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His 30-Year Home Base for Creativity

Max Lifchitz with a grand old UAlbany friend. (Photos by Carlo de Jesus)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Feb. 24, 2017) — Score one big victory for the powers of collegiality.

Pianist/composer/teacher/impresario Max Lifchitz recalls a calm and easy feeling upon first joining the Department of Music faculty in the fall of 1986. “I felt no trepidation at my new university,” he said. “I had witnessed much back-biting and competitiveness in the music faculties at several other universities, but my colleagues here were instantly friendly and supportive — and that remains true today.”

Those colleagues and the University are happily presenting Max Lifchitz Up Close!, a concert celebration of the pianist and composer’s 30 years at UAlbany, this Monday at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. The program will be devoted entirely to his vocal and instrumental works, and features vocalist Heidi Skok, violinist Claudia Schaer, flutist Norman Thibodeau and cellist Ben Burnham.

The program includes new compositions from an artist whose concert schedule never flags year by year (he plays in or conducts about 10 to 12) and whose teaching load remains full. The combination of excellence, versatility and stamina is one reason that Lifchitz has been sought by several other colleges and universities over the decades. He says he has never been swayed to go elsewhere.

“No, UAlbany has allowed me the opportunity to pursue all my creative interests,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

He will be releasing his 70th album in April. Sixty-four of these have been issued by North/South Consonance, a non-profit organization based in New York City that he founded in 1980 and continues to direct. Devoted to music of the Americas, its many endeavors include an annual chamber music concert series in New York City, and it has received private support from such groups as the Aaron Copland Fund and public entities such as the New York State Council for the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Max Lifchitz

Max Lifchitz with students in his music composition class.

His individual work and studies have been funded by many sources, including the ASCAP, Ford and Guggenheim foundations, the Individual Artists program of NYSCA, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He received an Excellence in Research Award from UAlbany in 2005. His concert appearances throughout Latin America have been underwritten by the Fund for US Artists at International Festivals.

“I felt I found a niche in bringing to light Latin American composers and Latin American music,” he said. “I didn’t feel the need to be another pianist performing the standard repertoire of Tchaikovsky, Brahms, etc.” Through his critically acclaimed playing, Lifchitz placed an enhanced spotlight on such masters as Carlos Chavez, Heitor Villa-Lobos and others.

“For many years the music of Latin America was overlooked by the mainstream classical music world. I’m happy to say that’s changing, due probably to demographic changes and of globalization.”

Among his newer compositions is “Divine Rose,” a piece inspired by a poem written by a 17th century nun, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. He recently heard it performed in Chile by the Ensemble Bartok as a guest of Chile’s National University. Monday’s program includes Yellow Ribbons No. 51 for violin, which was commissioned and premiered at the 2016 Bar Harbor Music Festival.

The number “51” on the piece represents the 51st composition of a Yellow Ribbons series he began in 1980, with one work dedicated to each of the 52 Americans held in the Iran Hostage Crisis. This particular piece was inspired by last June’s Orlando nightclub shooting.

Events and notable occasions have stirred him productively in his teaching, as well. In 1992, he was inspired by the Columbus Centennial to create a general education course on Latin American music, which he has since put online. “I’ve always enjoyed the gen-ed courses just as much as my composition courses with music majors,” he said.

The graduate of Harvard University and The Juilliard School, who spent 10 years teaching at Columbia University before coming to UAlbany, said he’s aware that “many of my colleagues have now retired or moved to Florida. But I take care not to force my body beyond its limits. I practice an hour per day to keep the muscles loose. I see myself as a man who is happy to teach full-time while also having the flexibility to perform and compose.

“UAlbany has made that possible. It’s been a great privilege to have had a steady gig.”

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