Thursday, December 15, 2011

Menahem Pressler

       I have had the privilege of hearing Menahem Pressler perform twice - once at the Tanglewood Music Festival and once at Carnegie Hall.  For someone that's never heard Pressler perform before, the first immediately evident and striking impression given off is that his age and body do not seem to match the exuberant youthfulness with which he plays.  The person sitting in front of that piano in Tanglewood could just as well have been an energetic twenty five year who had just begun his professional career, basking in the emotion and power of the performance.  Yet somehow the furrows on the brow and wrinkles on the arm that so obviously evince supreme wisdom and grandfatherly experience, add a certain dimension to the music that a young adult would not be able to produce.  Pressler was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1923 and was able to escape the Nazis in 1939, on the eve of the Holocaust.  His childhood history expressed in the music that was so brutally taken from him is nearly palpable, and is something that one does not experience often in a lifetime.  

One particular incident comes to mind when I think of someone like Pressler.  When I was a child my piano teacher invited me to visit her piano instructor when she younger, and she was certainly right when she said that it would be a good experience.  To my regret I forgot this woman's name, but like Pressler she was an adolescent in Europe during the Nazi regime.  Unfortunately she did not escape like Pressler did, and her entire family (if I recall correctly) was murdered by Hitler.  At the end of the war, after she lived through traumatic experiences in the concentration camps, she came to America.  I believe that no more than a year later she was performing publicly.  When I visited her in her apartment in lower Manhattan, the only thing that really seemed alive and real to her was the Chopin that she played with such earnestness.  I got a similar impression when I heard Pressler play.

Pressler was won many awards, such as the Chamber Music America's Distinguished Service Award, the Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters, and the German Critics "Ehrenurkunde" Award, to name a few.  He has performed in multiple competitions which include the Queen Elizabeth,  Busoni, Rubenstein, Leeds, and Van Cliburn competitions.  Perhaps he is most noted for being a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio for nearly fifty five years, which for its last stretch included violinist Daniel Hope and Cellist Antonio Meneses.  2008 marked the last year of the Trio's performances, but its legacy has proven to be an exemplar of truly supreme chamber music, and music in general.  Pressler currently teaches at the  Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, one of the leading music conservatories in the country.  A journalist in the Los Angeles Times once wrote:

"Menahem Pressler's joyous pianism- technically faultless, stylistically impeccable, emotionally irrepressible- is from another age and is a virtually forgotten sensibility.  He is a national treasure."  
I believe it each man's personal duty to treasure and cherish the Menahem Pressler's of the world, and particular in music.  The Pressler's who carry with them the treasure of the past and the torch to the future.  The men who carry with them the emotions that cannot be understood by most, but can only be viewed with awe and deference as one views a majestic masterpiece of art at a gallery.  Those are the people that we must choose as our guides.

Here are a few Pressler CDs with the Beaux Arts Trio: the complete Dvorak trios, the complete Brahms trios, the complete Mozart trios, the complete Schubert trios, and the complete Beethoven duets for piano and cello.  I hope you enjoy.

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