Grace Nikae was a long way from home this weekend.
The Hawaii native, who lives in Madrid, Spain, descended on Kalispell this weekend with her impeccable piano talents for the opening of the Glacier Symphony and Chorale’s 25th season.
Playing along side the Glacier Symphony, Nikae wowed the crowds Saturday night and Sunday afternoon with her 40-minute-long performance of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor.
The season debut for the Glacier Symphony was the first major performance at Glacier High School’s performing arts theatre. The school — Montana’s newest Class AA school — opened for classes this fall.
The new space featured comfortable chairs and viewing, but the sound was a bit “hot,” some musicians said. “It’s an awesome space, and it feels good, but it gave us a few challenges at first,” Sarah Burdick, Glacier Symphony’s principal bassist, said. With the sound being very “live,” musicians were challenged with being able to hear the rest of symphony and had to rely more on conductor John Zoltek’s baton instructions, Burdick said.
This is Zoltek’s 11th season with the Glacier Symphony and he kicked off the symphony’s 25th season with a crowd pleaser. A near-capacity crowd gave Zoltek and the orchestra a standing ovation at the conclusion of Sunday’s matinee.
As concertmaster Sam Taylor was helping tune the orchestra for the second half of the afternoon performance (Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major. D 944) Nikae was preparing for the long flight back home to Madrid.
This was her first time in Montana, and she was charmed by the friendliness of the place. “I didn’t know Montana was going to be so beautiful,” Nikae said after her performance while signing CDs in a Glacier High School hallway. “I absolutely fell in love with this place.” While her next concert is in Paris, Nikae said she was honored to play in the 25th season debut for the Glacier Symphony. “I was so thrilled,” the mild-mannered Nikae said.
The lithe Nikae wore a brilliant , strapless red dress, and her long arms danced spectacularly above the piano keys. Despite her small size, the baby grand piano she was playing literally shook at times from the energy she was pouring into it throughout her 40-minute piece. Shaking her hand was akin to touching a piece of history — since those hands had just played music written nearly 150 years ago.
Her concentration and delivery were astonishing to watch, while Zoltek, who stood on a platform near her, sometimes flashed a smile down at her.
She never used sheet music. Instead, four weeks of studying helped instill Brahms’ music into her. She merely let it out of her at concert time. “I practice six hours a day for a month, and the rest of the time the “mental practice is going on constantly,” Nikae said.
Rather than being a star, she sees as being more of an accompaniment to the symphony. “As a soloist, throughout my piece I’m thinking about the music as a whole, not just my part,” she said.
Nikae said her short time in Montana was well spent.
“Everywhere I go I feel the spirit of the place,” she said. “What I loved about being in Montana, was it was a very warm, friendly and pure place.”
The Glacier Symphony and Chorale’s next concert will be a solo performance by pianist Douglas Montgomery, Oct. 26-27. Performances will be at Glacier High School and at the new Whitefish Middle School performing arts theater.
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