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.
Posted by: JBiegel | December 15, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: pronetoviolins | December 21, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse