Classical Master André Watts Comes to UCSB

by James Donelan

On Thursday, May 18, a powerful representative of traditional
classical music will play a challenging solo piano recital in
Campbell Hall. André Watts made his debut in 1963, when Leonard
Bernstein chose him to appear on one of the televised Young
People’s Concerts in front of the New York Philharmonic. For that
appearance, he played Liszt’s E-flat piano concerto, one of the
most challenging in the entire repertoire, and the result was
inspiring: a new American prodigy performing on the CBS television

Recently, Watts admitted that “today, it’s a lot tougher for a
young artist to make it. There’s really no one that has become
Bernstein’s successor as someone who could make careers happen and
get a performance on national television. Lang Lang and Julia
Fisher are doing great things, but you can’t imagine the number of
people who watched those Young People’s Concerts religiously, and
still come up to me and say that they heard me perform on that

Unlike a lot of former prodigies, Watts took off and stayed in
flight — he’s still one of a very few pianists with near universal
recognition. Although he won’t be playing any Liszt for us tonight,
Watts said, “I still love his music and what he stood for. My
mother was Hungarian and a lot of people say that the Hungarian
connection is what makes Liszt special for me, but that’s not
it — I don’t play much Bartók, for instance. Liszt wasn’t just a
showman, although he’s known for a few showy potboilers. He’s a
little misunderstood — the solo pieces he wrote are really
profound. If I’m going to play something, it’s got to be something
great for the audience and for me. If I have to spend hours on
something in the practice room, it’s got to be something I really
want to hear that much.”

Tonight, we’ll hear a rich program of German and French music,
pieces that Watts chose for their range and balance. “I like to
play Mozart’s Rondo in D Major, K. 485, and the Rondo in A Minor,
K. 511 together. You’d think they would sound alike, but they’re
very different. The D Major is a great period piece — a kind of
powdered-wig Mozart, very formal and characteristic of the 18th
century. But the A Minor is so forward-looking, so chromatic.”

To show you what he means by chromatic and forward-looking,
Watts will also play works by Chopin, Ravel, and Debussy, but not
before some Beethoven and Schubert. According to Watts, “The A
Minor Sonata is unusual — for Schubert, it’s very concise and
orchestral, made on kind of a building-block structure.” Still, the
program isn’t as modern as some of his performances — Watts is well
known for giving compelling interpretations of Berio, Ligati,
Schulhoff, and MacDowell.

Ultimately, Watts is a teacher — he teaches his audiences how to
connect the old with the new, the familiar with the unfamiliar, the
simple and the complex. He also has real students at Indiana
University: “Six of them, all interesting.” We’ll be glad to be his
students at UCSB, too, even if it’s only for one night.

4•1•1 André Watts will perform a solo piano
recital at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, May 18, at 8 p.m. Call


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