It was the early 1990s in New York City when Professor of Piano Andreas Werz found himself in Steinway Hall tasked with purchasing three pianos for Fresno State. Even though he was surrounded by first-rate instruments, he struggled to find that perfect one worthy of the world-class musicians he was bringing to Fresno State for the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concert Series.

Two of the instruments were Model B classic grand pianos, the type you might find in a home of a well-to-do enthusiast or a small performance venue. Those pianos are primarily for use by the piano faculty. Steinway had prepared several options for Werz’s visit, and he was able to find what he was looking for.

The third piano was a bit more special — the Model D Concert Grand. These are the instruments one would find in the best concert halls around the world. Steinway had again presented several options, but none of them were up to Werz’s exacting standards.

“The selection that they presented to me was not as good as I had hoped. So I kept asking, ‘Are there other instruments in the house that I could try out that are available for us to purchase?’”

Before long, Werz found himself in the basement of Steinway Hall — a place where concert pianists can choose an instrument to use in a performance or recording studio. These performance pianos are the best of the best and Steinway will send them, at the artist’s request, to such venues as Carnegie Hall or the Lincoln Center. It was here that he found the instrument he had been looking for.

“It may have been a tiny bit older, and it was definitely prepped, it was ready to go. So my assumption is they had shipped it out to other venues in New York City for concerts and always brought it back into their basement. That’s why it was in good shape. It was really well maintained,” said Werz.

The piano would find its home in the newly constructed concert hall inside the then-new music building at Fresno State. It was also around this time that Fresno State professor and founder of the Keyboard Concert Series, Philip Lorenz, passed away. Professor Werz, who was Lorenz’ understudy, took over as artistic director.

Every year, the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concert Series brings eight internationally recognized piano and organ artists to Fresno State. The fingers that play the Steinway Werz found in the basement have also played in the most famous concert halls around the world — making the series one of the best-kept secrets in Fresno.

“These are people who constantly play the major venues here in this country, in Europe and Asia, and include Fresno on their trips. It’s wonderful,” said Werz.

In the 2019-20 series, each of the following artists has included Fresno State as part of their international performance schedule. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $18 for seniors and $5 for students, and season tickets at $160, $120 and $30 respectively.

The late Luis Costa, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at California State University, Fresno and vice-president of the organization for many years, succinctly explained the community impact of the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts when he said, “I know of no other piano and organ performance series, anywhere, which offers to a community of our size such artistry, affordability, dependability, reputation and longevity.”

2019-2020 Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concert Series

Garrick Ohlsson

3 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 8

Garrick Ohlsson attained legendary status in 1970 when he became the first and only American to earn the Gold Medal in the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. The New York Times said he is celebrated for his “tasteful virtuosity, elegant sense of proportion, and the balance between intimacy and declamation.” Ohlsson will perform works by Brahms.

Jonathan Biss

7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11

An American pianist, Jonathan Biss is noted for his artistic maturity and versatility, prodigious technique and diverse repertoire ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to contemporary composers such as György Kurtág and Leon Kirchner. The Los Angeles Times called him “A serious, accomplished artist who puts the composer before the player.” Biss will perform works by Beethoven.

Kenny Broberg

7:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 22

Since Kenny Broberg’s triumph at the 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, he has enjoyed a thriving performance career with recital and orchestral engagements across North America, Asia and Europe. The Texas Classical Review praised him for his imaginative shaping of themes, revelation of inner voices and an unfailing sense of momentum.” Broberg will perform works by J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Franck and Medtner.

Claire Huangci

7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 10

First Prize winner of the 2018 Géza Anda International Piano Competition in Zürich, Claire Huangci is characterized as a musician of uncommon sensibility and maturity. This 29-year-old Chinese-American artist has already appeared in many of the world’s most prestigious venues. The Salzburger Nachrichten said Huangci captivates her audience with “radiant virtuosity, artistic sensitivity, keen interactive sense and subtle auditory dramaturgy.” Huangci will perform works by Mozart, Chopin, Brahms and Schubert.

Natasha Paremski

7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14

Born in Moscow, Natasha Paremski came to the United States at a young age winning numerous awards including the 2006 Gilmore Young Artist Prize. She enjoys a flourishing career that has included performances as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Houston Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, and the Moscow Philharmonic. The London Classical Source lauded her “fiery and widely dynamic playing.” Paremski will perform works by Prokofiev, Ravel and Mussorgsky.

Monica Czausz

3 p.m., Sunday, March 8

Currently completing an artist diploma at the famed Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Monica Czausz enjoys a thriving performance career in Europe and the United States and has quickly made a name for herself as one of the finest young American organists on the scene today. The American Organist praised Czausz for her “artistic mastery far beyond her years.” Czausz will perform works by Buxtehude, Schildt, Praetorius, J.S. Bach, Brahms, Schumann, Merikanto and Hakim. The concert is co-sponsored with the San Joaquin Valley Chapter, American Guild of Organists.

Rafał Blechacz

7:30 p.m., Friday, March 27

Since winning all prizes at the 2005 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, Rafal Blechacz has established himself on the international concert scene and is celebrated worldwide for his virtuosic interpretations. He was recently awarded a prestigious Gilmore Artist Award in recognition of his brilliant achievements and passionate commitment to his art. Blechacz will perform works by J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Franck and Chopin.

Jeremy Denk

3 p.m., Sunday, May 3

Winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award, Jeremy Denk was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The New York Times said, “Jeremy Denk, clearly, is a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs, in whatever combination – both for his penetrating intellectual engagement with the music and for the generosity of his playing.” Denk will perform works by J.S. Bach.

Young Armenian Talent Series

In addition to the main lineup, the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts has teamed up with the Fresno State Armenian Studies Program to co-sponsor the Young Armenian Talent Series.

Hayk Melikyan

7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 27

Born and educated in Yerevan, Hayk Melikyan has won numerous prizes at international competitions including the 2000 Premio Valentino Bucchi Contemporary Music Competition in Rome. He was awarded the title of Honorary Artist of the Republic of Armenia in 2013 for his celebrated performances throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Fanfare Magazine said, “With power and agility to spare, and plenty of attention to inner voicings Hayk Melikyan is never at a loss for style or direction.” Melikyan will perform works by Chopin, Debussy, Górecki, Mozart, Komitas, Dellalian and Babadjanian.

Michael Krikorian

3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 20

After completion of a Doctorate in Piano Performance at the esteemed Thornton School of Music of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Michael Krikorian returns to his hometown with a diverse program showcasing him as a brilliant pianist and equally talented composer. A top prize winner at the 2018 Los Angeles Liszt Competition, he has given acclaimed performances in numerous venues across the United States as well as Italy, France, China and Korea. Krikorian will perform works by Beethoven, Liszt, Gounod, Scriabin, Babadjanian, Komitas and Bartók, and McCartney and Lennon.

Nara Avetisyan

7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28

Born in Yerevan into an artistic family, Nara Avetisyan is currently completing her doctorate in piano performance at Stony Brook University in New York. Prize-winner at competitions in the United States, Armenia, Italy, Greece and Lithuania, she has garnered accolades for her performances as recitalist, soloist with orchestras, and chamber music partner at concert halls in Vienna, Munich, Geneva, London, Monaco, São Paulo, Sochi, Boston and Los Angeles. Avetisyan will perform works by Händel, Zakarian, Granados, Babadjanian and Prokofiev.