Composer of the Year

Black and white painting of Beethoven

Every year, piano students participate in a department-wide, yearlong event: Composer of the Year (COTY). Students learn at least one piece by the selected composer, which students perform as part of their annual jury in the spring and throughout the year at student recitals, studio and department recitals, ArtNight Pasadena, and other school and community events. Coinciding with his 250th birthday, this year’s composer is Ludwig van Beethoven.

COTY was first introduced in 2006 by Artist Teacher Dr. Susan Svrček, Piano Department Chair 2004-2014. “The idea was to bring together piano students and faculty to celebrate the works, life, and achievements of a single composer, while also providing focus for the students and teachers as they select repertoire for their studios each year,” says Dr. Svrček.

Students not only learn to play pieces by the composer, they become more familiar with the composer as a person. Isaac Lee, age 9 and student of Dr. Stephen Cook, shared, “I like that I can learn more about composers and that I can listen to some of their pieces… I found that surprisingly, Beethoven wrote 722 works including 32 piano sonatas, 5 piano concertos, one violin concerto, nine symphonies, an opera, and a great quantity of chamber music. That is a ton of music!”

The genre of COTY rotates each year – from Baroque, to Classical, to Romantic, to Contemporary – and the selected composer typically has an output of works so that beginning, intermediate, and advanced students can all participate. “COTY is unique in that it highlights both the stylistic and pianistic differences between the different historical eras as a means to developing each student’s piano technique, as well as adding the music history angle,” says Stephen McCurry, Executive Director.

COTY kicks off in the fall with Meet the Composer, introducing the PCM community to that year’s composer. Students who have begun to learn works by the composer over the summer, perform for their peers and family members at this event. In addition to performances, students give short powerpoint presentations on the composer, incorporating their creative flair. One year, two students co-presented as J.S. Bach and Anna Magdalena.

In the spring, the yearlong celebration concludes with the COTY Festival, featuring up to four, hourlong back-to-back student recitals that students, families, and members of the public attend. Nearly half of all piano students perform at the Festival. In March 2020, the shutdown of our campus happened abruptly and the in person Festival was cancelled. In about a week’s time, however, students from Dr. Svrček’s studio quickly pivoted and submitted recordings of all 15 of Bach’s Two-part Inventions.

For this year’s Festival, piano faculty have selected recordings from students’ jury submissions to be featured in the 2021 COTY Festival Playlist. The playlist includes students of all ages and levels. “Even though we can’t celebrate in person, continuing the tradition of COTY online has been incredibly important. It has shown the resiliency of our students and faculty, and created a sense of normalcy to an otherwise un-normal year,” says Dr. Cook.

Please enjoy this year’s Composer of the Year Festival, celebrating the Classical piano repertoire of Beethoven. Congratulations to the students and faculty of the Piano Department on their hard work this year!