Steinway artist Barbara Nissman has a way of inviting people into her world, a world populated by classical composers like Franz Liszt, Sergei Prokofiev and Alberto Ginastera.
“I live with these guys, and they want their music appreciated by a wider audience,” the acclaimed pianist says with a touch of humor.
“You don’t have to be trained to enjoy classical music,” she notes. “It’s something anybody can understand.”
That understanding comes easier, however, when the lives of the composers and the genesis of their compositions are explained by such an insightful artist as Nissman, a Philadelphia native who now lives near Lewisburg. And she delights in sharing those stories during concerts, residencies and master classes, maintaining a frenetic schedule that would daunt a performer much younger than her 75 years.
To expand her educational reach even further, Nissman established the Three Oranges Foundation (an offshoot of her Three Oranges record label) in 2017, with the aim of making classical music “accessible and relevant to everyman,” as her website notes. A growing component of the foundation’s work involves producing a series of educational master classes on DVD.
Working with a “wonderful team” at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Nissman has already completed her inaugural DVD master class, “Franz Liszt: Portrait of the Man & his Masterwork — The Sonata in B minor.” The two-DVD set features actor Michael York as the voice of Liszt, along with Nissman’s interpretations of the 19th century composer’s work. In addition to York, other well-known voices heard on the DVDs include Harry Connick Jr., Rebecca DeMornay, Barbara Feldon, Don Henley of The Eagles, Billy Joel and Stuart Margolin, who also has a home in the Greenbrier Valley.
A second DVD master class, “Alberto Ginastera: A Man of Latin America,” is nearing completion, and a third entry in this unique program — focusing on Sergei Prokofiev — is in the offing, thanks to a grant from the Oleg Prokofiev Family Trust in the United Kingdom. Nissman is a noted Prokofiev scholar and authority.
Each DVD will feature a similar format, with a “portrait of the composer” leading the way.
“It’s explained in easy-to-understand language — not a lecture, just sharing an interesting life,” Nissman says. “We tell why they did what they did, often in their own words. I feel a responsibility to get it right.”
The second section of the DVD provides a showcase for the music with Nissman in concert. “You’re sitting at the piano with me,” is the way she describes the experience. “My role is to touch souls — to connect people with the composers and the music.”
As they are released, the DVDs are being made available to schools and can be purchased by the general public on Nissman’s website, www.barbaranissman.com, or on Amazon.
Talented pianists as young as middle school age can learn from the master class DVDs, although they are equally valuable for college students, Nissman says. She feels that adult listeners of all ages will enjoy the intriguing backstories of the composers, their cultural touchstones and, of course, their music.
This educational project is a labor of love for Nissman.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun for me to do this,” she says. “It’s quite a challenge — always something else to discover, to dig out.”
She believes the time is right for the ambitious, innovative DVD project.
“When I was young, I had to make my career,” Nissman says. “Now, I’m focusing on what I’ll leave behind once I’m gone — my legacy. I’m building educational materials for the next generation, not just for musicians, but for everybody. I feel really blessed to be the ‘middle man.’ It’s been a joy.”
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