Pianist bidding adieu to Virginia Arts Festival with Mozart concert
Rashod Ollison
The Virginian-Pilot

May 10, 2018

When he was 3, André-Michel Schub refused to take afternoon naps.

By then, his family had been in New York City for about two years after moving from Paris. Classical records often spun on the stereo, and Schub’s mother observed the toddler’s steadfast attention to the music. She decided it would be more productive for him to start piano lessons than for her to try to enforce nap time.

And a classical star was born.

Schub’s career took off in the 1970s, and he won high-profile piano competitions, including the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the Naumburg International Piano Competition and the Avery Fisher Recital Award. Twenty-two years ago, during the infancy of the Virginia Arts Festival, he became director of chamber music, a position he will leave this year.

“Twenty-two years of running it, it’s time for fresh blood. Nothing is forever,” says Schub, who is 65. “Like a great piece of music, it has a beginning and an end, and if it goes on too long, that’s not good. The festival is in a good place, and the chamber music part is in a good place. But let’s see what someone else wants to do with it from a different point of view.”

To show appreciation for Schub’s contributions over the years, the festival is dedicating the 22nd chamber music season to him, and Schub has centered it on Mozart, his favorite composer. The Mozart celebration is Friday at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach.

“I can never get enough of Mozart. Every note is perfection,” Schub says, calling from his New York City home. “It’s not just technical or intellectual, it’s emotional, spiritual, perfect in every way.”

For more than 20 seasons, Schub has traveled to Hampton Roads from New York City to organize the chamber music concerts for the festival. He was among the first participants as the festival took shape.

“I’d been friends with Rob Cross, the executive director of the Virginia Arts Festival, and he told me he had this vision of doing concert, theater and dance, different kinds of cultural events within a 45-mile radius of Norfolk,” Schub says. “He basically told me to do whatever you want, hire whoever you want. We scoped out different churches and schools, and found eventually the best places to present the concerts. I felt like a kid in a candy shop, my choice of what to play and with whom to play it.”

Cross figured Schub’s respected reputation as a classical pianist would attract top-shelf talent to the festival.

“From the beginning, André set the highest standard of artistry, musicianship and programming for the Virginia Arts Festival’s chamber music concerts,” Cross says. “Thanks to André’s association with the most prestigious music festivals and chamber music presenters in the country, Virginia Arts Festival has been able to attract a who’s who of great chamber music ensembles and soloists from around the world.”

Those acts over the years have included the Tokyo String Quartet, the Juilliard String Quartet, the Miami String Quartet, and soloists like Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Olga Kern and Midori. Schub also has brought in younger, adventurous classical artists such as Lang Lang and Yuja Wang before they became international sensations. Cross says the festival is looking for a replacement for Schub, with hopes of announcing one in the fall.

Schub says what has mattered most to him is the personal enjoyment the concerts have brought.

“It’s been musically rewarding and personally rewarding as well,” he says. “I remember a concert we did in Portsmouth outside in a tent. It’s been musically wonderful and lots of fun. That’s the main thing.”

The pianist will continue to teach private lessons and at the Manhattan School of Music, a position he’s held since 2006. Music has provided a profession for Schub, but the connection these days is much more than that.

“Most people who end up having a life in music start very early,” Schub says. “In order to be a world-class tennis player, you don’t pick up the sport at 20 years old, no matter how good an athlete you are. In music, it’s the same thing. The biggest impact is emotional or spiritual. I remember the first time hearing Brahms’ piano concertos, and it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. If I can be the vehicle through which the great composers’ music comes to life, that’s the best thing to happen.

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