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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved.

Four Hands for Mozart

E-mail: ElaineStrauss@princetoninfo.com

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

piece."

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

order.

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,"

he says.

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

recorded."

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

and tape."

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

Amadeus Festival, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra,

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.

Amadeus Festival continues 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, 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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