By Sarah Kuras
This past Saturday (May 12) I had the great pleasure of attending Mark Rossnagel’s senior recital at the United Presbyterian Church (formerly First Presbyterian) in Binghamton. Although I have heard him play the organ numerous times throughout our years of friendship, I was truly blown away by his performance at this recital and by his dedication to his craft. All attendees had the great gift of watching this masterful, expressive musician perform.
Rossnagel has been studying organ at BU for the past four years under Dr. Jonathan Biggers. The recital included pieces by Bach, Reger, Howells and Duruflé, and a special collaboration with Cabiria Jacobsen, Tri-Cities Opera mezzo-soprano, and Hakan Tayga-Hromek, principal cellist of the Binghamton Philharmonic (BPO) and opera orchestras.
I was additionally grateful for the opportunity to interview him about the recital and about his future plans of study on piano at the University of Southern Maine.
How did you choose these eight pieces?
The four composers are possibly my favorite composers for the organ. I wanted the audience to hear two pieces from each composer so they could get an idea of the different sides of each composer and their creative output. The pieces by Bach I discovered from a CD recording of Lionel Rogg, who is one of the principal organists of the 20th century, who taught Dr. Biggers. The Reger pieces I heard on one of Dr. Bigger’s own CDs. Professor Peter Browne introduced me to Herbert Howells. I played a piece by Maurice Duruflé on my junior recital and I was so in love with his music that I wanted to play more.
How did you decide to collaborate with these two artists?
I decided at the outset of planning this recital that I wanted some chamber music, some collaboration. I didn’t want to be alone up there for an hour and change. It’s not only stressful for me, but it’s boring for the audience; there’s no variation. I just love working with other musicians, it’s a very wonderful thing to do. Cabiria and I met when she was a master’s studentin opera here, and I accompanied her students. She is a wonderful, wonderful singer. She is an artful singer … she cares about phrases, line, direction, harmony, so she’s an artist, not just a singer. And always a pleasure to work with her.
I first heard Hakan when I was a freshmen, in a chamber music recital, and I thought, “Who is this wonderful cellist, I must play music with him!” I only had one rehearsal with them … it reflects what professional musicians do; they get together once or twice, they know their music already and then they perform. I would gladly do it again with them.
Tell me about your career at Binghamton University.
Studying with Dr. Biggers has been possibly the pivotal musical event in my whole life. I’ve never had a teacher who was more knowledgeable and who had such a clear sense of what music should be, and who knew so well how to communicate it. And aside from being a great teacher, he is a ferociously talented artist. I’ve never had a teacher before who has been so strict and demanding. I came in here not being able to do half the things I am able to do now, and that is because he pushed me.
Overall, the music department here is pretty fantastic. We have wonderful faculty; they are devoted to the students and helping them to do well. I love our arts scene. I wish it was larger and that more people came out to events. I think that Tri-Cities (Opera) is a great thing, and what BPO does is a great thing, and we’re starting to get more students involved,  and more collaboration.
What are your plans for the future?
I decided last summer that I did not want to continue with the organ as intensely as I was, and I decided that piano was the instrument for me. I had a lesson with Laura Kargul, the piano professor at the University of Southern Maine, and really really loved her style. I asked whether she would consider me for graduate school and auditioned in January. I have been given a scholarship and an assistantship to accompany music students and will begin in the fall.
I can’t imagine what the transition will be like from organ to piano, but it will be difficult. The primary difference is the technique. For piano, you have control over how loud or soft, or how harsh or beautiful the sound is. On the organ, you pull out stops. For piano you have to use your hands, which is a challenge, but I am up for it.
In the future, I’m hoping to be a pianist of some kind, most likely an accompanist for singers. I will most likely have a church job as an organist. In an ideal world, I would be a soloist and play in chamber groups, but there are a lot of great pianists in the world, and there is not enough room for all of them. I love accompanying, but if I get to play solo once a year, I will be a very, very happy man.
Note to readers: This is my last post as a contributing blogger for BAMirror. It has been an immense pleasure to write for this blog for the past year. I have been a Binghamton University student for the past five years and have been proud to be part of the Binghamton arts scene throughout my time here. I am graduating with my MBA this upcoming Saturday (May 19) and have accepted a job offer in Manhattan. I sadly will be moving away from this city, which I now consider home, to start my career. I would like to thank Barb (Van Atta) for giving me this great opportunity, to our faithful readers and to all who support the Binghamton arts scene. Keep the spirit alive!