Robin Spielberg, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I feel I did not intentionally pursue a career in music….rather, the career pursued me. While I began studying piano at age 7, it was the theatre that really grabbed my attention. I grew up right outside New York City and I was obsessed with Broadway—-musicals, plays….all of it. I went to Stagedoor Manor drama camp, studied classical theatre at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, and went on to get a BFA from New York University in drama. I spent the first 10 years of my “piano career” pursuing a career as an actor and musical theatre composer. The thing is, because I had this musical skill set, I found myself playing in New York City hotel lobbies and piano bars while pursuing my acting dreams to support myself. What started out as “moonlighting” turned into a career.

Strangely enough, the most influential person in my career has been playwright David Mamet. I studied acting with him for years and together with my classmates, founded the Atlantic Theatre Company. David was very influential in how I approach my musical career. He instilled in all of us the idea of creating our own work, and not to wait for others to give us “permission.” This led me to recording my first album in 1993 before DIY was even a term. The acting technique he taught is something I also apply very easily to musical interpretation. It is a true gift to have had that training.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I would definitely put the pandemic on the top of the list, but as they say, with challenges comes the need to innovate. The pandemic led me to learn how to livestream concerts. It led me to record my first classical album.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I was invited to perform three weeks in China last summer. It was a dream come true. I knew I had a lot of fans there, but had no idea there would be over a thousand people at each concert. It was a wonderful experience all the way around. I also enjoyed my tours in South Korea very much….but I am particularly proud of a 3-week tour I did one cold February through the state of Montana with Steinway in tow. We took that piano to all kinds of places. Some people had never seen a Steinway, let alone a piano concert. I performed on Native American Indian reservations, in school gyms, churches, Juvenile homes, schools. 32 performances in 21 days and it was harrowing, exhausting, exciting, fun…and wow….so much driving.

As far as recordings go, I see them as my musical diaries—-each representing a time in my life. The newest recording (coming out later this month) is called “Re-Inventions” because like so many people, I had to reinvent myself a bit during the pandemic and the new arrangements on the album reflect that.

I am particularly proud of the TEDx Talk I did on music and wellness. It was very challenging, but I see it has resonated with a few hundred thousand people. Music therapy means a lot to me.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I am a very disciplined pianist and spend a lot of time preparing by not only physical practice, but mental practice. There is no particular work I think I perform “best,” but I think I am best known for an expressive touch, innovative interpretations, and audience connection. I love intimate concert settings most and when I am playing I feel like I am having a conversation with the audience, rather than “performing.”

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Gardening is my all time favourite activity next to piano playing! I think every pianist could benefit from gardening – there is no better way to keep your hands healthy and strong. All that weeding, pruning, pulling – it is wonderful exercise for the hand muscles. I also do a great deal of composing while I am gardening – I feel free and light and that is when musical ideas germinate.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I actually do not have a repertoire for a season. I have a new repertoire for each and every show. I just did 60 live stream concerts and each was different. The only time I had one repertoire was for the China tour because the government there required it. I actually found that difficult – I would much rather have a different set list every night.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Carnegie Hall is very special, probably because of the history of the hall and performing there usually indicates a milestone in one’s career. But honestly, anywhere where there is a terrific Steinway and good acoustics is my cup of tea.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Our most celebrated classical composers – Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart etc. – all of them improvised and encouraged others to do so. They held contests of sorts to see who could come up with the best variation of a piece. Some time in the late 20th century, classical scholars decided that what was written on the page had to be played exactly as printed or you were a “hack.” My teachers encouraged improvisation on pop songs, Broadway tunes and standards…but if I dared improvise on a classical piece they were appalled and I grew up thinking that was taboo. Now that I am older and more experienced, I know better. This is not what classical masters necessarily intended. I know that I get a great deal of joy when I see/hear pianists improvising and interpreting my pieces. To grow listeners, we need to create a bridge. Some artists are doing this – adding hip hop beats to classical music for example. With my album ‘Re-inventions’ I aimed to bring new life to classical masterpieces that I hope a new generation will enjoy playing (the songbook is being published of the arrangements). So I think to reach new audiences we need to create that bridge. After all, much of classical music was considered “pop” back in the day.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

March 15, 1997 comes to mind because it was my Carnegie Hall debut and there was a lot of excitement around it. The record label folks were there, my publisher, and so many family members and friends.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

There are so many ways a musician can define success. There’s CD sales, and charts, and audience attendance numbers, radio play, record deals, finances….but ultimately, I feel that true success is when you can reach someone through music and make a positive emotional impact. Sometimes those experiences happen in unusual settings – like at a nursing home, or in a hospital setting, well under the radar and where there is no applause. I have had several people tell me that they feel that I have been “holding their hand” during the pandemic and that they rely on my music for peace and calm. That is so meaningful to me.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Practice. Patience. Persistence.

What is your most treasured possession?

My 1896 Victorian Steinway grand. It is a masterpiece and I feel so connected to it.

Robin Spielberg’s album ‘Re-Inventions’,  containing her arrangements of classical pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Strauss, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms and more, is available now. More information

Robin Spielberg is a pianist, composer, and recording artist well known for her expressive technique, melodic composition style and engaging live performances. Her albums bring traditional, classic, original and popular music to life in piano solos and piano-based ensembles.

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