Prutsman is heir to Schnabel, Fleisher line

May 11, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Last week Stephen Prutsman brought a Friedberg Hall audience to its feet in cheers with a triumphant performance in what may be the most technically fearsome piano concerto in the repertory, Prokofiev's Concerto No. 2. Tonight in Kraushaar Auditorium with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and conductor Anne Harrigan, however, the young pianist will perform what he calls a "genuinely scary piece," Mozart's Concerto No. 15.

What? The Mozart, which was composed for the fortepiano, the modern piano's fragile ancestor, more difficult than the Prokofiev, with percussive demands that chal-lenge to the utmost the modern instrument's cast-iron frame and steel strings?

"The Prokofiev is rough and demanding and asks that you go crazy," says Prutsman, 33. "But once you've got it in your fingers, it's fun and it's there forever. Playing Mozart is like walking on eggshells, but must never sound that way. And in a Mozart concerto, you're always confronted with the struggle to incorporate the new things you're continually discovering in the music."

If Prutsman sounds a little like the great Artur Schnabel (who once remarked that he preferred to perform music that was better than it could be played), that's scarcely an accident. Prutsman was a student at Peabody Conservatory of Leon Fleisher, Prutsman's conductor in last week's annual Peabody Conservatory Friedheim Memorial Concert and was one of Schnabel's last and greatest students. Fleisher himself is usually considered one of America's most distinguished and successful teachers.

Like Fleisher students before and after him, Prutsman has won his share of important international contests. But what distinguishes him from the herd of prize winners is an approach to the piano and its repertory that is both independent and disciplined.

Prutsman's independence became obvious not long after his talent made itself evident. By age 12, the young Californian was so advanced that he was accepted as a student by the well-known teacher Aube Tzerko, who was himself a Schnabel student and the first teacher of Fleisher.

"But after high school I bounced around from college to college trying out major after major," Prutsman says. He spent a year in Mexico learning Spanish and, finally, in 1982, when he decided to return to the piano, left Southern California for Baltimore to work with Fleisher. But after earning a B.A. in 1984, he gave up the piano again.

"I was confused about my place in music and what I had to offer," the pianist says. "I sold everything I owned, including my piano, and went to Europe for a year. I did a lot of growing up, and realized that I had to get back to the piano."

STEPHEN PRUTSMAN

What: Stephen Prutsman plays Mozart Concerto No. 15 with conductor Anne Harrigan and the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra

Where: Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College

When: Tonight at 8

Tickets: $12 and $17

Call: (410) 887-2259

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