(Michael’s bio is also available in German, French and Italian)
Michael Arnowitt is one of the most creative and imaginative pianists in today’s classical music world. He is best known for the beauty, clarity and elegance of his musical ideas, for his abilities to find new articulations and colors from the piano, for his talents in constructing innovative and thought-provoking programs, and for his natural and warm on-stage manner with audiences of all ages.
Michael Arnowitt’s life and music is the subject of an award-winning documentary by the American filmmaker Susan Bettmann, Beyond Eighty-Eight Keys (2004). The documentary, filmed in both the United States and Europe, contains footage of concert performances, educational talks, and interviews. The film has been broadcast twice on public television and has been shown at a variety of film festivals and venues including the Rode Pomp, an arts center in Gent, Belgium and the Anthology, a theater in New York City’s East Village.
In October and November of 2005, Michael Arnowitt went on a 5-week tour of Europe, performing in France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, and the Czech Republic; he also performed in Russia for the first time, giving concerts in Moscow, Yaroslavl, Petrozavodsk and St. Petersburg. Michael Arnowitt has performed twice as piano soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, playing piano concertos of Bach and Beethoven; he has also appeared as soloist with the Kiev Chamber Orchestra under Roman Kofman, the Savannah Symphony Orchestra, and many others. He has performed in concert with the Ying String Quartet, and has toured Canada and the United States with Beverley Johnston of Toronto, one of the world’s leading percussionists. They created a diverse program featuring music from around the world, representing composers from New Zealand, Argentina, Korea, Japan, Germany, and Canada. This past September, Michael Arnowitt performed two concerts in New York City, a solo concert entitled Reflections on Time and a duo concert of improvisatory music with the jazz tenor saxophonist John McKenna.
The internationally-known flutist and composer Louis Moyse, now in his nineties, recently said,
“During my long musical career, I have met few really great artists in the various disciplines of the field and I am very pleased to name Michael Arnowitt, pianist and musician as one of them. He expresses his art on the highest level. I have great respect for his interpretations and his way to communicate to any audience his feelings through his love for music.”
In 1989 Michael Arnowitt began his novel, 26-year long presentation of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, matching up his age as he performs the various sonatas with Beethoven’s age as Beethoven composed them. The eight concerts in the project, spaced out over 26 years, thereby become a study in the psychology of aging and development. He has performed these “Beethoven & Arnowitt” concerts throughout the United States and in Canada and Germany, where the Rheinische Post of Düsseldorf said, “he played with a striking virtuosity and deeply felt passion.”
Past concert programs by Michael Arnowitt have included performances of Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata with excerpts from the literature of Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Thoreau read aloud prior to the part of the sonata which is the author’s musical portrait, and “1911,” a fascinating program offering seven contrasting compositions by Bartok, Rachmaninoff, Ives, Ravel, Scriabin, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky all written in the one year 1911, a remarkable crossroads time between the old and the new.
His new programs include A Trip Through The Four Seasons, a concert voyage through the calendar year, featuring some of the best music ever composed inspired by our experience of spring, summer, autumn, and winter; Music & Letters, a program exploring the literary aspects of our lives, with music about the act of writing, story-telling, speaking, and listening to words; and Ligeti and his Influences, presenting the new piano études of the recently deceased György Ligeti, plus music by composers who inspired him: Scarlatti, Schumann, Chopin, Debussy, Nancarrow, and jazz pianists Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans.
In 2005 Michael Arnowitt began a collaboration with the photographer and author Marjorie Ryerson. Her new book, Water Music, published by the University of Michigan Press, contains her exquisite photographs of water along with writings about water penned by 65 outstanding musicians of today, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Midori, Taj Mahal, Renée Fleming, Pete Seeger, Brad Mehldau, Carol Maillard (of Sweet Honey in the Rock), Bobby McFerrin, Dave Brubeck, and Evelyn Glennie. Arnowitt and Ryerson have developed a live concert version of the idea of the book: water-related piano music is performed in alternation with excerpts read aloud from the book, while the water photographs are projected as a visual backdrop. Royalties from Marjorie Ryerson’s book are contributed to a special international fund for water projects established by the United Nations.
Michael Arnowitt has five solo piano recordings to date. The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs (London) gave his recording “Constellation” its highest possible rating, calling it a “tour de force of brilliant pianism; splendidly lucid and responsive performances ... full of colour and atmosphere and rhythmically riveting.” The documentary film about Michael Arnowitt, Beyond Eighty-Eight Keys, has been released on DVD and contains performance excerpts of music by Bach, Mozart, Byrd, Schumann, Brahms, Schoenberg, and Ligeti.
He has two recording projects in the works at present. Homage to Glenn Gould, a forthcoming 2-CD set on the Ursa Minor Records label, features diverse music favored by the late Canadian pianist. The discs include works by Bach, Gibbons, Byrd, Sweelinck, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Richard Strauss, Schoenberg, Webern, Sibelius, and two of Glenn Gould’s own compositions. Michael Arnowitt is also working on a recording project combining the piano music of Erik Satie with narrated A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
Michael Arnowitt is also an active jazz pianist. His recording Classical/Jazz, on the Musical Heritage Society label, was a unique program of jazz-influenced classical music and classically-influenced jazz, exploring the mutual influence of the two fields of music throughout the 20th century. The disc won praise from both the classical and jazz communities, including L.A. Jazz Scene. Arnowitt was the music director of “Ella Fitzgerald Night,” a concert for a 23-piece jazz ensemble featuring transcriptions he made of arrangements used by Ella on historic big band and combo recordings from 1939 to 1964. He has also presented concerts profiing jazz musicians such as Art Blakey, Bill Evans, and Billy Childs. His largest jazz effort was “The Five Chinese Elements,” an original full-concert length suite for trio based on the elements of earth, water, wood, metal, and fire. He has performed jazz at the famed Reduta Jazz Club as part of the 29th Prague International Jazz Festival, and in New York City at Hunter College.
Michael Arnowitt’s accomplishments include his role as artistic director of the Vermont Millennium Music Festival. This festival took place over a four-day span in September 2000, and featured 24 concerts and special events presenting in chronological order music from the year 1000 to the year 2000. This novel festival attracted visitors from throughout the United States and was an extraordinary chronicle of the music and culture of the past thousand years. Michael Arnowitt was also the principal organizer in April 1999 of a benefit concert that raised $10,000 for humanitarian aid for Balkan war refugees; in addition to the monetary funds, the concert collected 300 emergency first aid kits and needed clothing for the refugee camps.
Michael Arnowitt’s concerts are more than just concerts. They have the added dimension of his innovative program concepts and his talent for spoken commentary, illuminating the music by drawing interesting connections between the various works on the program. He enjoys researching the social, political, religious, or artistic contexts of a piece of music and sharing with the audience insights and anecdotes that reveal relationships between the compositions and the world around them in which they were created.
Since 1997, Michael Arnowitt has maintained a web-site at http://www.mapiano.com/ which contains a sampling of essays he has written on various musical topics.
Michael Arnowitt was born in Boston, Massachusetts and has lived in Montpelier, Vermont since 1983.
Biography of Michael Arnowitt (shorter version)
Additional Information Specific To Contemporary Music Performance
As a teenager, Michael Arnowitt was active as a composer in addition to performing on the piano. At age 16, he was a winner in the BMI International Awards to Student Composers, and at age 13 he performed piano at the 1976 World Music Days festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM). His musical skills led to his being selected as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts in a White House ceremony; he performed his own compositions as part of a performance at the Kennedy Center. He has studied composition with faculty at the Juilliard School of Music, the New England Conservatory of Music, the Fontainebleau School in France, Indiana University, Yale, and the Aspen Music School.
As an adult, he has continued his deep interest in contemporary music, performing many major piano compositions of recent decades such as Milton Babbitt’s Reflections for piano and tape, selections from Gyorgy Ligeti’s Etudes for piano books I and II, Frederic Rzewski’s Four North American Ballads, Clarence Barlow’s “...or a cherish’d bard,” Dennis Bathory-Kitsz’s Rough Edges, and Larry Polansky’s variation set Suite from Lonesome Road.
Michael Arnowitt has appeared at festivals and concert series devoted to contemporary music in the northeastern United States, and has performed piano solo new music programs in Belgium and Holland. Together with the percussionist Beverley Johnston, he developed a duo program of music by composers from around the world, which they have performed in Canada and the United States.