Fri, May 16, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Former child prodigy on the old ivories bids Taiwan farewell

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

Ruth Slenczynska.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CKS

After a year of teaching performance techniques at Soochow University (私立東吳大學), pianist Ruth Slenczynska is saying goodbye to her students and the classical music loving general public alike, with a special concert at Taipei's National Concert Hall (國家音樂廳) this Sunday.

Whilst there might be nothing unusual about the departure of a short-term lecturer, the same is not true of the Sacramento native's remarkable classical music soaked life.

Child prodigy Slenczynska began learning the piano, aged three, and made her stage debut in the late 1920s at the remarkably young age of five before departing the US to study in Europe. There she received training and guidance from some of the finest classical musicians Europe had to offer.

By the age of six her teachers had included classical giants such as Vladimir Horowitz, Egon Petri and Alfred Cortot. Whilst in Europe the youngster performed for Sergei Rachmaninoff and played to a packed house at one of pre-war Berlin's leading concert halls.

"There I was aged six playing in a concert hall that was jam-packed with people, in a city that was gearing up for war," recalled Slenczynska. "The auditorium was so crowded that the audience was even sitting on the stage. It was an experience I'll never forget."

As with many child prodigies, however, burnout soon set in and her early career came to a rather abrupt end whilst in her mid-teens. Returning to the musical fold in the early 1950s, however, Slenczynska soon re-established herself not only as a popular recording and radio artist but -- and more importantly to Slenczynska herself -- as a teacher of musical theory and performance techniques.

"I guess having lived the life of what I suppose you'd call a child prodigy, I was somehow drawn to teaching," she said.

In 1961 she penned, Music at Your Fingertips: Aspects of Pianoforte Technique -- a book that remains in print today and is still considered by some as the Bible of piano technique.

Now in her mid-70s, Slenczynska is a highly respected member of the classical music scene both at home in the US as well as overseas. She has let neither her age, nor the loss of her husband several years ago become barriers to doing what she is both good at and enjoys.

"I didn't touch a piano for three years following the death of my husband," admitted the pianist. "But I finally realized that sitting at home and being a grieving widow wasn't my cup of tea. It was a silly thing to do at my age."

For her farewell concert she will be performing a mixed bag of classical works this weekend. The program will include Rachmaninoff's Prelude in B flat major Op.23, No.2 and Prelude in G sharp minor Op.32, among others.

Ruth Slenczynska will perform at the National Concert Hall this coming Sunday, May 18 at 7:30pm. Tickets cost NT$300 to NT$1,500 and are available from the box office at the CKS Cultural Center.

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