Ask Duane Hulbert about the highlights of his 30 years as professor and chair of piano at the University of Puget Sound and about what he’s learned himself, and the answers overlap: his students, and how to teach them. Hulbert, 60, is retiring this week after 30 years of solo and chamber performances, college and community teaching, composing and collaborating at the university. His farewell will be a performance Friday with the Puget Sound Piano Trio that combines virtuosity with his signature musical creativity.
“I’m proud of all my students, but some have done especially well,” says Hulbert, in his second-floor studio filled with morning light, two Steinway grand pianos and very little clutter. “People like Yoshi Nagai, who’s now teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory, and Gwynne Brown, who’s on our faculty here.”
After more than 30 years of teaching both UPS and community music students, Hulbert says he learned that every student is special — which presents challenges.
“You can’t have the same system of teaching for everyone. I’ve had some students play brilliantly from day one. But the big joy I’ve had is students willing to work hard and who make tremendous improvement.”
Not that teaching has been the only highlight of Hulbert’s career. Having obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Juilliard School, and a doctorate at the Manhattan School of Music, the Minnesota native toured internationally, winning piano competitions like the Gina Bachauer in Salt Lake City and Paloma O’Shea in Spain. He was a soloist with the Tacoma Symphony, Northwest Sinfonietta and Seattle Symphony in his early years here, and his longtime study of Glazunov earned him a 2002 Grammy nomination for his recording of the composer’s complete piano works.
Hulbert’s created fun concerts like a live piano score for the silent film “Phantom of the Opera,” complete with costume. In recent years he’s organized numerous concerts for children, including musical stories (“Pecos Bill,” “The Pirate Musician”) co-written with his playwright wife, Judy Carlson Hulbert. It’s something he’ll do more of during his retirement.
“It should be very exciting!” he says. “It’s a side of me I didn’t know I had til my wife found it in me.”
Having played in the original incarnation of the Puget Sound Piano Trio in the 1980s and ’90s, Hulbert recently revived the group. He’ll perform Friday with violinist Maria Sampen and cellist Alistair MacRae. The program reflects Hulbert’s creativity in combining four separate pieces (Rachmaninoff’s Elegiac Trio no 1, the Scherzo from Ives’ Piano Trio, the third movement from Brahms’ Piano Trio in C minor op. 101 and the final of Ravel’s Piano Trio) into one musical hybrid. The second half will be Beethoven’s popular “Archduke” Piano Trio no. 7 op. 97, a showcase for the trio’s virtuosity.
Although Hulbert’s only just turned 60, he feels the time is right to retire.
“It feels good,” he says. “It’s good not to go on as long as you possibly can.”
As well as working on musicals, he’ll continue to teach in the community music department, where he current has nine students from children to adult.
“I’ve enjoyed watching them grow and make piano a part of their lives,” he says. “That gives me a lot of satisfaction. That’s special for me.”
Duane Hulbert Farewell Concert
Who: Puget Sound Piano Trio with pianist Duane Hulbert.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday. There will be a reception afterward in Room 106.
Where: Schneebeck Hall, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma.
Cost: $15 general; $10 seniors, students, military, UPS faculty and staff; free UPS students.
Information: 253-879-3100, tickets.pugetsound.edu.