NEW YORK – Renowned pianist Panos Karan performed 24 Chopin Etudes and Other Tales at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on June 8. Presented by Keys of Change to benefit Keys of Change USA, the concert began with the charming Debussy Etude No. 1 “Pour les cinques doigts” (for five fingers). Karan then welcomed everyone to the concert, noting that the Debussy piece is about a student given an exercise to perform by his teacher and when the teacher leaves the room the student improvises on the basic piece, showing that he has surpassed his teacher.
Reflecting on his own time as a student, Karan studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London for six years and during his time there, he learned that it is not enough just to play for people, there has to be more, something deeper in answer to the question of why he wanted to play music. Years of travel all over the world brought the pianist into contact with people from all walks of life and from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances, but playing music for disadvantaged children in poverty-stricken regions made him realize why he wanted to play.
Throughout the evening, Karan shared the often humorous and poignant stories from his travels between his beautifully moving performance of the 24 Chopin Etudes. Karan’s skillful playing truly impressed the audience and made even the most famous of the Etudes which Chopin enthusiasts have heard hundreds of times before seem entirely fresh and new. Karan captures the spirit of the music with a powerful connection to the emotional core of these pieces and a profound understanding of the history behind the music. His insights garnered from his travels highlight his philanthropic soul and form the basis of his efforts to make the world a better place through music.
Playing Johann Sebastian Bach in the Amazon for people who had never heard western classical music offered moments of culture shock as the people found the music loud and strange. In Japan just six months after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Karan played for people who were trying to put their lives back together in the aftermath. At a school, he met an elderly principal and the students who had a brass band and performed with Karan. The principal was so moved he could hardly speak after the performance, finally telling Karan that while they had played all he could think of was the students who were not there.
In Sierra Leone, a smile overcame some preconceived notions and in Kolkata, India, Karan has seen music open up opportunities for young orphans from the poorest areas. In Siberia, he visited a hospital to perform to children and gave a private concert to a young patient in the intensive care unit. Doctors asked him to only play for a few minutes so as not to tire out the young lady, but she asked him to play another and another piece and eventually Karan played for an hour. “Sometimes,” Karan said, “an audience of one is more powerful than thousands,” adding that Galina is no longer with us but she had noted that “it is important to listen to this music so you can carry on living.”
Karan said, “Now I know why I want to play. It is one of the easiest ways to make the world a better place.”
He added that Keys of Change is now a 501c3 organization in the United States and a donation box was available for those who wished to help support the international charity’s programs for kids. After performing the final Etude, Karan received a standing ovation. He played an impressive encore, Liszt’s Etude “La campanella” which dazzled the audience.
Born in Greece and educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Karan has taken music from the world’s top concert halls into the Amazon jungle, to the most impoverished districts of Kolkata, to prisons of war-torn Sierra Leone, and to the evacuation centers of post-tsunami Japan. Past performances include Carnegie Hall; Symphony Hall, Boston; Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; Suntory Hall, Tokyo; and Tokyo Opera City. In 2011, he founded the charity Keys of Change, which is helping to bring music to young people living under extraordinary circumstances around the world, and in 2014 Karan founded the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta, an orchestra comprised of young musicians affected by the 2011 disaster.