Jeffrey Siegel's 20th-anniversary season of his Keyboard Conversations at George Mason University's Center for the Arts continues with piano compositions by Franz Schubert. To explain why the composer is so relevant, Siegel focuses on three waltzes, two impromptus and Schubert's magnificent Sonata in B-flat.

"Schubert was a phenomenon," he said. "It's hard to think of another composer whose music is so inviting to audiences. He had the gift of melody that flowed profusely from the pit of despair to joyous affirmation. To me, the greatest tragedy was his short life, like those of Chopin, Mozart and Gershwin.

"We're living in a robotic, computerized age. He was not a virtuoso public performing artist as were many composers, but he wrote great instrumental works in the musical language of his time. His beautiful pieces offer feeling that is missing in this robotic time. I'm performing three of his waltzes because he loved to play in private for groups of friends. Afterward, he wrote down the dances he played for them."

Siegel will follow the waltzes with two impromptus: one in E-flat major, the other in F minor. Impromptus are pieces that the pianist improvises while playing. As in the case of the waltzes, he wrote them down later. Some of Schubert's darkest compositions fall into that category and represent mortal man asking, "Why?"

In concert
Jeffrey Siegel performs 'Schubert in the Age of the Sound-Byte'
» Where: George Mason University Center for the Arts, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax
» When: 7 p.m. Sunday
» Info: $19 to $38, tickets for youth through grade 12 are half price when accompanied by an adult; 888-945-2468;

Despite having lived only 31 years, Schubert was a leader in the early Romantic era. He wrote nearly a thousand works, including seven complete symphonies, dozens of solo piano pieces, sonatas, dances, chamber works, 18 operas and choral works, among them six Masses. Sadly, he was not recognized for his talent during his lifetime. Fame came only after those who followed him discovered his works and played them before appreciative audiences.

Siegel devotes the second portion of the concert to the Sonata in B-flat, a work revered by many. "It has an other-world serenity with joyful tunes and rhythms, yet you can hear that he is dying with one foot in heaven and the other on Earth," he said. "It's a touching communication, one of the purest pieces Schubert wrote. Through these few works, I want the audience to discover infinite aspects of his personality. They range from periods of serenity to demonic moments."

The George Mason audience is special to Siegel. Many are regulars at his concerts because they are fervent music lovers, while novices come to give classical music a try in the Keyboard Conversations format. He will close the season in April with "Listen to the Dance," a program that spotlights the dance idiom used by composers Strauss, Chopin, Prokofiev, Albeniz, Granados, Shostakovich and Smetana.

"One of the joys of being a pianist is playing the wonderful repertoire," he said. "But for every program that I select, there are three or four hours of the composer's music that I would like to include. Some day, I will have a marathon concert."