Moriah Hellstrom was drawn to Nebraska by the opportunity to study with pianist Paul Barnes.
Four years later, as the senior music major prepares for graduation, Hellstrom’s decision to become a Husker will play out in a finale that includes world-renowned composer Philip Glass.
A long-time friend of Barnes and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Glass is featured in and will attend an April 17 recital at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Lied Center for Performing Arts. The event, “A Celebration of Philip Glass,” includes the world premiere of Glass’ new piano quintet, “Annunciation.”
In the days leading up to the performance, Nebraska music students and faculty will get the unique opportunity to interact with Glass, watch him work with Barnes and the Chiara String Quartet, and experience firsthand how the famed composer prepares for a recital.
“I’ve had a pretty amazing experience here at Nebraska, being challenged by talented faculty and getting multiple opportunities to interact and learn from professional musicians,” Hellstrom said. “This visit by Philip Glass is a last stop in my journey here. But, it’s a pretty spectacular stop because he is a top-notch composer.”
The daughter of two music majors who met while playing in the University of Michigan marching band, Hellstrom has been immersed in music her entire life. She started playing piano at age 11 and has studied with Kenneth Drake, a University of Illinois emeritus professor and Ludwig van Beethoven expert; James Johnson, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha; and now Barnes, Marguerite Scribante Professor of Piano and an expert on the music of Franz Liszt and Glass.
“Each of my teachers has brought different perspectives on playing and challenged me to reach for a higher level of excellence,” Hellstrom said. “Those different perspectives helped me fall in love with playing piano. And, playing gives me an opportunity to express myself.”
While at Nebraska, Hellstrom has performed in Italy at the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival; played on a Victor Borge piano for the Borge family; started a solo piano career; played as part of the Spiazzo Piano Trio; and actively developed her own compositions. She also played some of Glass’ compositions along the way, primarily Etude Nos. 6 and 16, as a sophomore.
“Playing Glass is a wonderful challenge because my hands are not large enough to properly reach the keys,” Hellstrom said. “But I do really enjoy his compositions. He creates some really great chord progressions that are hypnotic and easily connect with a lay person, while also interesting to an experienced musician.”
“It’s going to be fantastic witnessing and learning from (Glass’) process in those rehearsals. I also can’t wait to meet him, ask questions and learn from his experience. It’s going to be a great way to finish my career at Nebraska.”
Moriah Hellstrom, senior music major
After graduation, Hellstrom plans to pursue graduate and doctoral degrees in music, focusing on piano and composition. Ultimately, she hopes to teach at the college level, write her own compositions and continue performing — hopefully following a career path similar to Barnes.
“There are a lot of great faculty at Nebraska, but Dr. Barnes is the reason I came here. One lesson, and I knew this was the place for me,” Hellstrom said. “He’s a great teacher, an incredibly active performer and has so many professional contacts — including Philip Glass.”
While excited to be amongst the first to experience “Annunciation” at the Lied Center, Hellstrom is most looking forward to watching Glass as he works with Barnes and Chiara Quartet in practice sessions prior to the recital.
“It’s going to be fantastic witnessing and learning from his process in those rehearsals,” Hellstrom said. “I also can’t wait to meet him, ask questions and learn from his experience. It’s going to be a great way to finish my career at Nebraska.”