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Richard Alston is a masterful and exciting African American classical pianist who has garnered praise for his passion and technical mastery at the keyboard, his charismatic personality and charming stage presence, and his progress from prodigy to mature artist.
Performing throughout the US and Europe, this Juilliard graduate (earned bachelors and masters at Juilliard) has captured audiences through his solo recitals, as guest pianist with orchestras, through live opera performance, radio and television broadcasts, as well as his CD recordings.
Alston has particularly drawn the attention of the musical world, educators, and college and university students in recent years for bringing to light the great contributions to classical music by composers of African descent.
Alston not only performs exquisite works of these composers that remain to this day relatively unknown to the larger public, but has also delighted audiences with lectures and master classes on the colors of music, “Classically Black: Composers of African Descent.”
Alston enjoys the art of research and takes great pride in unearthing marvelous works by great composers as well as lesser known artists who deserve greater recognition. This eclectic pianist thus goes beyond performing the traditional classics of the “greats” to mastering the unique contributions of US and European composers.
Alston has carved for himself a career in both classical piano performance and performing arts education. Under his direction an associate degree program in music at Essex County College has flourished into a full-fledged performing arts department of Music, Dance, and Drama. Highlights of Professor Alston’s contributions to the department include a High School Music Advancement Initiative program allowing high school students to audition for and earn opportunities to study at the collegiate level, and the development of courses in musical computer technology (MIDI, Pro – Tools, and Sound Engineering, etc.) marked by the construction of a new technical music lab. Alston has also served as a faculty member of Rutgers University, Newark Campus, on the Board of Music Advisors for Westminster Choir College’s Education Opportunity Program and, formerly, as a member of the Juilliard School of Music’s "Music Advancement Program" faculty.
Alston is also on a mission to raise awareness of the beauty of classical music in the community through his current role as Minister of Music at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Montclair, NJ and his involvement in a variety of volunteer community programs. Alston is the founder of the Crossroads Music Academy.
Alston’s remarkable versatility emanated in part from the confidence he gained through piano performances starting at a very early age – so early that he was hailed by many as a child prodigy.
A native of East Orange, NJ, Alston received his first instruction from Dorothy Earley, and by the age of eight, was playing organ and piano for the First Baptist Church in Vaux Hall, NJ. He later continued with Sylvia Rabinof of New York and received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Juilliard School of Music, in New York City, where he studied with Irwin Freundlich and Josef Raieff. He was later awarded the highly prestigious Maria Guerra Judelson Scholarship in piano to return to Juilliard for his Master’s degree as well.
At age 15, Alston received a standing ovation for his performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 at the Brevard Music Festival in North Carolina, becoming the first student to win the Young Artist Competition for three consecutive years. Seventeen year old Alston made his New York debut performing Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 with the Symphony of the New World, under the direction of Everett Lee at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. As the winner of the Aldredge Piano Competition of the Chautauqua Institution, he was given a full scholarship to the Chautauqua Music School and performed with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra under Verujan Kojian. This performance was broadcast over National Public Radio. Additional broadcasting credits include WQXR (NY), WNYC (NY) and various appearances on New Jersey public television.
In the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Porgy and Bess, Alston brought an unforgettable sense of well-researched authenticity to the role of Jasbo Brown; the choreography included his opening solo depicting the legendary charisma of the man after whom the “Jazz” genre is believed to be named. He repeated his portrayal of Jasbo Brown in the historic production presented by The New Jersey State Opera at Symphony Hall, Newark, NJ. Live performances of this caliber included concerts at Weill Recital Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York City.
At the personal request of renowned music educator and composer, Denes Agay, Alston recorded an album of the composer’s piano works which was released on the Educo Label. Also on the Educo label, Alston has recorded a set of piano works by African-American composers, becoming the source of a commonly sought-after lecture series, “Classically Black” that he offers. He has performed “Classically Black” at many universities and colleges and offered a master class on the subject to piano students of Westminster Choir College. With the interest he generated, Public Television made him the musical advisor/consultant of a PBS documentary “Classically Black” in which he has performed piano compositions by composers of African descent.
Alston was recognized In Europe as well by the famed Maestro, Paul Freeman who invited him to record the Arensky Piano Concerto with the Czech National Orchestra. The CD recording, which also included “Etudes for Piano Op. 74” by Arensky, has been released by Centaur Records.
As a guest artist with the New Jersey Symphony, Alston performed in a special concert in commemoration of the birth of William Grant Still. As a guest artist with the Harlem Chamber Players, Alston performed in two separate concerts: Arthur Foote’s Sarabande and Rigaudon for Flute, Viola and Piano; Saint-Saens’s Septet for Trumpet, Piano and Strings; Prokofief’s Overture for Clarinet, Piano and Strings; Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2, in E Minor; and Schumann’s Piano Quintet.
Alston is the recipient of several awards: “Award for Excellence” from the New Jersey Education Association; “Community Leaders Fostering Change in Education Award” from the New Jersey Unit of the National Association of Negro Business and Women’s Clubs, Inc.; “Achievement Award” from the National Association of Negro Women; “Musician of the Year” from the National Association of Negro Musicians Inc. , Newark, NJ Chapter; special proclamation from the office of the mayor of the city of East Orange; and honored by the Historical Society of East Orange, NJ Inc.
Alston's Youtube video of "Troubled Water" by the African American composer Margaret Bonds was selected by The Juilliard School as the alumni video of the month of January 2015.