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RUTH SLENCZYNSKA: "MAKE A PIECE YOURS - THEN PLAY IT!"

Updated: Apr 18



In the waning days of Women's History Month, Madam Ruth Slenczynska is a worthy topic.


If you don't know her, please take a moment to view this video interview with her.


The fact that she is Rachmaninoff's last surviving piano student is not the only notewothy fact about her.


On January 24, 2024 she turned 99 years old and has shared her immense love of music and the piano with us for over 94 four years as a remarkable performer!


One of my former piano teachers who was her student, told me about her two years ago and I immediately purchased her then-new album My Life in Music (Decca, March 2022). I regularly listen to it as I go about my day at home. I also read her book, "Music at Your Fingertips: Aspects of Pianoforte Technique."


Perhaps her cogent advice can be boiled down to her statement that: “You don’t become a pianist until you’re past the age of 60. And then you should have something to say that’s worthwhile. If you don’t, forget it.”


You can watch Madam Slenczynska's concert debut at age five on the above page (video from 1930!). Amazing! Wonderful too, is the fact that she is a native Californian.


Slenczynska also had connections with another prominent composer and fellow conservatory student with her, American Samuel Barber, and heard his famed Adagio for Strings before the work even had a title. (We heard it recently at the SF Philharmonic conducted by Jessica Berajano.) Slenczynska has performed for four US Presidents, including playing a Mozart duet with President Harry S. Truman, and performing at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. At age nine she stepped on the concert stage for an ailing Rachmaninoff himself, much to his consternation it is reported, but he was soon convinced to take her on as a student.


It was on her recent album that I discovered Rachmaninoff's "Daisies", one of his Six Romances Op. 38 No. 3, which I fell in love with. Her pianism creates such a delicate, floating feeling with an unrushed, crystal-clear tonality in that piece! No wonder she became a specialist in Chopin, as well. I much prefer her playing from age 90 and beyond, compared to her dramatic, firey interpretations in mid-life. But then, I'm a huge fan of the andante cantabile tempo and super-lyrical romantic pieces!


While I haven't yet decided to take "Daisies" on to learn, I have just ordered the score for what we know as "None but the Lonely Heart" from the same album of six pieces. I will hold Madam Slenczynska's special tone and nuance in mind, ear, and heart as I learn it, and throughout my piano journey, I will remain inspired by her long life and amazing career.

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