On Sept. 24, John Orlando, acclaimed pianist and director of the Distinguished Artists Concert and Lecture Series, will host a special performance to honor the victims of Covid-19 in Santa Cruz County.
Dubbed “Love and Loss,” the concert is Orlando’s first full solo recital in nearly half a century.
“When Covid started and we had to isolate, I took advantage of that time to really hone my skills on the piano,” says Orlando, who lives in Aptos. “I read so many books; I studied them carefully. I learned so much more than I ever thought was available to the piano.”
Orlando, who graduated summa cum laude with a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in performance from the University of Southern California (USC), has performed with the San Jose, Santa Cruz County and Fresno symphonies, the San Francisco Sinfonietta, the Cadenza Chamber Orchestra and more. He is also a founding member of the Johannes Trio and toured California with the Akademos Quartet from Warsaw, Poland.
“I’ve been witness to an untold number of first-rate professional performances, artists and musicians throughout the world,” Orlando says. “I’ve been invited to other countries to perform and see some amazing music. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
Orlando has held teaching positions at USC and the University of Santa Clara, and is instructor emeritus at Cabrillo College, where he was head of the piano department for decades. He was one of the first recipients of the Gail Rich Award for community service in the Arts in Santa Cruz County.
“Being a teacher is always very inspiring,” he says. “I love to teach. I miss my years at Cabrillo. I learned a great deal by teaching my students. I considered myself one of the learners right along with them, and I still do. There’s always more to learn.”
“Love and Loss” will include a pre-concert talk with UC Santa Cruz music professor Anatole Leikin at 6:30pm. A donation of $30 or more is requested, but any amount is appreciated and no one will be turned away.
The concert itself will feature mazurkas, etudes, Ballade No. 3 and the funeral march (from Piano Sonata No. 2) by Frederic Chopin and Alexander Scriabin’s Nocturne for the Left Hand. The set will start with Chopin and round out with Scriabin’s piece at the end.
“Scriabin was born 50 years after Chopin died,” Orlando says. “His piece is, in a way, an homage to Chopin. I thought that was a fitting way to end the concert.”
The inclusion of the funeral march was important, he adds, as the event is a memorial.
“I wanted this concert to acknowledge the people in our county who passed away from Covid,” he said. “But I also want this to be an opportunity for people to attend who have lost loved ones, or been afflicted by it. They will have a chance to write down any thoughts or emotions—anything they feel inspired to write. We hope to eventually find a venue where those things can be published, if they wish.”
Distinguished Artists was founded by Orlando in 1985. Its mission is to bring together local and international artists, organizations, educational institutions and more for a variety of projects. The series has brought hundreds of guest artists from around the world to perform in Santa Cruz, including acclaimed violinist Lucia Luque, composer and pianist Haskell Small, pianist Stanislav Khristenko, the Tempest Trio and many more.
“We are so lucky to have had so many incredible people perform with us,” Orlando says. “And we’re so happy to once again be able to hold live concerts.”
After “Love & Loss,” the series will kick off its 2022-2023 season with a celebration of Brahms’ 125th birthday, featuring acclaimed pianists Alon Goldstein and Crystal Jiang. The pair will perform on two pianos: Distinguished Artists’ special Yamaha grand piano, which Orlando says was one of the first of such instruments to arrive in the U.S., as well as their newly procured Estonia piano from Russia.
From there, the series will host a number of other concerts and talks through April 2023. People can sign up now for season tickets that give them access to all the events.
Orlando said he considers “Love and Loss” to be one of the major concerts of his career.
“I’m feeling very good about the concert,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to share my music with my community. To show the results of my hard-earned efforts and the revelations, inspirations I’ve experienced these past couple of years. I hope people will turn out for it.”
‘Love and Loss’ will be performed by John Orlando on Sept. 24 at 7:30pm at Peace United Church of Christ, 900 High St., Santa Cruz. For more information, to reserve tickets and for a schedule of upcoming events, go to distinguishedartists.org.