationship between music and the juvenile crime wave which had broken out in the early l950's. Working in a small club, he used his experience to perform experiments in sound, and showed that certain tonal combinations affected the reactions of the audience. His audience did not know of his experiment, or of the students planted among them to assess their reactions, but he became a sensation as a pianist!

He started making appearances in New York, especially at the Basin Street, where he played with Duke Ellington. They began a warm friendship, resulting in Don's performance of the premiere of Duke's Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall with the NBC Symphony of the Air in l955. An appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Show launched his career nationwide.

At Arthur Fiedler's invitation he had appeared with the Boston Pops in Chicago in June 1954. He has appeared as soloist with the Detroit Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the NBC Symphony, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington to name only a few. He also played as soloist with the orchestra at Milan's La Scala opera house in a program dedicated to Gershwin's music. Only two other pianists have performed there as soloists - Rubinstein and Richter. Including his appearances with his own trio, he averaged some 95 concerts a year.

He has written symphonies performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and has composed 3 symphonies, two piano concerti, a cello concerto, three string quartets, a one-act opera, works for organ, piano and violin, a symphonic tone poem based on "Finnegan's Wake" and a set of "Variations" on the legend of Orpheus in the Underworld.

Don Shirley's music is beyond conventional categories. He is a virtuoso, playing everything from show tunes, to ballads, to his personal arrangements of Negro spirituals, to jazz, and always with the overtone of a classically-trained musician who has utmost respect for the music he is playing. Don's piano style is basically attributed to his using the piano as a stringed instrument rather than a percussion instrument which enables him to have a flexible, subtle voice. He has said, "There are three ways to enjoy or to interpret music, from a listening point of view: emotionally, intellectually, and a combination of the two." Igor Stravinsky has said of him, "His virtuosity is worthy of Gods.”

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