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Originally published Friday, October 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Classical music

Piano man emeritus lends hands for benefit

Randolph Hokanson is preparing for a busy fall season at the piano, with a fund-raising concert set for Sunday afternoon and an action-packed...

Seattle Times music critic

Randolph Hokanson is preparing for a busy fall season at the piano, with a fund-raising concert set for Sunday afternoon and an action-packed residency coming up at Azusa Pacific University in California.

Hokanson is 90.

He has always been a remarkable pianist, but these days Hokanson is moving from the remarkable to the astonishing. Despite his age, his memory, his fingers and his artistry are all still amazingly sharp. This bright-eyed University of Washington emeritus professor has made a sizable impact on students and audiences alike — and he's not ready to wind down.

"I just love playing great music with Margie," he says of violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi, his partner in Sunday's 5:30 p.m. concert at Sherman Clay & Co. (1624 Fourth Ave., Seattle).

"We see eye to eye about the music, and we have a wonderful time together. She's an absolute dear."

Hokanson says the program originally was to present three Brahms sonatas for violin and piano, but limited rehearsal time changed their plans. (Kransberg-Talvi played all the performances of the "Ring" in August, then soloed with two orchestras, Northwest Chamber Orchestra and Pacific Northwest Ballet. She is concertmaster of both.)

"We're playing the Brahms A Major Sonata together, and then we each have a solo segment. Margie will play Ysaÿe's 'Obsession,' a solo violin sonata that's a real virtuoso piece. I'm playing the eight 'Fantasiestücke' of Schumann."

Schumann is one of Hokanson's most beloved composers, right up there with Beethoven and Schubert, though he says it's always hard to play favorites.

"That is why I continue to play — because I love music so," he reflects.

"It has been the sustaining force in my life. I'd just go down the drain without it. It was such a savior after my wife died (composer Dorothy Cadzow Hokanson, who died in 2001). I still miss her terribly all the time, but I think about all the wonderful times we had together."

What keeps Hokanson so spry at 90? It isn't his health regimen.

"I don't take care of myself particularly," he confesses.

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"I don't fill myself up with medications and herbs, and I don't eat junk food, either. I'm not a great exerciser. I'm very lucky, you know, to have good genes. My father lived to be 95, but his older brother died at 100 and his sister at 104. They were amazing!"

Nor does Hokanson spend most of the day at the keyboard.

"I don't really practice very much," he admits. "When I'm preparing a program, I might play two hours a day, but not otherwise. What I do that's more important is mental practicing — the conceptual work that makes the difference between just playing the notes and really playing the music. I sit down with the score and think about what I want to do with the music. That time is really more valuable than the time I actually spend playing!"

The Sunday concert is the first in a series of programs at Sherman Clay benefiting the Northwest Chamber Orchestra. The small seating capacity means that the performances are very intimate, but also that reservations are necessary (at 206-622-7580). The suggested donation for each concert is $25.

Looking to the future: The next concert in this benefit series is Nov. 13, when Kransberg-Talvi performs Schubert with her husband, violinist Ilkka Talvi, and pianist Ralf Gothóni, the music director of the Northwest Chamber Orchestra.

Don't forget

There's still time to catch the highly regarded Beethoven specialist John Lill, playing Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto with the Seattle Symphony and conductor Gerard Schwarz.

Concerts start at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 2 p.m. Sunday in Benaroya Hall (206-215-4747).

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

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