Concert brings Homer pianist home

Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2003

For accomplished Alaska pianist and piano instructor Dean Epperson, life as a child on a North Fork Road homestead offered few opportunities to see live performances of classical music or take lessons from a variety of instructors.

What the homestead did have, however, was Epperson's mother, Mary, a well-known Homer piano teacher and owner of Etude Studio.

"(Music) was just part of our lives," Epperson said. "I'd have to say I had the oddest classical background. My mother was my only teacher and we didn't have a lot of cultural background" like one might have had in a city were classical music was regularly performed.

When Epperson first went to college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, his academic pursuits were initially aimed at mathematics, not music. By the second year, however, he realigned his career path.

"I was doing poorer and poorer in math," he said, and when a professor encouraged him to switch his major, he did.

These days, Epperson lives in Anchorage, teaching music classes and piano at the University of Anchorage while instructing students privately from a studio shared jointly with his wife. His resume includes appearances as a guest soloist with the Anchorage Chamber Symphony, the Anchor-age Civic Orchestra and the Anchorage String Quartet. He even traveled to Magadan, Russia, in 1992 as part of an exchange with the Anchorage sister city.

Another feather in his cap, and major part to his life as a musician, is his teaching, Epperson said.

"That's probably what keeps me playing," he said. "I've learned so much teaching. It keeps you growing."

Epperson's students, mostly intermediate- and advanced-level pianists, have apparently also benefited from Epperson's tutorial. One of Epperson's former students, AnnaMaria Mottala, was recently featured in an Anchorage Daily News profile after she was selected for a prestigious spot on "The President's Own" United States Marine Band.

Despite his many accomplishments as a musician and teacher, Epperson quickly lists his upcoming performance of the Rachman-inoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra as one of his career highlights.

"This certainly is one," he said. "It's a concerto I've always wanted to play. It's a great piece."

Epperson has been working on the piece, which he describes as an emotional concerto with many familiar melodies, since January. This week, however, will be the first time Epperson plays with the orchestra.

Three rehearsals later, they take the stage first in at the Renee C. Henderson Theater at Kenai Central High School and then at the Mariner Theatre at Homer High School his weekend.

Epperson said the upcoming performance is a rare opportunity for an Alaska pianist.

"If you figure there are three or four orchestras in Alaska, and each orchestra will program a pianist once per season," Epperson said. "So the opportunities are really limited."

For the Kenai Peninsula Or-chestra, having Epperson return to the peninsula to play is equally appreciated, said Mark Robinson, the orchestra's artistic director.

"The question is why did we wait so long," Robinson said. "Each year we think about who we want to have as a guest artist, and when Dean's name came up, we said, 'Of course.' We're really excited to have him play."

For the orchestra, coming rehearsals and the two Gala Concerts will be the culmination of months of rehearsals and practice. Adding their efforts to Epperson's solos will pull the entire sound of Rachmaninoff's work together or the musicians.

"I think of it as a three-way dance. Dean's doing his thing, and it's my job to function as an interpreter and communicate through my baton what it is he's doing to the orchestra," Robinson said. "I tell the musicians they need to have one ear on the orchestra, one ear on the soloist, one eye on me and one on the notes on the page. It's challenging, but that's the essence of collective music-making responding musically to what the people around you do."

The Gala Concert also will feature Mozart's last Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter," and Rimsky-Korsa-koff's "Capriccia Espagnol."

Robinson said those who have not attended a concert by the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra recently will almost certainly be pleased by the orchestra's musical development, as well as the musical selections.

"This music is so beautiful," he said. "I can't imagine people not enjoying this concert."

Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.

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