Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Classical piano master is back in town

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    Andre Watts in a 2004 rehearsal with the Toledo Symphony.

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Andre Watts in a 2004 rehearsal with the Toledo Symphony.


Pianist Andre Watts is at home in Park Ridge, N.J., resting between gigs which for 44 years have taken him around the world very far and very often. If his jet contrails could be recorded in one sequence, they might seem to cover the globe like a layer of yarn.

Between concert dates with major orchestras on any continent, recitals such as the one he s presenting in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle at 8 p.m. Thursday, teaching at prestigious universities, and offering master classes, Watts is a study in perpetual musical motion.

Best of all, he chuckles from what one hopes is a comfy chair, he still savors the thrill of bringing wonderful music alive for an audience.

If you had asked me 25 to 30 years ago, I would have said there s nothing better. But it wouldn t have occurred to me that it would be even better later on.

That s nice, he says quietly.

Yes, he still can be struck by stage fright. But no, he wouldn t trade his life for anything else, even at 60, a time when even the most successful career can go stale.

Performing is a little more comfortable now. I still get nervous, I still find it difficult, I still feel lots of frustrations mainly the frustration of not being able to produce for these people what I hear here. (Imagine Watts touching his handsome head at this comment.)

I ve always had stage fright it comes and goes over the years, from not too bad to absolute panic.

Watts was discovered in 1963, at the age of 16, when Leonard Bernstein chose him for a debut with the New York Philharmonic, a Young People s Concert broadcast nationwide. Then, a mere two weeks later, Bernstein tapped Watts to fill in for Glenn Gould, who was ill. Watts stunned the musical world with a performance of music by Franz Liszt in the Philharmonic s main series.

His career took off like a jet. And so did the stage fright.

Still, he says, In the last three to four years it has been a normal nervousness, the kind that isn t totally illogical. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, he adds with a laugh.

Working with students at Indiana University School of Music, where Watts holds the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music, the pianist says, I go through all the different things I know, whether they ve worked for me or not, but I tell them you may find it works, or it may not.

His main point, however, is this: Stage fright makes no difference in the quality of the performance.




Returning to the Peristyle should seem comfortable to Watts, who is a frequent visitor to Toledo. (His last performance here was with the Toledo Symphony and Stefan Sanderling in 2004, when he played the Mozart Concerto No. 24.)

His approaching recital program reflects the richness and diversity of piano literature. Works include a Haydn Sonata, two Mozart Rondos, Schubert Sonata D.784, Luciano Berio s 1965 work, Wasserklavier, and music by Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy.

In all, it s a sophisticated sampler of Watts very catholic musical tastes, the sort of program he would prepare for a concert in any city anywhere. Although, he notes, he wouldn t trot out demanding works for an audience in a place new to recitals, his programs are devised to suit his interests.

If you want to play with conviction, you must play what you want, Watts says, with fervor.

Look, I play what I want to play, but I happen to have a very kind of mainstream, conventional mind about music. It would never occur to me to make the entire second section Luciano Berio. And if I wanted to do that in Carnegie Hall, I would do it in Toledo, too.

Tickets for the Andre Watts recital at 8 p.m. Thursday are available through the Toledo Symphony, online at or by phone, 419-246-8000.

Contact Sally Vallongo at or 419-724-6121.

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