Ruth Slenczynska: the pupil of Rachmaninov still releasing music at 97 | Classical music

The best lesson Ruth Slenczynska realized from the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov was that sounds have color.

Almost 90 years in the past, the 9 year-old Slenczynska was practising one of Rachmaninov’s preludes when he requested her to hitch him at the window. It was springtime in Paris, and the avenues had been lined with mimosa timber laden with fluffy, golden blossoms.

“He stated: ‘You see that? That’s what you need to carry to your sound – gold.’ I stated: ‘Present me.’ So he sat down at the piano and put color into his sound, he made it significant. And somewhat child can copy something,” she stated.

Subsequent month, Slenczynska, who has simply celebrated her 97th birthday, will launch her newest album after signing a world document deal. Born in California to Polish mother and father, the pianist gave her first recital at the age of 4 and was heralded as one of the biggest little one prodigies since Mozart. She made her debut with a full orchestra in Paris at seven.


Ruth Slenczynska on stage. {Photograph}: Jon Brenneis/Getty Photos

“Taking part in music is like taking a experience on a bus – you mustn’t let your passenger get off till he arrives at his vacation spot,” she stated. “Hold them interested by a wonderful approach. I still attempt to do this.”

Every monitor of My Life in Music, launched by Decca Classics, remembers a pianist or composer Slenzynska knew personally. Her pals and mentors have included a string of Twentieth-century classical music giants. Not solely Rachmaninov – she is taken into account to be his final residing pupil and sometimes wears a Fabergé egg necklace he gave her – but in addition Artur Schnabel, Josef Hofmann, Egon Petri, Alfred Cortot and Samuel Barber.

She is fast to level out, nevertheless, that the life of a toddler prodigy was not straightforward. Slenzynska’s father, Joseph, a one-time head of the Warsaw Conservatory, was a tyrannical determine decided that she grow to be a profitable musician at any value.


She remarked in her 1957 autobiography, Forbidden Childhood, about the emotional stress of having to practise 9 hours a day with out room for errors. “No person chooses to be a prodigy,” she stated now. “I used to be pushed very strongly by my father, who thought it was a solution to earn cash. Actually, I used to be by no means a toddler.”

Slenzynska withdrew from performing when she was 15 and ultimately minimize off her father utterly. She enrolled for a psychology diploma and didn’t return to the live performance stage till 1951. Since then, she has recorded 10 LPs for Decca Classics whereas holding a sequence of college instructing jobs.

She has performed for Michelle Obama and 5 US presidents, together with Herbert Hoover, John F Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, in addition to performing a four-hand duet with Harry Truman.

Slenzynska was in Washington for a live performance when she acquired a mysterious telephone name asking if she might alter her plans. The following morning, she was picked up “by a stunning automotive” and pushed – to her shock – to the White Home.


“We obtained to an important large double door, with a marine on either side. I walked in and there was Mr Truman, president of the United States. He shook my hand and stated: ‘Would you wish to play the duet with me?’”

The president, it transpired, had been practising a Mozart sonata and needed to play with the greatest. “We sat down on the bench collectively and it went very nicely. He performed very musically and attractively. Afterwards everybody applauded. Then I used to be pulled away and I stated: ‘I didn’t even get an image!’”

Years later, after a live performance in Kansas Metropolis, she had an surprising customer. “It was a nasty, chilly night with sleet coming down. I used to be altering backstage, when there was a knock at the door. I believed it was the woman who introduced me. I opened the door and Mr Truman got here in. ‘You performed 4 arms with me as soon as, keep in mind?’ he stated. And we had the most marvellous chat.”

For all the big adjustments she has lived by since her childhood debut, Slenzynska’s dedication to the artwork of music and efficiency has remained steadfast. Throughout the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, she uploaded residence recordings of Beethoven’s sonatas to YouTube to rejoice his 250th birthday. Her subsequent recital, to mark her personal, takes place in Pennsylvania on 6 February.

Her age, she says, has “sort of crept up on” her. “All at when you look again and say: ‘Oh, my goodness, that occurred 50 years in the past.’ I still carry on my dresser an image of my beautiful husband. And each occasionally, it dawns on me – he died in 2000. However I’d marry him once more if I might, he’s still my sweetheart.”

Does she have any regrets? “No,” she says, “wanting again doesn’t do any good. Look ahead, and make that as stunning as you’ll be able to.”

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