By Christin Rzasa
This winter, residents of the Bitterroot Valley have the rare opportunity to experience music through the eyes of an accomplished concert pianist. Arthur Kostuk will be sharing his passion for music and his abiding interest in how music touches the human soul in a five-part course – beginning January 16th – offered by the Lone Rock Adult Education program.
Kostuk says that, as a child, he was naturally driven to explore how things work. When he was 13 years old, his attempt to produce a cosmic ray resulted in “near disastrous” consequences to the family home. “I was more like Dennis the Menace,” Kostuk admits. In an attempt to redirect his curiosity, his grandmother began teaching him to play the piano. His family moved from Long Island, NY, to California in his late teens, and his first piano teacher there encouraged him to pursue a career in music. He recalls that in 1970, he was one of 12 music students invited to a private concert, performed by Arthur Rubenstein himself at the home of Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, who were generous patrons of the arts. Kostuk says he met Rubenstein (as well as Woodward and Newman) that night, and the experience made a profound impression on him. A few years later, his mother – without his knowledge – submitted a recording of his piano playing to the Rubenstein Competition, and he was accepted as a competitor.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to win this – I’m not that good a piano player,’” Kostuk recalls, but his parents wanted him to try, and he thought it would be a good experience. He said that on the last night of the competition, to his great surprise, his name was called as one of four first-place winners, and his fate was sealed. After returning to the United States, he acquired an agent and began performing in concert halls in cities such as New York, Boston, and Montreal. From 2005-2010, said Kostuk, he also taught in the Music Department at the University of Washington in Seattle.
It was Kostuk’s grandfather who established the family’s connection with Montana. A practicing physician from New Jersey, his grandfather dabbled in horse racing in his free time, which led him to the West and an investment in mining interests around Butte. Kostuk’s sister – and eventually, his mother – settled in Stevensville. Kostuk now lives in Corvallis with his wife, Cheryl Zweigart, generously gracing the Bitterroot’s music scene with occasional piano performances and classes, encouraging others to pursue “a deep understanding of the very fabric of music.”
“Sometimes we don’t really listen [to music],” Kostuk laments. “We only listen to what we want or what we think we should be listening to… [Music] is trying to speak to us.”
Influenced by the musings of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Kostuk said he will use selections from Nietzsche’s essays in his course curriculum to help students explore the deeper meanings of musical works from such classical composers as Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Gustav Mahler and Franz Liszt. Students in this winter’s course will also be privileged to experience the performance of an original composition by Kostuk’s wife, Cheryl, a composer and pianist in her own right.
Kostuk’s love of music is palpable, and his enthusiasm for his subject – along with the fascinating experiences of his life and career – promise to make this course a highlight of the Bitterroot’s winter offerings. The classes will be held on Wednesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on January 16, 23, 30/February 6, 13. The fee for the entire course is $20.00 and pre-registration is required, with payment due the first night of class. For more information or to pre-register, contact Lone Rock Adult Education at 777-3314.