Ruth Laredo, Classical Pianist
"America's First Lady of the Piano"

--NY Daily News

Ruth Laredo,
Pianist Who Recorded Rachmaninoff, Dies at 67

Ruth Laredo, a pianist equally at home in chamber music and solo works who was known for landmark recordings of Scriabin and Rachmaninoff, died on Wednesday at her apartment in New York. She was 67.  

Ruth Laredo, photo by Steve J. Sherman, 1999
Steve J. Sherman, 1999

Ruth Laredo in 1999 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she performed in the long-running "Concerts With Commentary" series.

Ms. Laredo, who played her last concert on May 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had cancer and died in her sleep, said her manager, James Murtha.

The concert was one of a series she had given for 17 years at the Met called "Concerts With Commentary," in which Ms. Laredo played and spoke engagingly about music. The series had become an important part of the New York concert scene, where she was a frequent presence.

Just two days after the attack on the World Trade Center, Ms. Laredo celebrated the 25th anniversary of her Alice Tully Hall debut with a recital there. It was the opening concert of the 2001 Lincoln Center season, and Ms. Laredo addressed the audience beforehand, saying: "It was important for me to play. Great music gives us spiritual sustenance and gives us hope. It is in that spirit that I play tonight."

Ms. Laredo was a pianist in the Romantic mold, a dynamic performer concerned with texture and color. In recent years, Mr. Murtha said, her career as a soloist with orchestras had waned, but she was comfortable with a mix of recitals, chamber concerts and accompanying duties.

When she was first on the rise, in the 1970's, Ms. Laredo was a relative rarity as a female piano soloist, particularly in the technically demanding and muscular works of Rachmaninoff. There were only a few others - Gina Bachauer, Myra Hess and later Alicia de Larrocha, for example.

"Every time we did interviews in those early days, she was asked how does it feel to be a woman pianist," Mr. Murtha said. "She wanted to be a pianist, period."

Ruth Meckler was born in Detroit on Nov. 20, 1937. She attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studied with Rudolf Serkin. She graduated in 1960 and that same year married the violinist Jaime Laredo, with whom she collaborated musically. They later divorced. Ms. Laredo is survived by their daughter, Jennifer Laredo, who lives in London with her husband, the cellist Paul Watkins, and by a granddaughter.

Ms. Laredo made her debut with an orchestra in 1962, in a program led by Leopold Stokowski conducting the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. She made her debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Pierre Boulez, 12 years later. Her Carnegie Hall solo recital debut came only in 1981.

At Curtis, Serkin schooled her in the basics of Mozart and Beethoven, turning a disapproving eye on her youthful love for Rachmaninoff. But it was with his music, as well as that of his fellow Russian Scriabin, that she made her mark.

In the 1970's she recorded two pioneering and acclaimed sets: the entire Scriabin piano sonatas, for the now-defunct Connoisseur label, and the complete solo repertory of Rachmaninoff, on seven LP's for CBS Masterworks.

When Ms. Laredo went to Serkin to ask if he thought she could handle the Rachmaninoff, he gave his blessing. " 'You must do it' was the answer he gave me," Ms. Laredo said in a 1987 interview with The New York Times.

But preparing for the recordings was a fearsome and wearing task. "I had to learn the many, many Rachmaninoff pieces that no one plays, and I found out why no one does," she said. "It's because they're so hard." She later channeled her love for Rachmaninoff into scholarship, preparing a new edition of his piano preludes for the C. F. Peters music publisher.

The Scriabin LP's came when little of his music was available on record, and they helped spark a surge of his popularity in the United States. Ms. Laredo said that she first heard his music at a concert of Vladimir Horowitz and was dazzled.

Bernard Holland, a Times music critic, wrote of her playing of Scriabin's music: "Ms. Laredo's sensuous, beautifully controlled playing caught its mad and slightly evil quality."

By Daniel J. Wakin
Reprinted from The New York Times
Published: May 27, 2005

Concert Pianist Ruth Laredo
Dies at 67

Ruth Laredo, the elegant pianist who recorded the entire solo works of Rachmaninoff and the sonatas of Scriabin, has died. She was 67.

Laredo died Wednesday in her apartment, said her manager James Murtha. She had ovarian cancer and last performed May 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Detroit-born Laredo graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1960. Over the years, she played at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the White House, playing at solo recitals, with orchestras and chamber music groups.

''In the classical world, there's only been a handful of prominent women pianists over the years, and she certainly was one of them,'' Murtha said. Her Web site referred to her as ''America's First Lady of Piano.''

For the past several years, she gave well-received concerts at the Metropolitan Museum. At those events, called ''Concerts with Commentary,'' she would not only play the works of a range of composers, but discuss them with the audience. The series was so popular that she started holding them around the country.

Laredo also played around the world, notably in an extensive tour of Russia and the Ukraine with concerts in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Odessa.

She was particularly known for two sets of recordings, the complete solo works of Rachmaninoff and the piano sonatas of Scriabin, both recorded in the 1970s and re-issued in recent years. Laredo also recorded works by Ravel, Brahms, Chopin, and Beethoven, among others, and was nominated for a Grammy award three times.

Her passion for music extended beyond the keyboard. She contributed to ''Piano Today'' magazine and National Public Radio, wrote ''The Ruth Laredo Becoming A Musician Book'' and worked as editor of the complete ''Rachmaninoff Preludes for Piano.''

She also appeared as a pianist in Woody Allen's ''Small Time Crooks,'' the 2000 movie with Hugh Grant and Tracy Ullman.

Laredo, who divorced the violinist Jamie Laredo in the 1970s, is survived by her daughter, Jennifer, who is married to cellist Paul Watkins, and a granddaughter.

Published: May 27, 2005

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Ruth Laredo,  "America's First Lady of the Piano"


"Astonishing...a whip-cracking performance."  --The New York Times

" A special blend of intensity and rare poetry.  She played  up a storm."  --The Washington Post

" of the great American pianists."  --The Christian Science Monitor

"...fearless, romantic pianism of the highest order."  --Esquire Magazine

"She plays with refinement, showing remarkable control.  Laredo has no competitor."  --Grammophone, London

   Concerts With Commentary
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
(and throughout the U.S.)
Ruth Laredo in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2004

These annual events have proven that New York audiences love the informality of Ruth Laredo's Concerts with Commentary...She speaks from the heart then she performs the music, creating a living portrait of the composer and his life and times.

This season featured the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Shostakovich, in a three-concert series titled "The Russian Spirit" with special guests Courtenay Budd, soprano and the St. Petersburg String Quartet.

Ruth Laredo recently took part in
Russian Festival "International Week"

Pianist Ruth Laredo was invited by the Ministry of Culture of Russia to take part in the Russian Festival "International Week" held by the St. Petersburg State Conservatory named after Rimsky-Korsakov from September 20-27, 2004. This year the Festival was be dedicated to the bicentenary of the great Russian composer, Mikhail Glinka.

Ms. Laredo, a 3-time Grammy nominated artist known for her recordings of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, took an active part in the festival program, performing both as soloist and chamber music player and conducting a master class for Russian students.

Cathedral in the Nevsky Prospekt

Pianist summons perfect storm of music

"Ruth Laredo, known as 'America's First Lady of the Piano,' is gifted with steely fingers, prodigious technique, a passionate temperament and an affinity for dark and heavy music.

In her superb recital Wednesday night at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the renowned artist plunged into pieces by composers who pushed and expanded the expressive powers of the piano. Shrewdly balancing familiar and lesser-known works, she played with ringing tone, intense presence and innate musicianship."

--The Plain Dealer, Cleveland 4/17/04   


Marian McPartland, Dick Hyman and Ruth Laredo

Three Piano Crossover
Ruth Laredo teams up with Dick Hyman and Marian McPartland for this refreshing program which explores the boundaries between Classical Music and Jazz.

For more information about Ruth Laredo, please contact:

Gurtman & Murtha Artist Management
450 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10123

Tel: (212) 967-7350
Fax: (212) 967-7341


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