Paul Barnes

Since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Lincoln and around the world, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of music and pianist Paul Barnes has felt disruptions in his life and career. As a teacher, he has had to shift his classes online — a particularly unusual challenge for music faculty and students. A trip to a piano festival in Greece with his students was canceled, and his studio class students now attempt to make music by playing together via Zoom.

His exploits as a performer have been impacted as well, as all of his piano performances in the spring taking place across North America were canceled. However, Barnes gets to scratch his performing itch this Friday at 7:30 during his Lied Live Online concert.

“I was really thrilled when [Lied Center for Performing Arts executive director and chief artistic officer] Bill Stephan asked me to do this benefit recital because I've been dying to perform,” Barnes said. “And so this gives me a performing outlet during the lockdown.”

The Lied Live Online series is a string of live-streamed concerts put together by the Lied Center. As the center is currently unable to open its auditorium to the public, it has instead provided music via Facebook Live with performances by Susan Werner, Josh Hoyer and other musicians over the past few weeks.

During the first half of his concert, Barnes will play selections from various composer friends of his, including three world-premiere pieces. The first will be Barnes’ piano transcription of Philip Glass’ “Annunciation,” which Barnes premiered with the Chiara String Quartet in 2018 at the Lied Center. 

The second premiere piece is “Trisagion,” written by Lincoln-based composer and UNL lecturer David von Kampen. Commissioned by the Nebraska Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association Composer Commissioning Program, the piece weaves together two Greek Orthodox chants with a jazz-inspired harmony. 

The final premiere piece, “Spring!” is by Ivan Moody, a Greek Orthodox priest, composer and long-time collaborator of Barnes. Barnes said Moody’s piece is part of a project where Moody decided to write pieces for all of his pianist friends during the coronavirus lockdown. Barnes will be assisted in the chants incorporated into these and other works by the Cornhusker Digital Byzantine Choir, giving its premiere performance on Friday.

Barnes said he is excited to share these pieces with the world for the first time during his concert.

“A lot of my professional life has been dedicated to promoting new composers and new music, because it's so exciting when you play a gorgeous piece of music for the first time on planet Earth, and you kind of get to see reactions and things like that,” he said.

The second half of the concert will be interactive, with viewers able to select the “greatest hits” from Barnes’ 25-year collaboration with Glass by choosing songs from the program list and requesting them in the stream chat. Barnes said Glass’ music is deeply rooted in spirituality, allowing viewers to spend some time relaxing in contemplation during his concert.

“[Glass’ music] is an embrace of simplicity,” he said. “It is an embrace of a much more contemplative approach to reality. And people are so desperate for that.”

In preparation for the concert, Barnes posted videos on his YouTube channel where von Kampen, Glass and other composers with pieces in the concert give more in-depth looks at their pieces. Streaming from his living room, surrounded by his family, his dog, Clara, and a roaring fireplace, Barnes said he’s looking forward to inviting viewers into his home for an entertaining evening of piano playing and chanting.

“I just want people to realize how wonderful live music is, and I certainly don't want live music to go away,” he said. “And this is the best way of maintaining connections between the audience and performer.”