Vlad the Educator: One of the world’s greatest pianists teams up with his former student to open Cultural Center Miracle in North Port

Published December 15, 2010

Cultural Center Miracle Grand Opening

Open house noon-4 p.m., Black Tie charity dinner 5 p.m. Sat., Dec. 18, Cultural Center Miracle, 5400 S. Biscayne Dr., Suite C., North Port, 564-6215 or culturalcentermiracle.org, free.

Among Sarasota County’s municipalities, the city of North Port has always been overshadowed by Sarasota’s vast cultural offerings. But a world-renowned pianist named Vladislav Kovalsky is determined to spread the artistic love south. With the launch of Cultural Center Miracle, Kovalsky hopes to provide children with limited financial means the opportunity to take top-quality music lessons.

The nonprofit will host an open house this Saturday to introduce the center and its mission to the public, followed by a black tie fundraiser aimed at racking up cash for scholarships and instruments for less fortunate kids. Kovalsky, a graduate of Russia’s prestigious St. Petersburg Conservatory and a Steinway-sponsored artist, will perform at the black tie dinner to kick off his life’s dream. After three decades of teaching piano, he has always viewed music as something that defies status and class.

“I strongly believe that music education has to be given to people without concern,” says Kovalsky. “Music education is very important, especially for kids. They learn many things that they couldn’t learn elsewhere. Of course, the most deprived are the ones that don’t have access to these services. And in North Port there are many people that need these services. I was very fortunate to have the best training and I feel like I have something to offer. I always believe that the best should be available not only in exchange for money or privilege.”

Kovalsky first traveled to the Suncoast about 20 years ago and says he’s always been attracted to the area. But when contemplating where he wanted to lay down ties and open a school, he opted for the smaller and less culturally endowed North Port — for those very reasons. “I’m a little tired of traffic — being from New York — and I like the spaciousness. And, of course, the weather,” he says. “It will be interesting to work with a younger municipality. Every small European municipality is always proud to sponsor something cultural and I believe North Port officials are willing to support something like that. It will bring a certain image to the town and hopefully people will move in. I’m planning to work a lot with officials and commissioners to see what we can establish.”

One of the Cultural Center Miracle board members who will help Kovalsky in these endeavors is Norbert Klauber. Kovalsky was Klauber’s piano teacher at age six in Wisconsin, and the two reunited 30 years later after Klauber came across Kovalsky’s page on Facebook. A brief back and forth revealed that they had ended up in the same county after all these years, and Klauber was especially interested to hear about his former instructor’s new venture. “It was really surprising when he said he was going to start working in the area and getting involved in this project,” recalls Klauber. “Since a lot of schools have dropped a lot of art and music I really connected with that part of it. Not a lot of people have money for regular lessons, let alone from a person that’s a master of their craft.”

When Klauber accepted the board member position a little over a month ago, his first impression of Kovalsky’s choice of location was bewilderment. But those feelings faded as he became more familiar with North Port. “I think they have quite a few resources. It’s kind of a distant suburb of Sarasota and there’s less red tape,” he says. “There’s less push and pull and more pull together. It seems like it’s a lot less of a headache and so it’s probably a good place to start.”

It’s no surprise that after 30 years, Klauber was a bit intimidated to play for his teacher. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I forgot how good this guy is.’ He’s played at Carnegie multiple times. He’s played about every difficult piece that’s ever been written,” says Klauber. “I was pretty nervous.” Fortunately, he met Kovalsky’s standards well enough to earn a spot in the Center’s first official performance at Saturday’s open house.

Although Klauber continued to study under other instructors, he has always viewed Kovalsky as the teacher who most shaped his playing style. “The Russian school is very different than the French or American schools,” he explains. “They use the least amount of motion for the maximum result. I think that technique of not over emphasizing our hand motions is special. Because it’s not about how flashy you can be, it’s about ‘Can I hear you expressing the notes you’re playing.’ His style of playing is very much with tenderness, and I have that same thing. I think that must have been conveyed to me at some point. I don’t think I’d play that way if I hadn’t learned from him.”

As for the teacher, Kovalsky is just excited to continue his life’s passion of music education, and having the opportunity to work with a student he helped shape is just a bonus. “I believe in coincidences,” he says. “In a way Norbert is the fruit of my activity and I’m very proud. That’s the life proof that I’m talking about. If you give children the chance it will come back later in life.”

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