Inaugural concert celebrates student pianists’ hard work

Nine W&L students took the stage for the “Let’s Dance” recital on Feb. 5


Emma Malinak

The recital showcased both experienced pianists and those who started learning recently. All participants had taken Applied Music: Piano classes.

Emma Malinak, Arts & Life Editor

“Let’s Dance,” Lenfest Center for the Arts’ first recital dedicated to showcasing the talent of Washington and Lee’s piano students, was performed on Feb. 5 in Wilson Concert Hall.
Nine students played pieces inspired by various dances from around the world, including classics from composers such as Brahms, Chopin and Tchaikovsky.
The show provided an afternoon of entertainment, complete with crowd favorites such as the “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker Suite, for over 100 audience members. For the students who performed, the show was a crucial step in their growth as pianists, said Assistant Professor of Music Akiko Konishi.
“There is so much to be gained from performing in front of an audience,” Konishi said.
When Konishi began teaching at Washington and Lee in fall 2021, she noticed that students who take the Applied Music: Piano class don’t get a chance to perform in front of an audience like other W&L music students and ensembles do. While the class consists of private lessons and studio classes in which students perform in front of fellow pianists, it has never included a public recital in which students can convey their musical messages to W&L and Lexington community members.
The students who performed on Sunday were in Applied Music last semester and continued to rehearse into winter term to prepare for the concert. Many students, including Nicholas Rizzo, ‘26, appreciated the opportunity to take their work from the practice room to the stage.
“The ability to connect with an audience, to make them feel the things that you want to convey, that’s something that’s really special,” Rizzo said.
Konishi and two other Applied Music professors, William McCorkle and Patrick Summers, started planning the event before winter break by selecting pieces that had a dance theme and assigning them to various students.

Two pianists sit at two pianos, facing each other, on a big stage.
Nicholas Rizzo, ’26, and Juyoung Kim, ’26, took on a piano duo piece together, a tough commitment. (Emma Malinak)

The professors chose some solo pieces and two forms of duets—four hands and piano duos—to keep the program engaging. A four hands duet involves two musicians performing on the same piano, and a piano duo refers to a piece in which each performer plays on a separate piano.
Rizzo and Juyoung Kim, ‘26, performed a piano duo waltz. Although Rizzo has been playing piano for 10 years and Kim has been playing for 13, they both said that playing a piano duo was challenging and required much practice. Rizzo said they both often rehearsed until midnight in the weeks leading up to the concert to perfect their piece.
Kim said that, despite the stressful preparation for the recital, he enjoys playing piano because it helps him to relax.
“I just play for myself, especially when life becomes stressful. I just play and forget everything,” Kim said. He added with a chuckle, “After that, my fingers want to die, but my mind is clear.”
While the Applied Music class is helpful for experienced performers such as Rizzo and Kim to sharpen their skills, Konishi said, the program is also designed to teach students who have never played piano before.
Runze Zhu, ‘25, started to play piano when he arrived at W&L last year, and he performed in front of an audience for the first time during the “Let’s Dance” recital. He said that even though he was nervous to perform, the sound of the piano echoing through the concert hall kept him motivated.
“I think it’s all about the beauty of music,” he said.
Konishi said the Music Department plans to make the winter piano recital an annual event, and there is already a concert scheduled for next February. She said that this year’s recital and future performances wouldn’t be possible without the drive and dedication of W&L’s piano students.
“I love teaching here and I think the students are really responsive,” Konishi said. “The more you ask of them, they really deliver.”