At 75, pianist Virginia Reinecke says she never stops learning about music

April 21, 1996|By GLENN MCNATT

PIANIST Virginia Reinecke, who has been performing as a recitalist and chamber artist in Baltimore for nearly half a century, is one of this region's unique musical treasures. One of Peabody Institute's most distinguished alumnae, she is a teacher of the old school who has influenced hundreds of students over her long career and a player of rare sensitivity and passion.

At 75, Reinecke exudes more energy and enthusiasm than most pianists half her age. In her elegant studio in Catonsville where she has taught for the past 30 years, she is preparing for a recital this week with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra. The program, which includes works by Mozart, Gorecki, Finzi and Liszt, will be the final concert in this season's Music in the Great Hall series, which she helped found.

"When I decided to do this program, I took out my old score of Mozart's Piano Concerto in A (K. 414) and saw where I had written years ago: "I love it!" And that's the way I still feel about this piece. It's so beautiful, I enjoy it so much.

"Of course, I had to choose one [of the Mozart concertos] that you could do with just strings. So I reviewed all the early ones. K. 414 doesn't have the drama of K. 466 or some of the later concertos. But its slow movement is so heartbreakingly beautiful. It's also extraordinary harmonically. It's a perfect concerto."

The unusual partnering of the Mozart with Gorecki, Liszt and Finzi may strike some as daring, but Reinecke is meticulous about planning her programs to achieve a balance of musical styles and expressive content.

"I'm doing all four because together they are not equal to one hour of playing," she says. "I looked for things that were short and that called just for strings. The Gorecki takes just nine minutes; it's not what you would call a difficult piece. The Finzi is about the same length. Then you have the Liszt, which is about 15 minutes long, and the Mozart, which is 20 minutes. So it all adds up to 50-some minutes."

The chamber ensemble also will play English composer Peter Warlock's "Capriole Suite," based on medieval and Renaissance dance tunes.

Reinecke is a petite woman whose calm features and graceful gestures seem completely unaffected, and the years have done little to efface the image of the artist as a lovely woman. There is about her an air of serenity that at times seems at odds with her energetic performance style.

Playing since childhood

She has been playing the piano since childhood, and though she doesn't consider herself to have been a prodigy, her playing was impressive enough to win her a full scholarship to the Peabody Institute when she was only 7.

"Our whole family was musical, but we were poor," she recalls. "I had taken some piano lessons from the nuns at school, but this was the Depression and after a while there was just no money.

"But I loved music. So I kept playing by picking out tunes, basically teaching myself."

A family friend heard the precocious youngster and recommended to her mother that she be sent to Peabody to study.

"My mother said to her, 'You know we can't afford that.' And this woman said, 'They'll give her a scholarship. You write to them today and ask for an interview.' I wrote the letter, posted it the next day, and I was in the director's office within the week. He said I was too young to enter the conservatory, so I went to the prep, then later graduated from the conservatory."

Reinecke never really considered being anything except a musician, "unless maybe I had fantasies of being a nun when I was a little girl," she says. "When I was very young my mother took me to hear a concert by a pianist, and I remember saying to myself, 'I'm going to do that.' "

In preparing for this week's concert, Reinecke says she works "as if everything depended on me; then, as the time gets closer, I work as if everything depended on God. That's my philosophy of performance."

Reinecke says she never stops learning about music. "You know, I picked up a book the other day, it's the source Peter Warlock used for his 'Capriole Suite,' a collection of dances. It's got all these rhythms published, with the drum beats in diagonal notes they used in medieval manuscripts. The book is called an ochesographie, which is a work I'd never heard of before. And I thought, 'What does it mean?' And I found out it means the study of rhythmical patterns and phrases, which they used to record their dances and other songs.

"I've got so many books I don't get to read, it's terrible," she says, laughing.

An affinity for Chopin

In addition to Mozart, Reinecke says she feels a particular affinity for the music of Chopin, which she believes was nurtured by her studies under the great Polish pianist Mieczyslaw Munz, who taught at Peabody in the late 1940s and 1950s.

"He was an incredible pianist," she says, and credits Munz with freeing her playing from slavish reliance on Chopin's published scores, which are not always reliable indicators of the composer's intentions.

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