Pianofest is entering its 25th season of concerts this summer, and a seasoned veteran of the program is helping to guide a new crop of classical solo performers through one of the most popular music events in the Hamptons. Philip Kwoka will turn 22 in July; it will be his third Pianofest, and this year he will be the Pianofest house manager as well as one of the performers.“You get to learn more about how the festival is run and the business aspects of the festival,” Mr. Kwoka said of his new job. “I have more responsibility here now. I cook for the students in addition to partaking in the festival.”
The summer classical concerts began in 1989 and have grown exponentially since. Different student musicians from all over the United States, and as far away as Russia, Germany, Taiwan, China and Bulgaria, have participated in the concert series.
Barbara Goldowsky was the festival’s first manager, from 1989 until 1999. She has since has been involved with the organization as publicity manager and creative consultant as the series has grown.
“It’s gotten 100 times bigger,” Ms. Goldowsky said. “We started with six students for four weeks, now we have eight weeks of performance with 22 students.”
In 1989, an average audience was about 30 people, she said. Now each show draws a crowd of 200 to 300 at the Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton, which can hold upward of 400.
Pianofest Operations Manager Stephen Dickman said that the series has a hard-core group of devoted enthusiasts.
“So many people enjoy it,” Mr. Dickman said. “We get 200 people to every concert and they can’t wait for it to start, they just love it.”
Mr. Dickman reported that the average age of the crowd is approximately 55 to 60, but Pianofest always encourages younger people to come to the concerts as well. The average age of the performers is in the early 20s, but artists as young as 14 have played in the past, he said.
Mr. Kwoka, who began taking piano lessons at age 5 at the Music Institute of Long Island in Manhasset, said that performing has always been in the cards for him.
“It was predetermined for me. My mother, while I was still in her womb, decided this child is going to play the piano,” Mr. Kwoka said of his fledgling solo career.
“I don’t think there is a single kid who wants to sit at a piano for an hour or more every day,” Mr. Kwoka said of his nearly lifelong passion. “The love and appreciation for the instrument doesn’t come until later.”
That appreciation developed for him at age 13. He played on From the Top, a radio show on National Public Radio. A few months later, he had his first orchestral performance.
“It was a year of more exciting musical achievements and it inspired me to further pursue this career,” Mr. Kwoka said.
The young pianist graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music this spring with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance. He studied under accomplished pianist Daniel Shapiro, as well as Pianofest’s Director, Paul Schenly. In the fall, Mr. Kwoka will attend Mannes College The New School for Music in Manhattan, to begin work on a master’s degree in piano performance.
For the Pianofest series, notices are sent out all over the world to music schools and magazines in order to attract the best young pianists. Application videos are sent to Mr. Schenly, who chooses 24 musicians to perform over the course of the summer.
Ms. Goldowsky said that she is amazed at the number of applicants and variety of talent, as well as her longtime involvement with the series.
“Little did I know that I would be there for 25 years,” she said. “It’s always new and different; meeting all the students is a pleasure.”
The world of classical piano performance is small and tight-knit, Ms. Goldowsky and Mr. Kwoka said. But even those who haven’t met or seen each other in awhile in real life are frequently connected online.
“Funny thing is, one of the boys who is coming to the second session, Jun Luke Foster, he and I studied with the same exact teacher in Manhasset,” Mr. Kwoka said, adding that the two had not seen each other in years but reconnected on Facebook and learned each would be performing this year. “It’s nice to see someone who you started the whole music making process with.”
The opening Pianofest in the Hamptons concert of the season will be held on Monday, June 17, at 5:30 p.m. at the Levitas Center for the Arts at the Southampton Cultural Center. Seven more Monday evening concerts will be given, from June 24 through August 5, at the Avram Theater of Stony Brook Southampton, all beginning at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. Additionally, a July 20 benefit concert with Isabel Rose will be held at the Southampton Historical Museum. For more information on the series, or for details about the benefit show, visit Pianofest.com.