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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved.
Four Hands for Mozart
Pianists Misha and Cipa Dichter have played the Mozart
double piano concerto dozen of times. Now considered their signature
piece, it launched their duo-piano career in 1972. They perform it
exclusively with each other. Man and wife now for 32 years, they met
at Juilliard, and married before they graduated. Is their dual relationship
as spouses and musical collaborators dull? Is their performance of
the Mozart concerto boring? Are they tired of performing it together?
No, no, and no.
In a telephone interview from their apartment in the San Remo on Central
Park West, in New York City, Misha says that "the Mozart `Double’
is one of the best pieces ever written. The feeling we get at the
end of a good performance is something few marital couples can appreciate."
Constant attention to the musical details of the concerto, and to
other pieces, keeps performance fresh, Misha says. "The way we
work doesn’t allow for boredom," he says. "If you seriously
study any great work, the revelations continue to pour forth and you
always have the feeling that there is much more to learn in every
The Dichters appear with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra on Friday,
July 14, 8 p.m., at Richardson Auditorium, in the second concert of
the three-week, all-Mozart Amadeus Festival. The cadenzas in the concerto
are Misha’s. "It’s an act of immodesty," he says. "Chutzpah.
Today I’m more modest. After all, Mozart wrote cadenzas for the `Double.’"
The NJSO program also includes the Mozart triple concerto, which the
Dichters play with pianist Peggy DeArmond-Rogers; as well as "Eine
kleine Nachtmusik" and the Symphony No. 14 in A major, K. 114.
Music director Zdenek Macal conducts. Performances also take place
at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center on Thursday and Saturday,
July 13 and July 15.
Macal initiated the Amadeus Festival in 1995 to survey the music of
the prolific Mozart, who died at age 35. Macal’s special spin is to
devise programs that present Mozart’s music in roughly reverse chronological
The Amadeus Festival offerings at Richardson Auditorium continue with
pianist Ruth Laredo and the NJSO Chamber Players in a program featuring
the Piano Sonata in D major and Piano Quartet in G minor on Sunday,
July 16, at 3 p.m. Violinist Pamela Frank is featured in Mozart’s
"Turkish" concerto on Friday, July 21, at 8 p.m. And concludes
with Vladimir Feltsman performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor
on Friday, July 28, at 8 p.m.
Misha Dichter was born in 1945 in Shanghai, the only
child of parents who fled from Poland at the outbreak of World War
II. They were the only members of their families who escaped. In Poland
Misha’s father was in the lumber business. He resumed working in lumber
after the family moved to Los Angeles when Misha was two. "In
China," says Misha, "he did anything to survive." Dichter
senior died in 1998. Misha’s mother, a mandolin player, continues
to live in California, where she continues to play mandolin.
In Los Angeles Misha started piano studies within a few years of his
arrival, and at age 13 began working with Aube Tzerko, an Artur Schnabel
pupil. Schnabel’s interpretations of the German classics provide a
benchmark for performance. In 1964, after six years with Tzerko, Misha
attended a master class in Los Angeles by Rosina Lhevinne, the renowned
Russian-trained Juilliard pedagogue. "I followed her to Juilliard,"
At Juilliard Misha became, so to speak, pianistically bilingual, melding
Lhevinne’s more romantic Russian approach with the classical German
approach of Tzerko. A formidable talent, as a Juilliard junior he
planned to enter Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition, the demanding international
competition that every four years selects victors whose admission
to the stages of the world’s concert halls is assured. He was practicing
10 to 12 hours a day.
By that time Cipa had arrived at Juilliard from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She was born in 1946 to Polish-Russian parents who fled Europe. Misha
notes that his father and Cipa’s were born about 100 miles apart in
Poland. Cipa’s family, including her sister, still lives in Rio. Cipa
made her professional debut at 16 with the Symphony Orchestra of Brazil.
Although she was pursuing both piano and a sociology major in college,
her friends tended to marry at age 18 or 19. "That was the thing
to do then," she told Norma Libman of the Chicago Tribune. "And
I thought, if I stay in Brazil much longer, I’ll have to get married.
And I didn’t want to, not yet, anyway." So in 1964, instead of
getting married in Brazil she came to Juilliard. Six weeks after her
arrival she met Misha, and the romance blossomed.
When word of their attachment reached Lhevinne, she insisted that
Cipa join her studio. Misha triumphed in Moscow, winning a silver
medal. He and Cipa married in January of their senior year at Juilliard.
With Misha on the verge of a big career, Cipa let her own career lapse.
She traveled with Misha and became pregnant. "We had been playing
four-hand piano music, but nothing much," Misha says. "Still,
I knew she was a great pianist."
"I had been reading about post-partum depression," Misha continues.
"I wanted to give her motivation for practicing." While he
was performing at the Hollywood Bowl shortly after the birth of their
first son, Gabriel, in 1971, Misha hit upon the solution to Cipa’s
hypothetical post-partum depression. Without consulting her, he booked
the couple to play the Mozart double concerto at the Bowl the following
year. "I phoned and said, `We’re playing the double,’" he
says. "She screamed."
The Hollywood Bowl concert was a success, and pedagogue Lhevinne,
who had been observing both the Dichters’ marriage and their duo-piano
career, gave Cipa some pointed musical-marital advice, reported by
Scott Cantrell in the Kansas City Star. "Don’t let him overpower
you," she said. "Give it to him."
By the time their second child, Alexander, was born in 1973, the couple
had established a pattern of giving concerts. Misha performed about
100 times a year, and the couple did about 20 concerts together.
By Misha’s latest estimate, he now gives only about 80 concerts on
his own, and 15 or 20 with Cipa. "As you get older," he says,
"you have no need to prove that you can exhaust yourself and still
play a concert. Now I want to make certain that each concert is my
best. When I was about 24, I played with the New York Philharmonic,
and with orchestras in London and Chicago within a week. Today I would
think that one of these concerts would not be as good as it should
be, and I would say, `Let’s rethink the schedule.’" With this
changed assessment, Misha seems to be examining his life just as he
studies a piece of music. And just as the revelations keep coming
with the Mozart double, new revelations come in his life. And while
they may not be dramatic, they are significant.
Misha is responsive and open as he talks about family matters. He
enjoys Cipa’s companionship. Someone who doesn’t know that he is an
admired pianist, might think that he’s in the running for a Mr. Nice
Guy competition. He seems to be an attentive husband and involved
father, capable of experiencing fully the rewards of family life.
He admits that he expects to cry at Alexander’s wedding this autumn.
He jogs with Cipa in Central Park most days.
"Cipa loves the theater," he says. "She gets me to see
twice as many plays as I would on my own. She gets me to see museums.
She loves weekends in Europe, mostly Paris. Long weekends." And
here Misha veers off into the sort of re-examination that keeps both
his music and his life fresh. "With all this playing concerts,
it only dawned on me about two years ago that I could see a city better
if there were no concerts. At first, my impulse on arrival was to
think, `I have to phone Steinway, and arrange for rehearsals. I have
to get in touch with the conductor.’ But I discovered that I could
drop my bags in the hotel and walk along the Seine. I’m beginning
to understand why people like tourism."
The Dichters have a house in North Salem, Westchester County. "That’s
where my heart is," Misha says. In the country the Dichters enjoy
their dogs, horses, swimming, and tennis.
Keeping fresh, Misha has recently started recording
for digital piano. Essentially, the technique is an updated version
of the old-fashioned piano roll technology that makes a piano play
by depressing the appropriate keys. "It’s fascinating," he
says. "The technology is expanding. The technique is so refined
that every gradation of pedal and of the way a key is struck can be
He is enchanted with the ease of editing digital piano recordings.
"You can see the performance on a computer screen. It looks almost
like an EKG reading. If there’s a blemish, you mouse-click it out.
Corrections are made digitally."
He finds liberation in the ease of correcting errors. "It frees
the performer," he says. "You can let go. It’s different from
the days when I started performing, when editing was done with scissors
When he considers recording for digital piano, Dichter has no brief
for live performance. "Playing piano is just physics. Weight plus
acceleration — that’s what piano playing is about." He refers
to an old argument about whether you need a human finger to create
a proper sound on a piano or whether an umbrella tip can produce the
same effect. "I believe that the umbrella can do it. Rubinstein
was horrified at the idea. But it’s how you put together the string
of umbrellas that matters."
Considering digital piano recording technology, Misha Dichter rethinks
the act of recording, just as he rethinks a familiar piece like the
Mozart Double Concerto. Freshly, he comes up with yet another advantage
of the technology. "I found myself touched that we did it,"
he says. "I think that the kids will someday have a digital piano,
and they’ll be able to hear how mom and dad played."
— Elaine Strauss
Richardson Auditorium, 800-ALLEGRO. The four-concert festival opens
with Mozart’s Double and Triple Piano Concertos, featuring Misha and
Cipa Dichter. $15 to $40. Friday, July 14, 8 p.m.
the NJSO Chamber Players in a program featuring the Piano Sonata in
D major and Piano Quartet in G minor, Sunday, July 16, 3 p.m.
Violinist Pamela Frank is featured in Mozart’s "Turkish" concerto,
Friday, July 21, 8 p.m. The festival concludes with Vladimir
Feltsman performing the Piano Concerto in C minor, Friday, July
28, 8 p.m.
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