The pianist Menahem Pressler has died
An accomplished solo recitalist and concerto performer, pianist Menahem Pressler will be best remembered as the co-founder of the hugely influential Beaux Arts Trio
Though no stranger to the solo recital and concerto stages, Menahem Pressler, who has died at the age of 99, will be best remembered as an outstanding chamber musician – or, more precisely, as the co-founder and pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, with whom he played for more than 50 years.
It was on 13 July 1955 that Pressler, violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse gave the first ever Beaux Arts concert, appearing at the Berkshire Music Festival in Massachusetts. The ensemble would go on to set the bar for technical accomplishment and sheer elegance, performing globally and recording the majority of the significant piano trio repertoire for the Philips label – their discs of the Haydn and Brahms trios, recorded in 1979 and ’86 respectively, enjoyed particular acclaim.
Members of the Beaux Arts came and went, but Pressler remained a constant. When the Trio performed its final concert in Lucerne in September 2008, with violinist Daniel Hope and cellist Antonio Meneses as Pressler’s playing partners, the group’s standing was as high as ever.
Pressler was born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1923 but fled the Nazi regime in 1939, moving to present-day Israel and, later, the US – many members of his family died in Nazi concentration camps. His career as a pianist was given a major boost when he won the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946, a success that would soon be followed by his US concerto debut, appearing with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy.
The following years would see Pressler perform with many of the world’s leading orchestras and, even after the formation of the Beaux Arts Trio, he didn’t entirely give up his concerto work. Memorably, in 2014, he performed for the first time with the Berlin Philharmonic, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major, K488 under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle – he was aged 90 at the time.
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For nearly 60 years, Pressler was also an esteemed and much-loved teacher at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, with several of his pupils going on to win major prizes. The many awards and honours that Pressler himself enjoyed over the course of his long life included the German Cross of Merit, France’s Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters and, in the UK, the Wigmore Medal.
Top picture: Menahem Pressler violinist Daniel Lozakovich, backstage at the Deutsche Grammophon 120th anniversary concert in 2018. Pic: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns via Getty Images
Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.