Upon meeting Sara Daneshpour in October, Kurt and I knew that serving as her hosts through the Classical Fellowship Awards competition process would be a treat for us. She is warm, thoughtful, intelligent and completely absorbed by her music making. It is absolutely impossible for us to remain objective about her intensely, soulful and mesmerizing playing. (Though she is able to knock any piano out of tune in about an hour – all 100 lbs. of her.)
I must admit that I was skeptical about the notion that a high school orchestra could manage to perform the St. Saens piano concerto No.2 in an acceptable manner, with a pianist of Sara’s caliber. Upon our arrival at Warren Central High School, we were greeted by orchestra director, Grady Emmert, and six of his student ambassadors. The excitement about Sara’s residency was palpable as we saw posters of her throughout the school and students eager to meet her. Grady’s enthusiasm was contagious as his students assembled for the initial rehearsal in an organized fashion. They had obviously been preparing the music for months. Grady noted that they had listened, in class, to various recordings of the piece in order to prepare for any tempi Sara would choose. She was merciless in her fast movements and played at the highest possible level in all five rehearsals with the students. The musicians knew their parts. An evening rehearsal was necessary, as additional wind players had been recruited to handle the difficult parts. School faculty members, professionals from the community and former WCHS graduates came to fill in the spots. The timpanist, Ryan, attended every single rehearsal and was the steady- beat glue that held the movements together. The students and teachers continually thanked Sara and marveled at her playing. During the evening rehearsal I noticed that one young lady in the first violin section was playing, very musically, without music. She had it memorized!! I also noted the late arrival of a cello section member. He had been playing in a school basketball game and came to the rehearsal afterward. It is cool to be a student athlete and play in the orchestra – fantastic! Sara meanwhile, was attaining “rock star” status at Warren.
Photo by Daniel McCullough
At the Wednesday morning school convocation, some 400 students were assembled. In this student body, 62% qualify for free or reduced lunches. Sara spoke briefly about her life and her pieces of music – three quite serious, classical works. The audience was attentive and many were recording her recital with their cell phones. At the conclusion of her exquisitely wrought El Amor Y La Muerte, which depicts the conflicting emotions of love and death, there was an electrically charged silence – a testimony to Sara’s playing and the power of the music. Her finale was met with a raucous standing ovation.
– Becky O’Connor (Sara’s host)