He graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied under Joseph Bloch and Leland Thompson. He subsequently studied in London with Dame Myra Hess and Ilona Kabos and at the Aspen Music Festival with Alexander Uninsky. At the age of 24, he went on his first European concert tour, which spanned Copenhagen, Zurich, Oslo, The Hague and Vienna. In February of 1961, he made his New York City debut at The Town Hall during an infamous snowstorm. The Town Hall made the extraordinary decision to donate the hall for a repeat performance one month later; both performances were critically acclaimed. He later performed at Philharmonic Hall (later renamed Avery Fisher Hall) at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and at Carnegie Hall.
Continuing European tours took him to Basel, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin and London. More recent important performances include the world premiere of Pulitzer-nominated composer Frank William Brazinski’s Three Icelandic Lyrics at the North American Saxophone Symposium in Columbia, SC, a performance in Moscow with the Russian Federation Orchestra and numerous master classes, recitals and concerts. Since 1982, Denver has focused on recording and performing the works of under-represented or minority American composers. The list included composers such as Charles Tomlinson Griffes, John Alden Carpenter, R. Nathaniel Dett, William Grant Still, John Knowles Paine and Angelo Musolino. He also recorded the works of European composers Jacques Ibert, Enrique Granados and Franz Liszt. His recordings have been featured on the National Public Radio show “Performance Today.”
He commanded a large and diverse repertoire, including well- and lesser-known classical works, contemporary works, jazz and ragtime and many others. He was a sought-after accompanist for auditions and performances while living in New York, in no small part due to his sight-reading prowess and a rare ability to transpose on the fly. Denver was also a composer of show music and with his friend Fred Jarvis completed Everything for Love, a large-scale musical based on the life of the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who is believed to have been the inspiration for the Sinclair Lewis novel and subsequent Academy Award winning film Elmer Gantry. The musical was premiered in Iceland with Denver at the piano.
The National Guild of Piano Teachers awarded Denver the Paderewski Gold Medal and the Music Education League awarded him a Gold Medal on two separate occasions. His albums Charles Tomlinson Griffes: Collected Works for Piano and John Alden Carpenter: Collected Piano Works were each nominated for a Grammy Award. Time Magazine named John Alden Carpenter: Collected Piano Works as one of the top 10 best classical recordings of 1986. The Griffes album was designated Record of the Month by Stereo Review in November 1982 and the Carpenter album received the honor of being chosen by Time magazine as one of its 10 choices for Album of the Year in 1986. The New York Times music critic, Tim Page, also chose the Carpenter recording as one of his picks for Best Classical Album of 1986. “Equinox Piano Concerto” from the 2006 album Angelo Musolino: Orchestral Works was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in music.
In addition to his performing and recording career, Denver loved teaching the piano and was remarkably good at it. He had hundreds of students of all ages, encompassing beginners, accomplished pianists, and piano teachers. One could always identify his students because they did not carry the usual music books, but instead each had a composition book in which Denver would hand-write from memory, during each lesson, everything the student needed to know – theory, technique, scales, chords, arpeggios, which edition of music to purchase. He was extremely proud of all of his students and encouraged them to participate in the National Guild of Piano Teachers Auditions, where many took top prizes, and other competitions. Denver was much more than a teacher, and he took a genuine interest in the lives and careers of his former students and many remained close friends long after moving to other states or countries.
He has enriched the lives of his friends, students and music lovers more than any of them can express. Donations may be directed to the National Guild of Piano Teachers, the Juilliard School or to the charity of your choice in memory of Denver S. Oldham. A private memorial will be held for close friends and students.