Piano with a master

Natalie Burton of Camas is one of four students to work with with world-renowned pianist

Camas resident Natalie Burton was one of four students who participated in Portland Piano International’s “Up Close with the Masters,” last month.

The master was Vladimir Feltsman, one of the best known concert pianists in the world. Feltsman was in the area to play sold-out recitals for Portland Piano International. His style of music encompasses everything from Baroque to 21st-century composers. He has appeared with all the major American orchestras and at musical stages and festivals worldwide.

“Up Close with the Masters” are work sessions to promote music education. They are offered to the public free by Portland Piano International and provide an opportunity to see and hear a “master” teach and the student learn.

“I have been very interested in learning how to best interpret Bach’s music on the modern piano,” Burton said. “When I realized a world-class performer of Bach’s music was giving a masterclass in Portland, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. I was extremely excited when I was told I could play for him.”

During the class, she played “The Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach on a Model D Steinway piano.

Feltsman gave her a pointed critique.

“Since there are no dynamics in Bach, playing his music requires hearing two, three, four, five, voices simultaneously,” he said. “Once, because of severe back pain, he had to play the Goldberg Variations with no legs crossed, no pedal at all. ‘The Fugue’ was clearly written for organ. If you play it correctly, you don’t need the pedal. You can do it with your fingers. The process of playing piano, when done correctly, when the mental and physical are linked, is easy, natural and very enjoyable.”

Burton appreciated his candor.

“Mr. Feltsman’s teaching style was very blunt with all four of us,” she said. “He offered helpful suggestions that I will apply to all of my future playing of Bach’s music, especially regarding touch, pedaling, and how to interpret different voices in Bach’s Fugues. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such a great pianist.”

Burton, 23, has participated in several piano festivals and recently graduated magna cum laude from Pacific Lutheran University, with a double major in music and Chinese studies.

She is applying to conservatories in China for her piano master’s degree.

Burton also teaches piano and can be contacted through Clark County Music Teachers Association.