Eric Lifland

Portrait of a young man

Eric Lifland began his studies at PCM in 2002 with then piano teacher, Andrew Norman. He continued with Annie Chen and studied chamber music with Barbara Mullens-Geier, Rebecca Merblum and Patrick Rosalez, graduating in 2012.

Eric attended the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his Bachelor of Music in 2016, and went on to work with the late Broadway producer and director, Hal Prince.

He is now back in Los Angeles, working with Education Through Music LA and the LA Children’s Chorus, and on December 8, 2019, Eric made his conducting debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall. PCM recently sat down with Eric to hear about that experience and his career in music education.

You recently made your conducting debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the LA Children’s Chorus. That must have been incredibly exciting! What was it like preparing for that moment?
Preparing for that moment was a wonderful journey for so many reasons: we had three whole months to prepare and polish the music, the staff at Los Angeles Children’s Chorus provide such wonderful support and training in the process, and most importantly the children of Apprentice Choir are so wonderful and eager to sing their very best.

As an aside, I’m happy to find conducting doesn’t cause that much stage fright for me — you can make a mistake or not be your best, but you can’t quite play an awful wrong note in the way you can on the piano!

What was your favorite part of this experience?
My favorite part of the experience was stepping onto the podium and sharing the music as best I could with the singers, pianists, instrumentalists, and audience. It was also a fun surprise for me to have my own dressing room (including a bathroom!).

You’re also working with Rio Vista Elementary in North Hollywood via Education Through Music – Los Angeles, teaching general music and choir. What has that experience been like?
Rio Vista has had strong, consistent music education for several years before I got there, a rare but so valuable thing among elementary schools in this area. I’m a lucky teacher to step into a thriving program where the principal, teachers, and parents understand the value of music education. I was also an incredibly lucky child to have excellent music education in my school, from Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and from lessons at PCM. This exposure and training completely changed who I am. And now I am so happy to spend my life giving back that training to as many children as I can reach.

Musician on stage

Looking back at your various professional accomplishments and opportunities, what is one particular highlight for you?
A highlight was going on tour as Assistant Conductor with the Young Men’s Ensemble of Los Angeles Children’s Chorus to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. It was amazing to conduct gorgeous Hungarian music and play four-hand piano on Polish war songs and be enthusiastically received by the people of those countries.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at PCM?
Although it was nerve-wracking at the time, I really treasure the two master classes I played in: one with Caroline Oltmanns, where she scolded me for having a bad edition of a Bach invention, and one with Norman Krieger, where he really helped transform my approach to playing Brahms’ Intermezzo in A major. I still have a recording of the masterclass with Norman Krieger that I listen to every now and then to remember what I played like then and to keep working on applying his advice!

What did you find to be most valuable as a PCM student?
The opportunity to play chamber music and make music with others provided wonderful training. It taught me that you will often have other people relying on you to do your work, so you better prepare! It taught me how to do your best even when you’re not as prepared as you should be. And of course, it taught me how to collaborate: how to assert your own ideas and listen to others. This early exposure to collective music-making was so useful when I went on to conduct musicals in college and the lessons still apply now to my choral conducting and teaching.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
On some level, I hope to be doing the same things I’m already doing: teaching, conducting, playing piano, singing. Hopefully, the opportunities in those areas will grow. I’d love to conduct at more choral festivals (I just conducted at my first one in early February), present at teacher workshops, teach Kodály courses, and perhaps compose or arrange some choral music.

Be sure to mark your calendars for May 9, 2020, at 7 p.m. to see Eric conduct pieces on the LACC Spring Concert at Pasadena Presbyterian Church!