Encino resident and pianist Danny Holt will be performing in the Jacaranda concert series on Saturday, February 18 at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica. The program, "Matryoshka Dolls," which includes music from Shostakovich, Prokoviev, Stravinsky and Schnittke, promises to be a spectacular one. One piece requires that three pianists play together on the same piano.
Encino Patch spoke with Holt about his upcoming performance, his other projects, and his life in Encino.
How did you become involved with Jacaranda?
I first played in Jacaranda in 2007. I've played a lot of music by Steve Reich and when Jacaranda programmed Steve Reich's "Eight Lines"—the most notoriously awkward piano writing in any of Reich's works—someone must have dropped my name to them. They approached me about playing it in one or two concerts.
Patrick Scott, the artistic director [for Jacaranda] programs a lot of interesting music that's right up my alley, like Villa-Lobos's "Rudepoema," which I performed in 2009. Like the Schnittke piece on this weekend's program, "Rudepoema" is a fantastic piece, but one that is rarely heard in concert. This is one of the truly magnificent things that Jacaranda offers to the L.A. community: the chance to hear music they might not hear anywhere else.
I mostly play contemporary music; my two areas of specialization are 20th century and obscure, ultra modernists lke George Antheil, Ruth Crawford, Conlon Nancarrow and Henry Cowell. A lot of composers in the early part of the 20th century, like Charles Ives, were radical and misunderstood in their time.
I recently recorded with my piano duo, 4handsLA, a four-hand version of "The Rite of Spring." That came out of a Jacaranda performance. 4handsLA was then formed with the other pianist at that performance, Steven Vanhauwaert.
The Schnittke is a fascinating piece, as there are three pianists playing the same piano, representing Schnittke’s three precedessors, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Prokoviev. How did this program come about, focusing on these great Russian composers?
I applaud Patrick Scott's compelling programming! He finds these obscure pieces like the Schnittke. I came across this piece myself three years ago with colleagues, when we were doing six hand stuff on two pianos, things like Jack Vees's "Hulk Smash" where one of the players sits between two pianos and plays parts on both of them.
One of the things that’s fun for me about this piece is that I'm playing it with two of my closest colleagues, who represent two different times in my life. There are three of us playing, and I'm in the middle. On my right is Yana Reznik; we knew each other at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, studied with the same piano teachers, and both ended up in LA. But we've never played together before. On my left is my colleague Vicki Ray, who is the reason I’m in California. I came to study with Vicki at Cal Arts, where I now teach.
It's a ridiculously fun piece to play. The first rehearsal was not so bad, there was no bumping of elbows. Our hands don't cross over—miraculously—Schnittke keeps us in our own registers. At one point I'm playing a passage where my right hand plays a note that's right next to the lowest note in Yana's passage.
Can you tell us about the path that led you to such an exciting career?
I started playing when I was 7, which is a reasonable age. There was no Carnegie Hall debut at 9. That was not my life! I grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. I'm the only musician in my family, and I just decided I wanted to play the piano. My parents told me the story that my grandmother gave me a xylophone and I would play the theme from "Sesame Street." I don't remember that, but it's evidence of some musical thing going on in my brain from an early age.
I left school at 15 to go to Interlochen. There were all these other kids my age there studying music and all the other arts, too. To be around dancers and actors and visual artists—it was a hugely transformative experience.
Having done the conservatory thing as a high school student, when I was in the situation of applying for colleges—most people go onto Julliard and other big conservatories—I made the decision to go to Hampshire College on a farm in Massachussetts. There were no tests, no grades, no majors. You design your own course of study.
I came into it with a clear idea of what I wanted to do, which was music within a broader structure. I wrote my undergraduate thesis about the country music industry in Nashville, and my masters in the same subject. Then I went to Cal Arts, so that's how I ended up in California, and had a wonderful two years getting my second master's.
I made the decision to stay in LA and build a life for myself in the city. I love LA —I’m a sucker for the sunshine, the space and the peculiar, insane beauty of the city. LA is so vast and so culturally rich it takes effort, but if you’re invested in exploring, it can be a interesting place to live.
I've been teaching at Cal Arts now for four years, I teach at a summer program at the North Hollywood Academy of Creative Education at the Oakwood School, and I'll be the chair of the music program there this summer. I also have a very busy private studio of piano students in Encino and the surrounding communities.
How long have you lived in Encino? What do you enjoy most about living here?
I’m new to Encino, I just purchased my condo in August. I love being within walking distance of Ventura Boulevard. I split my time between Encino and Desert Hot Springs, just north of Palm Springs. Encino is such a contrast to my place in the desert; I really feel like I have the best of both worlds.
People think of the Valley as the suburbs, but an area like Encino, if you’re near Ventura, is very exciting for a boy from a small town in western Massachusetts. I like the Valley, and I don’t feel the need to be in a gritty urban area. I have a wonderful view from my place looking north over the Valley.
I love being able to walk to so many amazing restaurants, and just walk to the post office, walk to the Cuban restaurant Versailles, catch a foreign film at Laemmle Town Center 5 and run an errand to Bed Bath and Beyond on the way home. In LA, we're accustomed to driving everywhere, so it's nice to have a night on the town without getting in the car. I love riding my bike around Lake Balboa. Yay, Encino!
What other projects do you have coming up?
I have flute, viola and piano chamber concerts coming up at the Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, piano and percussion concerts in San Franciso and, in April, a Hindemith concert at the new Cal Arts "Wild Beast" venue. Then, in May, concerts with 4HandsLA. My CD with 4Hands is in post production.
I'm also working on a music video with a colleague at Cal Arts, where I play piano and percussion simultaneously. It's based on Liza White's "The Ballad of the Mean Angry Jazz Hater Monster." It's about a monster who has an irrational hatred of jazz music.
"Matryoshka Dolls," Jacaranda, featuring Danny Holt, Yana Reznik, Vicki Ray and the Lyris Quartet, Saturday February 18, 8 p.m., First Presbyterian Church, 1220 2nd St, Santa Monica, CA 90401. For tickets and further information, click here.