Sitting on a porch near the Atlantic Ocean, Gleb Ivanov lifted a glass of Champagne.
“Let’s toast to Rachmaninoff,” the pianist said.
His companions obliged.
All were students participating in this year’s Pianofest in the Hamptons, a highly selective summer program for pianists between the ages of 18 and 30.
During the year, the students pursue their studies at Juilliard, Eastman School of Music, Oberlin and other schools. They compete in international competitions and perform with professional orchestras.
Life in the Hamptons on Long Island is less pressured. The 24 students practice at a house in East Hampton filled with 8 Steinways (new ones arrive each year). There is one in the kitchen and another in the billiards room.
The faculty includes Awadagin Pratt, who played for President Obama at the White House and teaches at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
Paul Schenly, head of the piano department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, founded the program and serves as its director. His job includes introducing the pianists to their patrons.
Annaliese Soros, a former wife of hedge-fund billionaire George Soros and Pianofest board member, held a soiree at Little Tuscany, her home in Southampton. The pianists played ping pong, filled up on oysters and played a little Rachmaninoff and Schubert in the living room.
James and Ellen Marcus hosted an event at their East Hampton home to honor one of Pianofest’s founders, Norman Pickering. James Marcus, retired from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., serves on Pianofest’s board. Ellen Marcus is on the board of Young Concert Artists. Last year, they gave $10 million to fund a vocal arts program at Juilliard. (They also hosted this talent-free ex-pianist.)
Lunch was salmon cooked by Pianofest’s dean of students and resident chef, William McNally.
Guests gathered for a tribute to Pickering, who at 95 still plays the violin “and a little piano.” During his career as an engineer and entrepreneur, he invented the Pickering phonograph cartridge and worked on the design of the Boeing 707 and 747 jets.
So what did he want at his party?
“I wish I could hear someone play the piano,” he said. “Can anyone play one of Chopin’s nocturnes?”
Ivanov of the Rachmaninoff toast stepped forward and planted himself at the 1896 Steinway. His fingers hit the keys and he owned the room.
Pianofest’s public concerts are more formal. The students avoid shorts.
The final concert of this season will be on Monday, Aug. 8 at 4:30 pm at the Avram Theater in Southampton. The private party afterward will be at the Water Mill home of Linda Chen, a real-estate broker at the Corcoran Group, and Robert Sculthorpe, who is retired from Morgan Stanley.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)