Mano and Brigitta Solinski play key role in pianists' careers
When the next School of Music graduate wins a prestigious piano competition, he or she will likely thank Mano and Brigitta Solinski.
The Solinskis are major benefactors of the School of Music's Southeastern Piano Festival held each June for top young classical pianists around the country. The couple, who live on Skidaway Island near Savannah, not only have provided a major bequest to ensure the piano festival's long-term future, they also support the festival's yearly operations.
The festival brings 20 of the nation's top high-school age classical concerto pianists to Columbia for a week-long series of workshops, culminating in a competition. They are judged by concerto pianists who previously earned top prize at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, as well as other judges.
The Solinskis first learned of the Southeastern Piano Festival in 2005 from a student competitor who introduced them to Marina Lomazov, an associate professor of piano at Carolina. Years earlier, Lomazov competed in and won the Hilton Head International competition.
"We were immediately impressed by the program's focus on the students and also overwhelmed, to say the least, by the quality and performance ability of these young pianists," Mano Solinski said. "Meeting with, and hearing from Marina Lomazov about the intent of the festival and the plans for the future if funds allow, we felt an obligation to lend support."
The Solinskis are constant in their support of young classical pianists. Four times a year, they host house recitals featuring young pianists; a few dozen fellow patrons attend. The pianists perform classical compositions by Rachmaninov, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and other composer greats on the Solinskis' Mason & Hamlin grand piano.
The Solinskis also support the Piano Arts Consortium in Hilton Head Island, which encourages young pianists to give back by returning to play when invited. Two University of South Carolina musical performance majors, both seniors who played during an October consortium concert, are Sonya Schumann and Susan Zhang. Mano Solinski complimented their concert performance -- particularly the second half when they received a standing ovation for their fourhand (duet-style) rendition of Brahm's Hungarian Dance No. 5.
"Our emphasis is on developing the concert performance skills of pianists, part of which requires an individualized style while ensuring that they receive some type of payment to ensure their growth as professionals," Mano Solinski said.
Schumann and Zhang are both under Lomazov's studio direction and competed in the Southeastern Piano Festival in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Schumann took first place while Zhang finished second the next year.
Zhang said she appreciates the Solinskis' overall contributions during her four years of knowing them. Support for her and her peers has meant personal engagements with the Solinskis at concert venues in Columbia, Augusta, and beyond.
"The support that the Solinskis have given me provides strong encouragement toward my career as a pianist," Zhang said. "Their kind of feedback helps keep me motivated."
Zhang grew up in Augusta, Ga., and has performed with the S.C. Philharmonic twice. She has also performed with the Augusta Symphony and the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra. The October Piano Arts Consortium recital was her first time performing in Savannah.
"The shelf life for participation in international piano competitions is short, basically from 18 to 30 years old," said Schumann, a Blacksburg, Va., native who has performed with the S.C. Philharmonic. "It's not unlike being a model in that you have a ticking clock. The Solinskis understand this, and that's why they go the extra mile for us. They are not just in this to support us for one show or for one weeklong competition. They're interested in following our progress over the long term."
The window of opportunity for student pianists hoping to becoming professional classical musicians doesn't get easier: The Hilton Head International Piano Competition, currently an annual event, will become a biannual event starting in 2010, held during even-numbered years thereafter.
"We just can't imagine doing anything else and being happy with our lives," Schumann said. "For students like me, there will never be a productive day without music."
Mano and Brigitta Solinski were educated with musical affinity at a young age. Born in southwest Germany to a Polish-Swiss family, Mano Solinski spent his early youth at his Swiss grandfather's dental manufacturing center. The family later moved to Switzerland, where his mother's friends included an opera singer who performed accompanied recitals in their home. Brigitta Solinski spent her childhood at Lake Zug in the center of Switzerland, home to a historic country inn.
Mano Solinski became a successful CPA, business consultant, and business owner, his connections extending from Zurich throughout Europe and the Americas. His first job was for a Swiss conglomerate that sponsored the Lucerne, Switzerland Music Festival. "It was the only job I ever applied for," he recalled.
Mano worked for two industrial companies that took him to South Africa, South America, and the United States, and then became vice-director of an accounting and auditing firm. He also was the secretary-general of the Zurich-based World Organization of Hotel and Restaurant Associations.
Mano and Brigitta Solinski were also well-established educators. She attended business schools in Zug and London and worked for an international company. He was dean of a postgraduate building and civil engineering program in Switzerland and wrote a textbook and numerous articles on business economics and ethics in public administration.
Mano Solinski came to the United States during the 1970s to manage orange grove investments in Punta Gorda, Fla., before retiring to Skidaway Island. He met Brigitta in 1984, and for a time, they administered the citrus business together.
Since retiring to Skidaway Island in 2003, the Solinskis' friends and neighbors have become the beneficiaries of their classical piano outreach with a major student focus. Their house recitals have become an island institution.
"We are grateful to be able to annually contribute to the outstanding training that the Southeastern Piano Festival and the University's School of Music provide for young pianists," the Solinskis said.