It was quite a jump from being a political science major and athlete to virtuoso pianist, but Steve Carlson never looked back to regret his choice.
While he was in undergraduate school, Carlson came to trust his instincts and changed majors in his junior year to piano performance. By his mid-30s, Carlson had already attained tenure at a college, played a solo recital in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City, played as a soloist and chamber musician at many colleges and universities throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Eastern Canada and taught piano at Gustavus Adolphus College and St. Joseph's School of Music in St. Paul.
He left a tenured position at Coker College, a private liberal arts institution in South Carolina, and returned to his home state of Minnesota and Bemidji State University in 2006. At the time, there was an existing position in the piano faculty which he filled. As an active member of the Department of Music and coordinator of the piano area, Carlson said he is proud to report the increase in students as piano music majors or minors and the institution of "Piano Day." He said he enjoys his dual roles of professor and performance musician. He practices three-four hours a day, teaches a full load and helps his wife, Sarah Carlson, with their three children, ages 2-6. Carlson is also asked to give master classes, workshops for piano teachers and adjudicate contests at various institutions or organizations.
"Pianists really arrive around 40, a mental and physical maturity where we start hitting our stride," Carlson said. "It is a pleasure to be the executor of the art, making informed decisions and conveying what the composer intended for the audience to hear."
He said playing Tchaikovsky's Concerto in B-flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 23 successfully is "like hitting 425-foot homerun."
Although Tchaikovsky wrote three concertos and one other piece, this concerto is considered to be the crown jewel. Carlson chose the concerto and Beverly Everett, musical director of the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra, agreed to include it in Sunday's program, "Triumphant Tchaikovsky."
Carlson said he looks to the audience to "appreciate the magnitude and beauty of the piece, as it is a great example of absolute music; music for its own sake as it is one of the most famous romantic pieces."