When it comes to engaging his organizational talents to advance classical music worldwide, there is no stopping pianist Jeffrey Biegel.
At times compared to legendary American pianist Van Cliburn, who won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, thus creating a milestone in pianistic achievement for America, Biegel’s "grand style" has made him a very successful performing and recording artist. But, as his transcriptions and other excursions into less-than-conventional forms prove, his range of musical expression is not limited to one style or activity alone. On his long list of achievements we find composing and arranging next to his many piano performances, and time and again the word "first" when again he has broken new ground.
Such was the case when, in 1997, Biegel used Steinway Hall in New York City as his base for creating the first worldwide piano recital, at the time touted to have been the first live audio/video concert on the web. Further pushing the envelope, in 1999 he created the first large consortium project, joining 27 orchestras in 25 US cities.
"Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to receive the coveted Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1983, composed the 'Millennium Fantasy' for me," Mr. Biegel explained when describing how this project (which will culminate in a September 2010 CD release by Naxos) came into being.
"I had decided that it would be wonderful to commission a new work for piano and orchestra with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who was a great figure in the American music scene, and especially in New York, at the time. … we soon spoke at great length about my idea to create the largest consortium of orchestras in the USA for a single work - to celebrate the millennium."
To provide her with an overview of his work, Biegel sent Zwilich his recordings of Beethoven, Prokofiev, Leroy Anderson, and Lalo Schifrin’s Second Piano Concerto. After listening to the recordings, Zwilich rang Biegel’s partner in the project, Jeffrey James, and green-lit her contribution. "It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship between Ms. Zwilich and me," Biegel remembers.
On September 22, 2000, Biegel premiered Zwilich’s "Millennium Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra," playing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Jesus Lopez-Cobos in Cincinnati. In light of the great success of the premiere, Cincinnati’s mayor proclaimed the following day Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Day and presented the composer with the key to the city. The success of Zwilich’s "Millennium Fantasy" performance in 2000, up to then the largest cooperative consortium of orchestras playing together, led to the creation of a whole array of further commissions.