Pianist  Menahem  Pressler
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1923, Menahem Pressler fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and emigrated to Israel. Pressler’s world renowned career was launched after he was awarded first prize at the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946. This was followed by his successful American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Eugene Ormandy. Since then, Pressler’s extensive tours of North America and Europe have included performances with the orchestras of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Francisco, London, Paris, Brussels, Oslo, Helsinki and many others.

After nearly a decade of an illustrious and praised solo career, the 1955 Berkshire Music Festival saw Menahem Pressler’s debut as a chamber musician, where he appeared as pianist with the Beaux Arts Trio. This collaboration quickly established Pressler’s reputation as one of the world’s most revered chamber musicians. With Pressler at the Trio’s helm as the only pianist for nearly 55 years, The New York Times described the Beaux Arts Trio as “in a class by itself” and the Washington Post exclaimed that “since its founding more than 50 years ago, the Beaux Arts Trio has become the gold standard for trios throughout the world.” The 2007-2008 season was nothing short of bitter-sweet, as violinist Daniel Hope, cellist Antonio Meneses and Menahem Pressler took their final bows as The Beaux Arts Trio, which marked the end of one of the most celebrated and revered chamber music careers of all time. What saw the end of one artistic legacy also witnessed the beginning of another, as Pressler continues to dazzle audiences throughout the world, both as piano soloist and collaborating chamber musician, including performances with the Juilliard, Emerson, American, and Cleveland Quartets, among many others. Of his recent solo performance in Austria, Die Presse wrote: “he struck a tone that was long believed lost already, a tone we perhaps last heard from Wilhelm Kempff.” His upcoming solo concertizing engagements include performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestra de Paris and the Concertgebow Orchestra, among others.

For nearly 60 years, Menahem Pressler has taught on the piano faculty at the world-renowned Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where he currently holds the rank of Distinguished Professor of Music as the Charles Webb Chair. Equally as illustrious as his performing career, Professor Pressler has been hailed as “Master Pedagogue” and has had prize-winning students in all of the major international piano competitions, including the Queen Elizabeth, Busoni, Rubenstein, Leeds and Van Cliburn competitions among many others. His former students grace the faculties of prestigious schools of music across the world, and have become some of the most prominent and influential artist-teachers today. In addition to teaching his private students at Indiana University, he continuously presents master classes throughout the world, and continues to serve on the jury of many major international piano competitions.

--  Part of the biography from his Official Website 

As with so many of my guests, Menahem Pressler was one whom I had known and admired for a very long time.  As performer of both solo and trio repertoire, it was a special privilege to arrange a conversation with him during his regular visit to the Ravinia Festival in June of 1996.  He knew that the chat would make its first appearance on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and he made reference to that at one point. 

As usual, names which are links refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.

Warm and affable, he welcomed me, and we got right to the business of speaking about our mutually favorite subject . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie
:    Aside from the obvious, what is the difference between playing a solo recital and chamber music?

Menahem Pressler:    From the point of view of making music there’s actual no difference, because if you make music, music is music is music.  In chamber music you have the advantage and disadvantage of having colleagues, the advantage being if they are inventive and if they are alert and if they relate to you and you relate to them.  You get ideas, they get ideas, and this is a wonderful interplay.  When you play by yourself, you are the idea man and you have to create that interplay.  You are also the person who has to keep a balance, like in chamber music, your right and left.  There are many things that are very similar, but then comes the question if you are capable of continuously renewing your interest in the works you play.  It’s obvious that when you play as soloist, you cannot play that many programs.  When I go on tour with the Beaux Arts Trio, the most difficult thing is carrying the music because we play so many different programs.  That is, in a way, difficult, because you have to rehearse them.  But I have played them so many times that I am a bit ahead of the game in that respect, although I do rehearse.  There isn’t a day that goes by when we are together that we don’t rehearse, no matter how often we have played a certain piece.

BD:    There are always the new ideas?

Pressler:    There’s always the search for them because you can never get deep enough into a score.  For Beethoven, or Brahms or Schumann or Schubert, you need to be a Beethoven to go to the bottom of it.

BD:    Is this what makes a piece of music great, that you never do get to the bottom of it?

Pressler:    No.  It is great, but you look for more and you find more.  That’s what is great.  You hear a symphony of Beethoven that overwhelms you.  Then you study it, and it still overwhelms you.  Then you perform it, and it still overwhelms you.  I don’t know if there will come a time that it doesn’t... same for the Archduke Trio or the Opus 111, or any opus, actually, for that matter.  It does not make anything smaller when in Tchaikovsky the feelings are much more obvious than in Beethoven and Schubert.  But you have to refine them there, too, so that it will have all that he expresses in terms of an artist, which he certainly was.

BD:    When you’re playing Beethoven or Tchaikovsky or Haydn or any of the composers, how much is the composer and how much is the artist?

Pressler:    If I could give you the percentage, that would be good!  [Laughs]  No, there is no such a thing as being able to give you a percentage.  First of all, and foremost, naturally, is the composer.  The artist is nourished and guided by the composer.  The composer gives tempo markings, the composer gives dynamic markings, the composer gives moments to wait.  He does all of those things.  Now, do you wait that long or this long?  That’s you.  And if you make a forte or a piano a little higher than usual, that’s you.  If the speed of an allegro on a given night is faster, that’s you.  So the artist does have a lot of leeway, which is wonderful.  That makes it possible for an audience to hear the same work during a season four or five times and they may not even recognize that work!  [Laughs]  That’s facetious, but they will have the joy out of those different ways of getting to those points.

BD:    There are composers who sometimes say they don’t recognize their own works when they hear them!

Pressler:    That
s true, too, and I will say there are composers I have met who are very insistent that it’s absolutely the way they have written; there’s no other way to do it.  Then there are composers who will let you find your way into the work, and use a point of view that you have found in relation to the work, which is very, very nice to be able to do that. 


BD:    I would think that would be best both for the work and the artist.

Pressler:    Absolutely because the work has to live after the composer is long gone!  I
know one composer who said he doesn’t like to end up on the ash heap of history.  We hope not.

BD:    Who is it that decides what is in the concert hall, and what is in the ash heap?  Is it the performer, the composer, the audience, the critics, the historians?

Pressler:    First of all, the composer writes the work.  If a performer loves it, he’ll fight for it.  Right now I have in my mind a man who used to be my teacher, a man by the name of Steuerman, who fell in love with the works of Schoenberg, Webern, Berg at the time when it was not allowed and the people were running away.  But he loved it and continued to play it and continued to teach it.  It made its way because it found other people who loved to play it.  It found people who loved to listen to it.

BD:    But it still seems like those works are still finding their way.

Pressler:    Absolutely.  They’re not as popular as Beethoven, but you will be amazed and surprised how accepted some of them are.  Bartók is now a classic composer.  You put him on a program and the public does not run away from it.

BD:    [Somewhat facetiously]  If it’s cushioned between a Haydn and a Beethoven, perhaps.  [Both laugh]

Pressler:    Now the radio is talking!  But in any case, if it is cushioned between a Haydn and a Beethoven, why not?  Wouldn’t you want to eat a wonderful, well-balanced meal where the main dish is something that you’re looking forward to enjoying with great relish?  That’s the same in a program.

BD:    Without mentioning any names, are there works being written in the very recent past and even today which are going to stand alongside Haydn, Beethoven, Bartók, Schoenberg?

Pressler:    I will tell you the truth — we don’t know.  The test of time will tell.  It has to inspire the next generation of young players, and an audience must want to hear it.  I hope there are, and it is our duty to give them the time of the day, which means we have to play them.

BD:    You have got to give them a shot?

Pressler:    Give them a shot, absolutely.  There is a recording of the Beaux Arts of three works written for them and dedicated to us by Ned Rorem, George Rochberg and David Baker, the jazz trio.

BD:    Obviously the Beaux Arts Trio collectively, and you individually, will receive scores from composers.  How do you decide, yes, we want to give this the time and work on it, or no, we can’t afford the time and will let this go?

Pressler:    We look at it together, and if one person has a very strong idea that he thinks that it’s worthwhile to look at, we will make a special effort.  We played a piece by Bruce Adolphe, a young composer in New York, and actually it was very well received in Australia two or three or four weeks ago when we were there.

BD:    This is what I’m trying to get at.  What is it that makes you say, “Yes, we want to give this a shot”?

Pressler:    There were two reasons for it.  One was it was commissioned for us and written for us, which is not yet the decisive point, but it’s at least the point at which they brought us the piece.  We looked at it, and when we played it through we found that there were many lovely things in it.  So we learned it, and we played it, and played it with pleasure, actually.  That is one of the things.  The other is that you do know some of the composers.  You meet them and you feel you know other work of that composer that you like, so there could be something that will maybe interest you to look at it.

BD:    So you know they have done it, so they can do it?

Pressler:    Yes, they have some works that you liked in the past.  Sometimes I wish a certain composer had written a work and we could play it, but he didn’t.  I was just thinking of the composer Dutilleux, who wrote a wonderful sonata for piano, and he wrote a string quartet for the Juilliard and wrote a violin concerto for Stern.  I wished he had written a trio.  I did ask him, but he’s a very slow writer.  Messiaen was supposed to write a concerto for us, but he died before he could get to it.

pressler BD:    What advice do you have for someone who wants to write for the piano trio?

Pressler:    First of all write a good piano part, which is very difficult, very difficult.  It’s a medium that is very difficult to conquer.  Very few composers really have conquered the piano trio.  Haydn has conquered it because his are mainly piano, but the ideas are so glorious.  In Mozart, it’s mainly piano and violin, and the cello is very little.  Beethoven is the first to be able to write for the three instruments like equals.  Someone who wrote perfectly for three instruments is Mendelssohn.  One of the finest writing for trio, really an instrument called trio, is the first and second movement of the Ravel Trio.  It is perfection in balanced writing.  Schubert
s music is so heavenly, so balance-schmalance, it does not matter.  [Laughs]  It is glorious!

BD:    The cello is just along for the ride?

Pressler:    In Schubert?  No.  He has these wonderful moments.  But even so, it would have been wonderful because the ideas, the melodies, are too beautiful for words.  It is carried that way.  So if a composer today writes a trio, he has to be able to understand the medium well so that his way of writing will create a balance, so that the sound of a trio will live in it.

BD:    Is there a way of making sure that it’s not just a piano part with a couple of extra instruments, rather just a teeny tiny orchestra?

Pressler:    Well, you see that.  After all, when you do it as long as we have done it...

BD:    I mean from the composing standpoint.

Pressler:    From the composing standpoint he will have to see examples.  It’s like learning instrumentation.  You can’t double a phrase.  [Laughs]

BD:    What about the performers?  You work with coaching young performers, and even older performers, in the trio.  What is it that makes playing in the trio so unique, as opposed to, say, solo with orchestra?

Pressler:    What is unique in a trio is that the creative process can involve all three, or should involve all three.  So when you are present at a work being played, it should be as if it was discovered just then.  It’s new.  It’s real, in that sense.  That is what we are after, what we look for.  With orchestra it’s more difficult.  You would have to find a kindred soul in the conductor, and he must want to be a kindred soul.  You have to find someone whose view of the world mirrors yours.  Obviously, when you are the soloist you have spent much more time with the work than a conductor would have.  But on the other hand, a great conductor will look at a Beethoven concerto or a Brahms concerto and find what he feels is the right way of doing it, and then to conglomerate it.  An inspired performance with orchestra can also result in the same kind of inspiration as a trio performance, only it’s more difficult and it’s much more seldom.

BD:    Is there such a thing as a perfect performance?

Pressler:    No, there isn’t.

BD:    I assume though that you keep striving for one?

Pressler:    Well, of course.  First of all you strive for your best.  That doesn’t make it perfect.  You strive first.  What is perfect?  When a performance can reach out and transmit the unique message that the composer has given us, so that the work is still alive today as if it was written yesterday, and you are able to transmit that message with inspiration, that would be a perfect performance.  When you speak of a note-perfect performance, that in itself is not as laudable.  E
specially lately, when I judge a competition, I heard some people play note-perfect, but no note had a meaning.

BD:    So it was cold?

Pressler:    In this case you can’t even say it was cold.  It was a foreign language to them, those notes, as if you would speak French having written it down phonetically.  You would still not know what you’re saying, but you would say it.  It would sound a little bit like French, but a Frenchman would laugh.  He would not hear his language there.  That’s what happens in music.  You hear this performance.  They play the notes marvelously — fast and loud and furious, and clean
— and the message has somewhere gotten lost by the time they played the music.

pressler BD:    So it’s all technique, then?

Pressler:    It’s all they have because to express music is also a technique.  It’s not just technique, per se.  It’s a facility.  Technique means also that it does say the things the composer intends to say, or that which makes that piece great, or that which makes the piece still alive.

BD:    In very general terms, it is obvious that the technical abilities of the people coming along has gotten higher.

Pressler:    Absolutely.

BD:    Has the musical ability and the musical understanding gotten higher?

Pressler:    No.  Rubinstein was the first to say that.  He said it rather harshly.  He said the average has gone much higher, but the outstanding ones stayed the same number, and there is a truth in that.

BD:    That’s kind of too bad.

Pressler:    It is.

BD:    Is this something where you can you grab the people by the lapels and shake them a little?

Pressler:    No, no.  It has nothing to do with them not wanting to.  It has to do with the size of the talent.  That’s God-given great talent, with not that many people around.

BD:    There have always been a few, so there’s the same number, just a few?

Pressler:    The same number, a few.  The same elected few.

BD:    Are there are more trying to get into that group?

Pressler:    Of course, as there always used to be, but now even more so because the average has risen.

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

Pressler:    Absolutely!

BD:    Of performance?

Pressler:    I don’t know about performance, but of music, yes.  I cannot believe that we can live without it.  Everybody judges what this means.  I don’t feel I would love living without music.  Mind you, not just playing, but hearing it, listening to it, filling my soul with its beauty, being refined by its refinements, being happy by its message.  So I can’t believe that there will become a generation that will give it up.  It’s true, it takes an effort on part of the listeners.  Maybe not as much as the player, but it takes an effort as does everything worthwhile.  People drink wine and they get drunk, and those can be the cheapest wines.  But the ones who do develop a palate will know when they drink a very fine wine and savor it on special occasions.  The same is true with music.

BD:    But it seems that we have taken music from the special occasions and made it almost like wallpaper.  We have it in elevators and in the background everywhere.  Are we misusing music?

Pressler:    Maybe to some extent, but I can hear it in an elevator and I don’t hear it.  I will have to sit down and put on the radio and listen to it to enjoy it, or if I am in my car enjoying it.  When I go to a concert, I get dressed, which means I also get in the mood.  Then it’ll be a holiday for me, sitting down to hear it.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    I want to ask you about the instruments.  You’re a pianist, so you can’t put your instrument in a case and bring it with you.  You’re at the mercy of the concert venue.  I assume there are wonderful tales and horror tales...

pressler Pressler:    Both, although lately I have better tales to tell, because when the trio became better known we got better pianos.

BD:    Is there any difference in the piano that you would be given if you’re playing a solo recital or if you’re playing a trio?

Pressler:    That used to be.  When the trio was in its first year, we came onstage in Horton, Kansas, and there was an upright piano.  I said to the man, “Where is the piano I
m playing in the concert?”  He said, “You play on this one.”  I said, “Is this the piano all the soloists play?”  “No,” he says, “For a soloist we bring a grand piano, but for an accompanist we bring this one.”  [Both laugh]  The following season was the second season of the trio, and in the contract it stipulated that the piano has to be as good as for solo pianist.  But now it doesn’t even have to say that in the contract.  Now I do get as good a piano as they have.

BD:    Will any piano trio now get that, or is it just the Beaux Arts Trio?

Pressler:    No, no, no, not any piano trio, because when you are not well known it is more difficult.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Should they all get the good pianos?

Pressler:    [Smiles]  They ought to!  Of course they should!  It’s not only to honor them, it’s to honor that concert.  I must say that at the time we played in Horton, Kansas, my two colleagues, Bernie Greenhouse and Daniel Guilet, both had Stradivariuses.  They brought Stradivarius’s violin and cello, and I played an upright!  [Laughs]

BD:    When you come to a new venue and you get a good piano, you sit down and warm up a little bit.  How long is it before that piano is yours?

Pressler:    I can’t give you a time limit.  I cannot tell you how long it takes, but by having as much experience as I have in playing different instruments, I have cut down the time it takes.  Also attitude plays a role.  I don’t fight the piano.  I will try to see what is the best I can take out from it, and play with what the piano has.  I will not force it to play louder than it can play.  I will not force it to have a more beautiful melodic sound than I can achieve of it.  So once you accept it, that in itself is already a big victory.

BD:    So you really have one more collaborator in the instrument?

Pressler:    Indeed!  Absolutely.  I made one record where the piano on the record sounds so beautiful!  It’s the Dvořák Quintet and Quartet with the Emerson Quartet.  It’s a recent record, and it was recorded in New York by a man who has done 65 records for Rubinstein.  So he knows the piano well.  But he has done it in a way that has not taken away strengths or beauty from the strings.  He just has the beautiful piano sound to listen to.

BD:    You
ve made recordings all through your career, both solo and all the trio recordings.  Do you play differently for the microphone than you do for the audience?

Pressler:    Not really, no.  We try to play for the microphone like for the audience, which means with the inspiration.  The advantage of being in front of a mike is that you can redo things, and now with digital, you can actually redo nearly everything — I mean one note at one place.  So you can really let yourself go while recording it and play it with abandon because you
ve always got another chance.  Thats nice.  It’s that net under you.  If one plays only for the right notes, for cleanliness, you again will miss that which will instill in a listener the desire to hear it again.  It would be as if he had heard it once played by a computer and that was that.  [Laughs]  You don’t have a desire.  There is that sense of nuance, the sense of... gentleness is not the right word that I want to use.  It’s that which we call, for the lack of a better word, inspiration.  That can be on a record, and it is very nice when you have it on a record because you yourself can hear it.  Im not in the habit of listening to my records because I’ve made too many of them and I am living that very active life.  But Im listening to your radio station when I am traveling, and very often I will hear one of mine.  If I can recognize certain things in it and I can enjoy it, I feel rewarded because very often it reminds me.  When I do it Im very, very critical, enormously so, and that recording seems to me like taking a passport picture.  You look at that passport picture and you say, “That’s horrible!”  It only needs a number underneath and you could be a prisoner in any kind of a state prison!  Then five years later, when you have to take another passport picture, you look at it, and you say, “You know, the old one wasnt bad at all.”  [Laughs]

BD:    I’m glad to know you’re eventually pleased with the recordings.


Pressler:    With many of them, yes, indeed.  They have just re-released on a less expensive label our complete Haydn trios, and they really came out very well.

BD:    Do you ever feel that you’re competing against your recordings?

Pressler:    Absolutely!  Always!  And we compete with ourselves, too.  I remember one time we had an hour concert in Paris five days in a row.  I said, “That’s perfect, just an hour.  We have the rest of the day and it’s the same program all week, so it’s easy.”

BD:    Five performances of the same program?

Pressler:    Yes, of the same program.  It was at the Hotel de la Ville.  It was before a play.  They have a performance just for an hour between five and six, and then the play begins at nine.  The first night was a pleasure!  The second night we were playing against that first night.  We felt we had to do better, and the third night, we had to do even better.  It became excruciatingly difficult, because you always have the feeling you’re playing in front of the same audience.  So when you play the work, you’re playing against yourself.  You are the audience, and you’re very critical.

BD:    Is there ever a time that you put too much pressure on yourself?

Pressler:    Yes, there is a time.  There is no perfect solution.  There are solutions, and some have to serve as perfect solutions, but like there is no perfect performance, there is no perfect solution.

BD:    Are the audiences similar or different from Europe, to America, to Australia, the Middle East?

Pressler:    They are different.

BD:    How so?

Pressler:    It’s difficult to specifically tell you.  Sometimes an audience is very, very showing of its emotion, and you feel good about that.  Then sometimes an audience is not showing its emotion, and the applause is not that great, and you feel unhappy about it.

BD:    You feel you
ve let them down?

Pressler:    No.  You feel you haven’t succeeded.  Then it turns out that the audience where you thought you hadn’t succeeded, you get more letters.  You find that when you meet them they seem more deeply impressed.  They carry it longer.  So you don’t always really know.  I have found sometimes when I walk off the stage and say, “Oh, tonight I just didn’t do well,” they come back and say to me, “Tonight you really played beautifully.”  And sometimes I walk off a stage feeling that was good, and they say, “Tonight you weren
t really in form.”  So it happens.  It is that people look for different things.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You
ve come a long way in your career.  Youve been soloist, chamber musician, teacher...  Are you pleased to be at the point in your career where you are now?

pressler Pressler:    Oh, yes.  I
m very grateful that Im at this point.  I also feel privileged that God gave me longevity, the desire to play, the strength to practice hard, still teach, still do all of those things.  That’s a great privilege, and I am grateful for it.

BD:    How much of an upheaval was it to change the members of the trio?

Pressler:    It was an upheaval, there
s no question about it.  You have to always get used to the new player, but it was, in a sense, less than I expected, because somehow, when you are lucky and every one of the people that you have had join you brought something to the group that enhanced it in some other way, that was a very great positive.  After Guilet came Izzy Cohen.  He’s a very fine musician, an excellent musician, and after Bernie Greenhouse came Peter Wiley, a very fine cellist.  It’s different.  I find that the Bernie Greenhouse sound is the most beautiful that I know on the cello.  And Ida Kavafian is, again, different than Guilet was, than Izzy Cohen was, and now I have her as the colleague.   But she has many excellent and wonderful qualities.

BD:    You were there from the start?

Pressler:    I was the only pianist.  They never played without me.  T
here was a concert sometimes without Bernie, who had a broken foot, and sometimes without Izzy, who had something with his hand.  But rain or shine, the pianist was always there, hurting or not hurting.

BD:    You played in pain?

Pressler:    Sometimes the finger hurt or you have the grippe.  Whatever it is, I was always there on time to perform... [laughs] up to this point!

BD:    Let me ask what may be an indelicate question.  Should the trio continue when you retire?

Pressler:    I don’t know.  I can’t answer that question.

BD:    That’ll be up to Ida and Peter?

Pressler:    I don’t know even if it will be up to them.  The audience may not take that trio.  There are many trios right now, many, many trios.

BD:    Too many?

Pressler:    No, never too many, because what you are looking for is a good one.  There are many trios, but the singular one, the Beaux Arts, has something that is always special.  Otherwise it wouldn’t have had the longevity it has.  It’s 41 years.  That
s a feat.

BD:    When was the first concert?

Pressler:    Thirteenth of July, 1955.  That’s a long time ago, and since that time, the heart of the trio, the pianist, was the same.

BD:    Was it a difficult decision for you to essentially give up a solo career for the trio?

Pressler:    No.  Yes and no, but I would say no.  The trio had a singular career.  The first year there was always a struggle.  There always are struggles, but we had a special kind of a success to begin with, and continued with that.  We used to play some places each year.  It doesn’t matter if that was Ravinia or if that was any other, we would play one year and we would play the next year.  The audience, or the person in charge, or the critic would ask us back, which is quite the unique experience.

pressler BD:    I assume it was much more difficult then.  Now a trio has the model of the Beaux Arts and a few others to stand on.  You were almost the pioneering.

Pressler:    Exactly, because when we started, the chamber music societies didn’t want any trios.  They said, “Oh, it’s a poor man’s piano concerto,” or, “It’s an accompanist for two strings.”  That it could be a whole, that it could have a balance, that it could have one point of view, at that time they weren
t used to that.  So we started, in that sense.

BD:    You couldn’t say, “Well, Beethoven didn’t think so; Haydn didn’t think so; Mendelssohn didn’t think so.”

Pressler:    That’s true.  I said it, but they wouldn’t listen... [laughs] until they heard us.

BD:    So were your first concerts essentially a substitute on a string quartet series?

Pressler:    They mostly were string quartets.  Yes, very few trios.  There was maybe one concert for trio and we had to fight our way up to it.  The first concerts were mostly community concerts, although the very first one was at Tanglewood — a Beethoven program.

BD:    That
’s a good place to start!

Pressler:    Wonderful place to start.  Charles Munch was the director, and he said, “As long as I
m here, you play every year as an example.”

BD:    Thank you for being a pianist.

Pressler:    Oh, thank you.  It was very kind.  Thanks very much.

BD:    I appreciate your taking the time today.  I
ve enjoyed your performances and recordings for many years.  I have a few of the very old recordings...  [At this point I mentioned a few of the items (both old and new) which I had on hand, and he started rattling off a few others.]

Pressler:    I have 30 solo LPs.  For trio, we have over 125 works that I recorded in the different groupings.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  You never had any desire to play or record the 32 Beethoven sonatas?

Pressler:    [Smiles]  Why not, if I was given the opportunity?  [Laughs]

BD:    You
ll just have to clone yourself!

Pressler:    No, you would sit down and you would work.  You would do this.  Like this year, delayed after that many years I had my Carnegie Hall debut as a solo pianist on the 21st of February.  I played in Carnegie Hall many times with the New York Philharmonic, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, with the Royal Philharmonic, with the Czechoslovakian Orchestra, with my trio, with the Emerson Quartet.  I’ve played there many, many times, but this was the first time as soloist.

BD:    Did that freak you out, as they say?

Pressler:    It freaked me out, and then it gave me the greatest thrill of my life.  The hall was sold out, and I was in my best form.  I was freaked out to begin with, but it ended up being very, very beautiful.

BD:    Good.  I wish you lots of continued success.

Pressler:    That
s very kind.  Thank you.


© 1996 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL, on June 8, 1996.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 2001, on WNUR in 2012, and on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio also in 2012.  This transcription was made in 2015, and posted on this website at that time.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.