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It All Adds Up : From Math to Hiking, Young Pianist's Reach Extends Beyond Keyboard

August 26, 1995|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If architecture is frozen music, perhaps music is liquid math.

And perhaps not. For Christopher Taylor--who graduated with a degree in mathematics from Harvard in 1992 (with highest honors, no less) and won the bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition the next year--the parallels between math and music are indirect at best.

"A number of people have tried to draw analogies based on harmonic series or based on rhythm, but I think those are a little far-fetched," said Taylor, 25, who serves as soloist tonight with the Pacific Symphony at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

"The arithmetic involved [in music] is pretty elementary," Taylor said by phone last week from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. "But they're both elaborations of abstract structures and symmetries, so it's sort of natural that they should be aesthetically pleasing to the same types of minds."

Taylor and guest conductor Gisele Ben-Dor will canvass Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G on a program that also includes Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3, Three Dances, Suite No. 2, from Falla's "Three Cornered Hat" and Richard Strauss' Suite from "Der Rosenkavalier."

In the case of the concerto, considered a pinnacle of the genre, Taylor can look to his intellect to compensate for his relative youth. After all, wasn't it Taylor's teacher, Russell Sherman, who once said that great pianists only emerge after the age of 40?

"Hmm," pondered Taylor, chuckling. "In 15 years, I might have a shot!"

Then Taylor reflected for a moment before tackling the question of whether pianists in their 20s have the maturity to do justice to such works as Beethoven's final sonata, the Opus 111, or the work at hand--the Fourth Concerto.

"I don't know if there's anything magic that happens at the age of 40," he said. "But one does develop over the years, and there are some pieces that are more for the young than other pieces. I suppose I oughtn't say this, but in the Beethoven Fourth, my interpretation will grow and develop in all sorts of ways as the years pass. And in other pieces, there's more of a certain youthful exuberance. . . .

"It's hard for me to give a completely objective answer," he continued. "I love this piece very much. It speaks to me. I hope I can begin to convey that sense--even if it hasn't had years in the wine cellar to mature."

*

Taylor speaks with a vaguely British-sounding accent, which may be from his father, who is English. Then again, his mother is from Brooklyn, so it might just be something of an Ivy League drawl.

A few weeks after the Cliburn competition, Taylor married Denise, a Los Angeles native and former piano major at USC who is pursuing a doctorate in musicology at the University of Michigan. The couple shares its home in Ann Arbor with a Pekingese, Saki, named for the short-story writer.

Hiking and backpacking are Taylor's preferred modes of relaxation, but the opportunities in Michigan are not as good as they were in Boulder, Colo., where he grew up. "There is a fair amount of good biking in Ann Arbor," he noted.

He also enjoys spending time on the computer and tries "to keep my mathematics going by reading in that field, to keep that side of my brain from atrophying.

"I read recently a text on algebra and modern logic," Taylor said, "the sort of text where it takes several hours to get through one page. There's a certain satisfaction in getting to the bottom of that page, you understand, a satisfaction you don't necessarily get with a Harlequin romance."

* Pianist Christopher Taylor serves as soloist with the Pacific Symphony in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 in G tonight at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. Gisele Ben-Dor also leads the orchestra in works by Falla and Strauss. 8 p.m. (Gates open for picnicking at 6 p.m.) $13-$49. (714) 740-2000 (Ticketmaster).

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