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Deaths of Angelich, Lupu, Birtwistle… Black Monday for classical music

DISAPPEARANCES – After the Romanian pianist’s death on Sunday, two other music giants died on Monday April 18: composer Harrison Birtwistle and pianist Nicholas Angelich at just 51 years old.

The world of classical music was tinged with black this Monday, April 18, yet Easter Monday. In the space of barely 24 hours, we learned in quick succession of the sudden disappearance of the immense Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, of the British composer Harrison Birtwistle, and of the Franco-American pianist Nicholas Angelich, who died yesterday at the age only 51 years old, following a long respiratory illness!

On social networks, the time was everywhere for sadness. Philippe Cassard shared his “great sorrow” towards his two colleagues, who had just joined “a pianist’s paradise.” “With them, concert time was no longer part of a normal chronology, we breathed with them, we brushed the abyss with them. Our heart, our soul followed the contours of their imagination., wrote with accuracy and emotion their colleague David Kadouch. The conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen evoked, quoting not only Radu Lupu and Nicholas Angelich, but also Birtwistle, “a day of unimaginable sadness…” As Igor Levit let out this irrepressible cry from the heart: “Three music giants are gone. What a sad day of m… for the musical world.”

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With these three, classical music is effectively losing, brutally, three talents as exceptional as they are singular… And whose imaginative or creative proliferation was matched only by discretion and a taste for mystery. The last time we had the chance to talk at length with Nicholas Angelich was in 2020, a few days from the Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, of which he was the mentor that year. A role he had accepted with great passion and humility. “All of them have already started a great career. No question of imposing myself as a master on disciples. I will be like a colleague. A pair of ears at their service», he had declared to us then, with this deep kindness and this poetic sense which characterized him so well. A meeting with him was always the promise of stopping time. He was in life as in his game. As if suspended outside the hours… But not outside the world for all that. He had a real and sincere concern for others. Including younger ones. He liked to quote his former teacher, Leon Fleisher:he said that to teach is to bring people to meet themselves.He himself seemed to be on a permanent existential quest. “That’s the most important thing: to go as far as possible in research, whether artistic or human, or both. It’s like a common thread that you have to give yourself, at a time when everything is going so fast“, he said.

He was born on December 14, 1970 in Cincinnati, United States. His father was a violinist with the Ohio City Orchestra. His pianist mother. It was with her, a former student of Olga Mihaïlovitch, that Nicholas made his first scales. Far from any school… But unknowingly heir to a tradition that went back as much to the USSR as to the Parisian influence of Alfred Cortot. It was to follow in his footsteps that he traveled to France at the age of thirteen. Once in Paris, good fairies will look into her destiny: Yvonne Loriod, Aldo Ciccolini and Michel Beroff. Everyone in his field will be able to detect the extreme sensitivity of a pianist who was much more than a simple interpreter: an artist-world, whose colorist palette opened up on often unheard-of landscapes, in particular with Brahms and Beethoven. If the French musical world had adopted him very quickly, official recognition had come rather late, with a first victory for music in 2013, as an instrumental soloist, confirmed by a second trophy six years later. A soloist as stunning as he is an appreciated chamber musician, he was a regular at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris (where he should have performed several times next June) and at the Festival de la Roque d’Anthéron… His presence will undoubtedly be missed. cruelly to the French pianistic landscape.

Romanian pianist Radu Lupu, also died on Sunday at the age of 76. Piano****

Just like that of Radu Lupu. The Romanian pianist, whose touch of infinite delicacy, as if unreal, died on Sunday in Lausanne, at the age of 76, also following a long illness. In recent years, music lovers have watched each of his rare appearances as so many promises of moments of suspended grace. Its participation, in 2013, in the first edition of the Easter Festival of Aix-en-Provence organized by Renaud Capuçon has remained in the annals of the event… To the point that almost ten years later, this magical concert resounds still in the memories of the faithful of the event who are currently pacing the corridors of the Grand Théâtre de Provence.

Born in Romania a few months after the end of the Second World War, in November 1945, he seemed to have internalized in the sometimes extreme depth of his playing, and his ability to go to the end of sound and resonance, the very idea of resilience embedded in every human being. Admitted to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow at the age of 16, his teacher was the immense Heinrich Neuhaus, one of the most eminent representatives of the Russian piano school. Only a few years later, his career had taken off considerably thanks to the Van Clibrun Competition, from which he emerged first in 1966, then to the Enescu and Leeds competitions which he won in stride, in 1967 and 1969. Soloist in great demand, concertist revered by the greatest conductors such as Daniel Barenboim or Claudio Abbado, he nevertheless remained a modest and discreet man. Keeping away from the media and the crowd. He had retired from the scene at the end of 2019 but had kept his mythical aura. In 2016, our colleague Christian Merlin wrote about him: “arguably the greatest living pianist, his touch is the most subtle and imaginative one can hear.”


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