Life-long love: Pianist's talent inspiring

I respect people who refuse to rust. When I come across those who have nurtured their talents for years with unwavering passion, balancing aspirations with a grounded pragmatism, my admiration grows. On Friday evening, September 13, at the Municipal Arts Center on Fifth Street Extended, I had the pleasure of hearing such an individual. What drew me to the concert was the discovery that that the pianist, in addition to being a nationally recognized artist, is also a long-practicing ophthalmologist.

Dr. Arnold Popkin, known as "Arnie" to friends and family, has been helping local folks stay clear-sighted for almost 40 years. Yet, perhaps unknown to some of his patients and associates, beginning with his first lesson at the age of three, Dr. Popkin has also maintained a devout love for the piano. Although he chose more stable means to support himself professionally, he never abandoned his love for playing.

And he is very gifted. In 1999, as one of 91 performers in the Van Cliburn Competition of Outstanding Amateurs, a critic praised his "fleet fingers and rare interpretive intelligence." He also participated in the Northeastern Competition for Outstanding Amateurs in both 2000 and 2001, placing as a semi-finalist both times. (In 2000, he won an award for the best performance of a composition from the 20th century.).

In addition, Dr. Popkin has continued to share his talent with Charlottesville and throughout Virginia, performing for retirement communities, religious organizations, clubs, and at non-profit benefits.

On Friday evening, he began with five works by Frederic Chopin, the most notable of which was one of the Nocturnes (D Flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2). His fingers trilled the octaves with a great depth of feeling and skill.

After intermission, the program followed modern composers; with the exception of one, all were Spanish and South American– Isaac Albeniz, Enrique Granados, Joaquin Turina, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Manuel de Falla. Debussy's "Soiree dans Grenade," from Estampes, arguably one of the finest Spanish pieces ever written by a Frenchman, was the odd egg. Albeniz's "Evocation," from Iberia, which I had never heard before, twisted my heart with its simple, haunting melody I was so moved that I immediately purchased the album following the recital.

Dr. Popkin has recorded six CDs of audiophile-sound quality (if you are interested, you can call 973-7949 for more information), and he and his wife often graciously entertain at recitals at their Nelson Country home. With a view of the mountains, it sounds very nice... although I do need to get my glasses prescription updated.