To the Editors:
When Michael Kimmelman [“Piano Portraits,” NYR, June 12] states that I “rejected Chopin,” this could be misunderstood. I have always admired this piano composer par excellence, whose twenty-four preludes remain, in my piano universe, one of the most sublime constellations. As I have often explained, I decided against playing Chopin because it seemed to me that, unlike the player of a wider Central European repertory, the true Chopin pianist needed to be a Chopin specialist. Since my younger years, things have changed. The Chopin specialist is out, and the master, instead of being treated as a bird of paradise, has been incorporated into the mainstream of performance.
Incidentally, the sound of the pianists I particularly liked to listen to (Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Kempff) stood out in beauty and variety. I never advocated “austerity” unless the character of the music required it. Some American critics, in the past, used to call my playing percussive, dry, or didactic. Perhaps Europeans had different eardrums.
May I invite Mr. Kimmelman to take me at my word when I say that I am still puzzled by success, and that the relatively slow pace of my career has left me largely unruffled. As far as I know myself, I am not a poseur, and the irony is that of circumstances. I have been ambitious as a musician but not deeply impatient as a practitioner of the concert trade. The fact that I managed to acquire some esteem fills me with amused, and slightly incredulous, pleasure.
July 17, 2003