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Posted at 10:23 AM ET, 12/15/2010

YAP

By Anne Midgette

The generation of pianists who came of age in the 1940s and 1950s were known in the press as the “Outstanding Young American Pianists,” or OYAP. Leon Fleisher was one, so I’m particularly focused on this area these days, but even without my bias I think there’s a striking convergence of them in the news right now. In addition to Leon Fleisher’s book, a new book recently came out about Eugene Istomin. Byron Janis -- same generation, though not the same clique -- has also recently published a memoir that deals in part with his own right-hand travails. And this weekend, Jacob Lateiner, another former OYAP, died.

There have been a lot of piano stars in the years since, but I'm hard pressed to think of a comparable group of coevals (with William Kapell as a slightly older brother) whose careers overlapped to a similar extent -- and who really were friends; the OYAP tag wasn't just a media construct. (I didn't mention Gary Graffman, whose own memoir is a fun read.) I wonder to what extent this group influenced the generation of listeners who grew up with them. There was certainly a sense that these were "our" pianists -- the State Department even got involved in trying to find an American candidate for the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1952, the year that Leon Fleisher won -- and I wonder if this led to a partisan spirit among their audiences, and a greater sense of involvement.

If there's a common thread among American pianists today, it might be the kind of DIY spirit shown by Jeremy Denk, Simone Dinnerstein, Jeffrey Biegel, even Jonathan Biss (I say "even" because Biss has pursued a slightly more traditional career path). This is also a promising way to develop a sense of audience involvement, but these artists aren't a "generation" in any real sense; nor are they, in today's bifurcated media world, likely to get the same kind of focused, rah-rah attention.

I'd love to hear from piano lovers who have thoughts on the old YAP generation.

By Anne Midgette  | December 15, 2010; 10:23 AM ET
Categories:  news, random musings  
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Comments

In the days when I was a student at Juilliard, studying in the 19th and 20th century traditions from Adele Marcus, Jacob Lateiner (Beethoven seminar), Felix Galimir and the like, we went through the traditional hoops of competitions, performing the much needed New York Recital Debut (in my case, the coveted William Petschek Debut Award at Juilliard in Alice Tully Hall), and building the arsenal of standard concerti and recital repertoire. The dream was RCA Victor or CBS Masterworks (aka Sony Classical), or Deutsche Gramophone or Decca. Nowadays, we can record for a new Steinway label, or Naxos, or E1, and perform Rach 3 one week, Beethoven 5 the next, and yes, the Keith Emerson or Leroy Anderson Concerto the following week. Thanks to network media, the world has opened up in glorious ways. I think the scene is somewhat healthier than it had been, and young (am I still at 49??) artists have more avenues to express their gifts and share their music. It pains me to see organizations suffer financially, however, repertoire is now in the process of being understood in a new light; artists are not branded in a negative way because they decide to perform repertoire that might not be considered on the level of the Beethoven works (Happy 240th, Mr. B, btw!), and, indie labels allow artists to self record and get distribution on the level of the great Naxos company. I see great things ahead for music--we just have to go through some hoops to get there. What I envision in 2020 will be concert halls with wireless internet access to provide for a global audience, so people around the world can purchase a cheap enough online 'seat' to the performances of their choice. This WILL increase revenue for the organizations, and use technology to its fullest extent to share the arts. We have a long way to go, but we'll get there. I respect and admire the young artists I am mentioned with, for their exploration into wonderful areas of music they have chosen to perform and record.

Posted by: JBiegel | December 15, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I am focused on violinists but perhaps the same model applies. There are so many good ones - maybe even some great ones - that finding THE ONE is like finding a special grain of sand on the seashore. It is especially hard to do when all of them are (essentially) playing the same repertoire. Best wishes and good luck to them all.

Posted by: pronetoviolins | December 21, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

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