In 1991, he found himself in the war zone of the Georgian Civil War. Today, University associate professor of piano Steven Spooner has recorded a 19-month project: a 16-CD set.
Spooner, an associate professor of piano at the University, is also a professional pianist that has performed internationally. The professor decided to come to the University because of the reputation that precedes it for pianists.
Although Spooner is successful in the world of piano today, the road to get there took a turn when Spooner was 18 years old. When traveling as a part of a Russian exchange program to the Tbilisi Conservatory in Georgia, a country that was still under communist rule, Spooner found himself trapped. The Georgian Civil War had begun.
“Because it was a civil war, the army destroyed the main airport, so there was no flying in and out,” Spooner said. “All of the people were trapped there for about six months.”
The budding pianist was without heat in the middle of the Middle East winter, and found himself starving for food that his host family could not get.
“When you’re put in situations like that, you realize truly how adaptable the human is,” Spooner said.
When Spooner was able to return home, he said his mother did not recognize him when he stepped off the plane due to the amount of weight he had lost.
Despite the struggle to recovery, that did not stop the pianist from returning to the Tbilisi Conservatory to complete his studies.
Spooner has been playing the piano since the age of nine, but it was not always his decision. Spooner said his parents decided to sign him up for piano lessons.
“I grew up in the old days where kids didn’t get to choose their extracurricular activities,” Spooner said. “We had a piano, and everyone [in my house] would go learn how to play it.”
Although Spooner at first was uninterested in the piano, a few years later, he was asking his parents for a separate room for the piano and a stereo, he said.
Spooner has worked with a variety of people due to his travels across the world. One person is Massimiliano Baggio, the associate director of the Milan Conservatory. Baggio said he first met Spooner in 2010, when he invited Spooner to conduct a Master class at the Milan Conservatory.
“Both students and professors were enthralled by his natural and musical approach to music and teaching,” Baggio said.
Baggio has performed alongside Spooner on the same piano, performing a piano four hands piece.
“Above all, I would put his ability to convey the inner meaning of music, which is proper only of the greatest musicians,” Baggio said. “His playing is never conventional and goes always straight to the heart of the listener.”
Spooner recorded a 16-CD box set titled “Dedications,” a project which is normally seen at the end of a pianist’s career, he said. The box set includes a CD that is dedicated to a pianist that inspired Spooner.
“My heroes, like Sviatoslav Richter, that guy played more music than anybody,” Spooner said. “I felt like if I was going to properly honor him, then I had to do a lot of music."
Spooner said the box set was one of the hardest things he has done in his life, spending many days either recording or producing the music. He said to this day he still tackles each day with the same motivation seen while surviving the Georgian Civil War, and he tries to instill that in his students.
— Edited by Ashley Hocking