The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Currents

May 3, 2013

Welcome return

When Ralph Votapek was a child growing up in Wisconsin during the 1940s, he realized he would never make it as a baseball player due to his unskilled attempts at the sport.

Therefore, in effort to appease this dilemma, the wise adolescent took up piano. By his early 20s, he was already winning prestigious musical recognitions such as the Naumburg Award, and serenading New York’s Carnegie Hall.

He then found himself making frequent guest solo appearances for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, concertizing with the New York Philharmonic, and traveling the world, performing in front of audiences from Argentina to Russia.

The masterful pianist played at Bethany Lutheran College no less than two years ago, and is once again leaving his post as Michigan State University’s Professor Emeritus of Piano to perform another set inside Bethany’s pristine Trinity Chapel.

What initially lured Votapek to Mankato was the invitation to play, but it also had to do with his outstanding relationship with one-time pupil and highly regarded Bethany piano instructor Bethel Balge.

“It was the influence of a former student,” said Votapek, referring to a reason why he picked Bethany. “Bethel received her undergrad at Michigan State – we’ve almost known each other 25 years.”

But, the Carnegie Hall veteran is a man who believes the fruits of success shouldn’t be tainted by foolishness. Even in his seasoned age he keeps humble, as if he was never successful in the first place.

“You’ll have to understand, this is a very competitive field,” said Votapek. “It’s a question of reengagements and going back to certain places. … I don’t take anything for granted.”

This is why he practices more than three hours a day, trying to master his technique so as it’s more comprehendible to him than the English language. When it’s him versus the crowd, all that’s running through his mind is the piece at hand.

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