World-Class Music at Our Doorstep

Pianist Rieko Aizawa and violinist Jesse Mills

Greg Byrne

On a recent Sunday afternoon, two internationally acclaimed musicians, pianist Rieko Aizawa and violinist Jesse Mills, took the stage before a rapt audience. The scene was not Carnegie Hall or the Kennedy Center; it was the modest Oracle Center for the Arts, in our own city of Oracle.

Aizawa and Mills have performed all over the world, in renowned concert halls in New York, Chicago, London, and Vienna. They have received numerous awards, including Mills’ two Grammy nominations. They have a jam-packed concert schedule, as recitalists and soloists with major orchestras.

What in the world were they doing in Oracle?

The answer is Doctor of Musical Arts from Arizona State Stephen Cook, an acclaimed concert pianist in his own right. Dr. Cook is known to many world-class musicians. Fortunately for us, his wife’s parents live in Oracle. He founded the Oracle Piano Society (OPS) 11 years ago. Through his connections and esteem, he has been able to attract celebrated musicians from around the world.

OPS’s emphasis of course is on classical piano music. Last year we were privileged to hear the 2023 silver medalist from the prestigious Van Cliburn Competition; in March 2024 we will be treated to the bronze medalist.

But the music is not exclusively classical. In November we were entertained by “Mr. Boogie Woogie,” in a Fats Domino tribute, and by Western singer/guitarist Juni Fisher. In past years the White House pianist performed with a jazz ensemble, the concert hall having been turned into a bistro. A community chorus, Voices in the Oaks, gives several concerts a year.

Recently, the Ak-Chin Indian Community donated $50,000 to expand OPS’s tuition-free Conservatory of Music, which provides private lessons for local students and after-school music programs in places where they are not available, like Mammoth-San Manuel schools, the Ak-Chin Indian Community, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Each January brings the year’s highlight, the Chamber Festival. Young music students from colleges and secondary schools nationwide gather to study under professionals and college music educators, culminating in performances by the students as well as by faculty. The talent displayed by the youngsters is astonishing.

In March, Dr. Cook is leading a sold-out “Rhythm and Views” music tour to Havana, Cuba, hosted by famed Cuban pianist/composer Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, who gave a knockout performance in Oracle last October.

More information is available at At this writing, tickets are still available for four more concerts scheduled from February through April. We Ranchers are truly privileged to have such artistry just 15 minutes away.