HomeMusic97-year-old pianist Ruth Slenczynska has a brand new album : NPR

97-year-old pianist Ruth Slenczynska has a brand new album : NPR


Pianist Ruth Slenczynska, photographed in 2021. At 97, she simply launched her first report for the Decca label in almost 60 years.

Meredith Truax/Courtesy of the artist


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Meredith Truax/Courtesy of the artist

Pianist Ruth Slenczynska, photographed in 2021. At 97, she simply launched her first report for the Decca label in almost 60 years.

Meredith Truax/Courtesy of the artist

It is not on daily basis {that a} 97-year-old releases a brand new album – however for pianist Ruth Slenczynska, a bit of factor like age just isn’t about to get in the way in which. On her new album, My Life in Music, she revisits items she’s been enjoying for greater than 9 many years.

With the benefit of the lengthy view of life, Slenczynska enjoys meting out sage recommendation. “You do not develop into a pianist till you are previous the age of 60,” she states with blunt certainty. “After which it’s best to have one thing to say that is worthwhile. Should you do not, neglect it.” By no means thoughts that Slenczynska made her debut as a pianist at age 4.

Ruth Slenczynska, age 6, on the piano.

Southern Illinois College Edwardsville Lovejoy Library


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Southern Illinois College Edwardsville Lovejoy Library

Ruth Slenczynska, age 6, on the piano.

Southern Illinois College Edwardsville Lovejoy Library

As we settle into our video chat, I uncover a pointy, sensible lady with a hearty chuckle. However Slenczynska’s life story hasn’t at all times been so cheerful. A Sacramento native, she was a toddler prodigy, hailed by critic Olin Downes as the best piano genius since Mozart. At 5 years outdated, Slenczynska gave a farewell recital and left for Europe to review with a who’s who of twentieth century piano legends, together with Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot and Sergei Rachmaninov, whom she met for the primary time in 1934 after substituting for him in live performance.

“I used to be a frightened little woman on the door of his residence on the Villa Majestic in Paris,” Slenczynska remembers, “and he pointed this lengthy index finger down at me and he mentioned, ‘You imply that performs the piano?’ ” Slenczynska was shaking in concern till Rachmaninov sat her down and confirmed her an image of his pace boat, making buzzing noises to mimic the motor. As soon as calm, she performed a showpiece for him, then transposed the important thing immediately when he requested. She was 9.

Program for nine-year-old Ruth Slenczynska’s efficiency on the Metropolitan Opera, the place she performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 along with her personal cadenzas.

Southern Illinois College Edwardsville Lovejoy Library


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Southern Illinois College Edwardsville Lovejoy Library

Program for nine-year-old Ruth Slenczynska’s efficiency on the Metropolitan Opera, the place she performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 along with her personal cadenzas.

Southern Illinois College Edwardsville Lovejoy Library

Slenczynska is considered Rachmaninov’s final residing scholar. As a tribute, she begins her new album with the composer’s track “Daisies,” which she says she’s performed virtually all her life. She explains that the large D-flat main chord on the heart of the piece depicts the second when, on the prime of the hill, you see all of the flowers beneath.

That first assembly with Rachmaninov stretched into two years of mentorship. Throughout one lesson, the composer instructed Slenczynska that her fingers have been like overcooked spaghetti.

“They have been so mushy and liquid, that they had no energy in them,” Slenczynska remembers. “So he mentioned I wanted to strengthen these fingers in order that they’d have the ability to play varied sorts of sound. And he did a fairly good job, I suppose, of displaying me how.”

Hear Ruth Slenczynska inform the story of virtually being “kidnapped.”

However that is not the one recommendation Slenczynska picked up from the famed Russian. “Crucial factor I realized was how one can make the music carry a protracted, musical line,” she says, shifting over to the piano to show how one can measure out these strains by way of the climax factors in Chopin’s dramatic Ballade No. 1. At 97, she will nonetheless make Chopin’s chords shake with thunder.

Slenczynska absorbed a lot from the good European pianists however her most consequential instructor was her father, a failed musician hell-bent on making a star out of his daughter even at the price of her childhood.

“I wasn’t allowed to think about myself,” Slenczynska says. “My solely thought was to please my father and escape the magic stick.” That “magic stick” was an 18-inch picket shovel deal with that Slenczynska’s father used to beat her. “I dreamed of working away from dwelling,” she remembers. “And that was what I did ultimately, however I used to be 19 once I did it.”

After Slenczynska’s father died in 1951, her profession flourished with out him, as she made well-received recordings for the Decca label starting in 1956. However she took time to chronicle his horrific abuse in her autobiography Forbidden Childhood.

“Nicely I did not have a childhood, no approach. However I am making up for it now,” she says with a large smile. “I am having a superb time wherever I am going.”

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Slenczynska, at all times the optimist, has certainly been on the go. Final month she performed a full live performance in Pennsylvania. She additionally simply signed a brand new report deal and launched My Life in Music, her first album for Decca in almost 60 years. It incorporates music by Grieg, Debussy, her pal Samuel Barber, her beloved Rachmaninov, and closes with an uplifting efficiency of a prelude and fugue by J.S. Bach.

After our wide-ranging dialog, I could not assist asking Ruth Slenczynska the apparent query: What retains you going?

“Take no matter is given your approach, discover what’s greatest in it,” she counsels. “Take pleasure in. Attempt to make any individual else’s day, they will give it again to you tenfold.”

From a 97-year-old with a profession in full swing, that is recommendation price following.

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