Ensembles and growth: Eric Huebner's journey to UB
Faculty pianist reflects on career in the spotlight
Eric Huebner, at 10 years old, was sure he would pursue music.
Just seven years later, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Huebner, an associate professor of music at UB, performed in a variety of outlets from both the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic to festivals, like Ojai Festival and solo performances at Carnegie Hall. Huebner focuses on both classical and newer works as a pianist. He currently holds the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen piano chair at the New York Philharmonic.
“To be in front of an orchestra like that, you get a little taste of what it’s like to be a superstar classical musician,” Huebner said. “Having that experience as a young person is very inspiring. … It keeps you going.”
But his road to success was arduous.
His father, a piano teacher in Los Angeles, centered his sons’ lives around performing classical music.
Huebner said his father recognized talent in him and his brother from an early age. He described some of his practice regimes as “grueling,” where he spent hours on end practicing daily under his father's watchful eye.
“Classical music is one of those things where the competition is very intense, and people are driven from a young age to succeed,” Huebner said. “It seems a little strange. … But there is another side to it.”
Huebner spent his adolescence attending performances throughout the greater Los Angeles area and he soon found an outlet to perform through local competitions.
“I felt that competitive instinct from a young age,” Huebner said. “All the kids I remember seeing at competitions were my friends, but at the same time there’s that [sense] of rivalry.”
His same competitive spirit persisted at The Juilliard School.
“In some ways I was well prepared, but it does take it up a notch,” Huebner said. “You’re living in this place where everyone is trying to make it and I thought that environment was good for me.”
In New York, he found the tenacity he sought. Juilliard became the center of his world and he looked to expand to orchestral work beyond work as a soloist.
Huebner took in New York’s classical scene in excess, and found it hard to stay away.
“I think I spent all of my money on concerts that first year,” Huebner said.
But Huebner knew this environment came with more competition.
“I was aware of all of [my peers], and how talented everyone was there,” Huebner said. “Actually being there and interacting with the other students was still a very eye-opening experience.”
Huebner described ensemble and orchestral work as “rare” for a pianist, and experienced a period of adjustment from his previous work.
He stayed at Juilliard for his master’s degree and took on gigs as a soloist and student, and found a home in the contemporary music scene.
Before long, Huebner began turning heads. After Huebner performed a symphony by Charles Ives at Julliard, the manager of the New York Philharmonic approached him.
Huebner booked the spot.
Huebner continued to play in the New York Philharmonic on a semi-regular basis, he said. He found renewed life as a working musician, but still yearned for more.
“You get to a certain age, and living hand-to-mouth in New York as a freelance musician starts to fade,” Huebner said. “You start hoping for something more stable.”
UB became the home Huebner was looking for in 2009.
“He is very in touch with what many of the world's greatest classical musicians are doing,” said Philip Rehard, concert manager in the music department at UB. “Eric is a terrific musician and colleague.”
Huebner serves as the chair of the Music Department Concert Committee and teaches piano to graduate and undergraduate students. Huebner knew some employees, like music professor Jon Nelson, when he applied and found a reason to make the move permanent.
“I knew a couple people on the faculty [at UB] from New York already,” Huebner said. “It felt like a very natural fit.”
Nelson says he enjoys playing alongside Heubner, and feels “at ease” when playing together.
“He comes from the ‘real world,’ where efficiency is key,” Nelson said. “Eric is cool under pressure, and he brings high energy to every performance. He’s an ideal colleague.”
Huebner, while teaching 20th century piano and piano literature at UB, stresses the importance of pushing new ideas for his students and emphasizes the importance of collaborating with each other. He pushes his students to see beyond a piece of something that is limited to the stage itself.
“They need to have ideas about what they’re playing, and those ideas need to be conveyed to the audience [and] reach out over the stage,” Huebner said. “It’s not enough to just kind of sit down at the piano and get through a piece competently. There needs to be more.”