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Conversations with creators and organizers of the arts scene in West Michigan, hosted by Cara Lieurance

2022 Gilmore Young Artist Clayton Stephenson seeks to expand what is "classical"

Clayton Stephenson, a winner of the 2022 Gilmore Young Artist Award
courtesy photo
Gilmore Piano Festival
Clayton Stephenson, a winner of the 2022 Gilmore Young Artist Award

Clayton Stephenson's recital program for the Gilmore Piano Festival is ingeniously designed to make selections from different eras and continents "talk" to each other.

"I shouldn't be discriminating based on genre," says Stephenson in a conversation with Cara Lieurance, as he references playing an Art Tatum transcription of "Tea For Two." "Human emotions are expressed by composers at various times but the human emotions remain constant [...] my job is to bring that out!"

Stephenson is currently studying economics at Harvard University and music at the New England Conservatory. He called his mother in Brooklyn, NY when he got the surprise phone call telling him he'd won the Gilmore Young Artist Award. Her support has been crucial to his success, he says.

During the Gilmore Piano Festival, Stephenson will perform his solo program in South Haven and Battle Creek, and share a solo & duo recital with fellow Gilmore Young Artist Janice Carissa, who he first met when they were selected as Lang Lang Foundation residents in 2016. He says he's looking forward to a happy reunion with Carissa.

On May 13 in Lansing, Stephenson will performa piano concerto by the groundbreaking Black composer Florence Price, a work he says he's glad it's getting the attention it deserves.

Cara Lieurance is the local host of NPR's All Things Considered on 1021 WMUK and covers local arts & culture on Let's Hear It on 89.9 Classical WMUK weekday mornings at 10 - 11 am.