When pianist Nadine Shank learned last year that she had Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, an incurable, rapidly progressing dementia, she responded with her characteristic fortitude and sparkle by immediately making as much music as time allowed. She passed away an all-too-brief six months later, but left a beautiful and touching musical gift for her myriad admirers to remember her by.
“Celestial Graces: A Remembrance of Nadine Shank,” a video featuring some of that music-making, augmented by archival footage of numerous concerts Shank shared with her University of Massachusetts colleagues and friends, will be streamed free of charge on Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. on the UMass College of Humanities and Fine Arts YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/umassmusicdance
Shank taught at UMass for 40 years, developing the Masters in Collaborative Piano degree program there in 1989. The list of students she taught and for whose recitals she played would fill volumes, and for many of those students, the recitals were highlights of their college careers. Her discography is extensive and includes almost all the music written for classical saxophone, the instrument her father played. Shank maintained a life-long interest in saxophone repertoire, and collaborated extensively with her UMass colleague, Professor of Saxophone (retired) Lynn Klock.
Salvatore Macchia, Chair of the UMass Department of Music and Dance, remembered Shank as “…beloved by her students, admired and respected by her colleagues, and dedicated to her role as teacher, mentor, and performer. Nadine’s loss is a great blow to the UMass Department of Music and Dance. She will be sorely missed, and we will never fill the void she has left.”
In addition to her many activities at UMass, Shank served the Springfield Symphony Orchestra as its Principal Pianist from 1984 onward, and she was a gifted soloist as well. Her solo piano skills are born out by recordings of Franz Liszt’s Sonetto 123 del Petrarca, from his Years of Pilgrimage, and Enrique Granados’s Goyesca No. 4, which are included at the close of Sunday’s streamed video.
Collaborations with colleagues and some recent alumnae make up the lion’s share of the concert. With Lynn Klock, Shank plays the third movement of Paul Maurice’s Tableaux de Provence, and the second movement of Paul Creston’s Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, works they recorded for the Open Loop label in 1991. With Klock’s UMass successor, Professor Jonathan Hulting-Cohen, Shank plays Baljinder Singh Sekhon’s Gradient, in a concert recorded in 2019.
With pianist colleagues Estela Olevsky and Gilles Vonsattel, Shank plays two of Dvorak’s brilliant Slavonic Dances for piano duet and two of Mozkowski’s Spanish Dances. There are musical theater numbers (Sondheim’s I Remember, and Harnick’s Will He Like Me? sung by Roxanne Welch), art songs (Poulenc’s Air Vif sung by Jamie-Rose Guarrine), two movements of Saint-Saens Clarinet Sonata played by Hannah Berube, UMass ’13, and much more.
Adhering to restrictions imposed on the participants as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic made the project all the more challenging, but Shank’s wish to quickly create a musical legacy of beauty and joy in the face of her own personal tragedy came true despite the obstacles, and the January 31 virtual concert is the result.
Videography by Daniel Madsen and tireless organizational and post-production work by Shank’s husband David Nielsen and others saw the project to completion and created a lovely remembrance of this vibrant, brilliant musician, who was taken from us far too soon.
The streamed concert is free and will be a one-time-only event. Some selections will remain posted on YouTube channel.
Donations are encouraged to the newly established Nadine E. Shank Piano Endowment Fund.