Spiritual crisis interrupted musician's all-consuming passion for piano

June 03, 1994|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

At 16, Brian Ganz dropped out of Wilde Lake High School to immerse himself in music.

Almost 20 years later, the internationally acclaimed concert pianist returns to the Columbia school, at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, to perform in a benefit concert for the Steven Daniel Jeffreys Foundation.

The 34-year-old Baltimore resident brings to the performance several of his passions: his love of Chopin, a mainstay of his concerts; the opportunity to interact with his audience; and the chance to raise money for a foundation that honors the late brother of a close friend.

A former Running Brook resident who attended Wilde Lake Middle and High schools, the pianist didn't begin his music training until 10, a late start for a child prodigy.

"But I made fast enough progress to get a manager at 14," he said.

Mr. Ganz traces his intense interest in the piano to the 19th-century Polish composer Frederic Chopin, whose music he first heard as a young boy.

"The music of Chopin inspired me to devote myself to the piano," he said. "I fell so deeply in love with piano playing, especially with Chopin, within months of my first lesson."

The youngster was so consumed with the piano, he decided to leave school at the age of 16 to devote himself to practicing six to eight hours per day to "develop a solid technique," he said.

"I really wanted to put all my eggs in one basket. I couldn't practice as much as I wanted to and I couldn't throw myself into my schoolwork because I was so enthralled and devoted to my music."

His parents, Paul, a high school English teacher, and Dianne, a college English teacher, supported his decision.

But at 18, the young Ganz found himself going through a spiritual crisis. "There was something about the pressure of performing, something unresolved about striving for excellence," he said.

"My distaste for preoccupation for ego, I felt, was unhealthy, and I wanted to delve into a more healthy way of living."

The youngster decided to stop solo performing, devoting himself instead to teaching and accompaniment.

"That would've been the time I would've gone to a conservatory," he said. "But I had a spiritual awakening and spent a lot more time in meditation and prayer and religious exploring."

His parents, again, were supportive.

"I think I might have been headed for a crash," he said. "I needed other parts of me to catch up. But it had to be disappointing to them, at some level, that a career that was blossoming was being nipped in the bud. But I shared the process with them that ultimately led me back to solo performances."

The next seven years found the young pianist delving into spiritual exploration.

"[Before then,] I hadn't really discovered music-making as a service, as real communication," he said. "But as I grew spiritually from all those years as a solo performer, I found that I could put myself in the service of the composer and act of communicating as a performer. And the ego could take a back seat."

At 25, Mr. Ganz resumed his career as a solo performer.

Ten years after earning his high school equivalency diploma in 1979, he attended the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University where he received an Artists Diploma in 1993 and returned for another year of study.

At the conservatory he resumed a relationship with Leon Fleischer, who instructed Mr. Ganz during his last 18 months as a teen performer.

"I found I never studied as much as I could from him," Mr. Ganz said. "He will be my mentor for life."

Now a teacher at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City, Mr. Ganz is also the school's musician-in-residence. He heads the piano faculty and is a member of the Tidewater Chamber Players.

Over the course of an acclaimed career, Mr. Ganz has amassed many awards, including the Beethoven Fellowship in 1989 given by the American Pianists Association and the silver medal with third prize in the 1991 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Piano Competition.

He is also busy on the concert circuit, nationally and internationally, performing solos, recitals, chamber music accompaniment and concerts with orchestras.

He has appeared as soloist with the National Symphony in Washington, the Baltimore Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the National Chamber Orchestra, L'Orchestre National de Belgique, the City of London Sinfonia and L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo.

During the summer he will be guest soloist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on July 31 at Oregon Ridge in Baltimore County. He will also travel to France, where he will perform a duo recital with a violinist, and to the Philipines, where he will give a solo recital.

Mr. Ganz also devotes time and talent to several charities. In 1984, he and other artists founded the Washington chapter of Artists to End Hunger, and has also organized three concerts, two to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank.

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