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Coming home Stephen Manes will perform Chopin, Debussy

Stephen Manes, the former head of the University at Buffalo's Music Department, is coming back to town for a recital at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lippes Hall in Slee Hall on UB's North Campus, Amherst.

Manes became well-known to Buffalo audiences over the years through his many concerts. He played concertos with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and during the 2006-07 season, he played all of the Beethoven sonatas in a yearlong cycle.

Manes' life took surprise turns following the death in the summer of 2006 of his longtime wife, the pianist Frieda Manes. He married his college girlfriend, Marta Vago, and moved to Los Angeles to join her there.

Buffalo, though, is not easily left behind. New in California, he was startled to find himself neighbors with other former Buffalonians including fellow Baird Trio member Movses Pogossian and also longtime BPO stalwarts Clementina and Bernard Fleshler, who live just a few blocks away.

For his Tuesday concert, Manes will be playing music by Chopin and Debussy. Chopin is represented by the first four Preludes; the Fantaisie, Op. 49; the "Berceuse" and the "Barcarolle." He will also play Debussy's "Claire de Lune"; "L'isle joyeuse" and "Estampes."

Talking to Manes gives the impression that he has not yet completely adjusted to life in California. For a longtime Buffalonian, the traffic in Los Angeles can take getting used to. A trip to the Los Angeles Opera, he confesses at one point, had to be scrubbed because of clogged freeways.

On the bright side, he and his wife live in Santa Monica just a few blocks from the ocean. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is within reach. He has a son in San Diego and a daughter in Phoenix so they are not far away.

Sounding relaxed and happy in a recent phone conversation, the Juilliard-trained pianist said he is looking forward to his concert here.

How did you choose the music?

The program kind of evolved in a funny way. It started out last year -- I learned the Chopin "Barcarolle" and the Debussy "L'isle joyeuse." I've been doing these house recitals for a couple of years. And I started out thinking, let me do Chopin and Debussy. Those cool preludes, the "Barcarolle."

Then I worked in the first four Chopin preludes, and I thought I could segue after that into Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral." Also I was playing around with "Claire de Lune," which I had never played, and then it dawned on me, that and the Chopin "Berceuse," they are both in D flat major, which is unusual. How many pieces are in D flat major? They are both dreamy pieces and I thought, how would it work playing one after another? It's fabulous. Playing them without a break, it's so cool.

So I did this program last April here at the house, and I thought, should I do that in Buffalo as well?

Tell us about these house concerts.

Our house is small. We can hold about 25 people, max. We have a bunch of friends. They come over and we serve wine and cheese. We've been doing them Sunday afternoons.

I wanted to do this program again before I play it in Buffalo, so I said to Marta, "I don't care if six people come, I just want to play it." Now it looks as if we're having a crowd. Interesting people are coming. It's fun.

Where else have you played?

It's not easy to make contacts, particularly here in L.A. Last year I played a recital in a church in Arcadia, 25 miles east of Los Angeles. And Movses [Pogossian] has a chamber series which is very successful, at the Coburn School, which is kind of a mini-Curtis. It's across from Disney Concert Hall. They have an auditorium there they rent out. Movses' series has been very successful. They have fabulous people there. So I play there.

It's great you're staying musically in shape. Are you still staying in shape physically the way you did in Buffalo?

Marta and I belong to a sports club here in L.A. We're there four times a week. We do that indo-row thing. It's a rowing machine which replicates what it's like to row on the water. It's a really thorough exercise. It exercises every part of your body. Both of us do yoga, too. And I have a trainer.

You knew this question was coming. How long do you practice the piano these days?

If I have a concert I'm preparing, maybe a couple of hours a day.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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>PREVIEW

WHO: Pianist Stephen Manes
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Lippes Hall in Slee Hall, University at Buffalo, North Campus, Amherst
TICKETS: $10
INFO: 645-2921

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