January 23, 1997 in Features

Beethoven’s Best Luvisi Joins Symphony For ‘Emperor’ Concerto

Travis Rivers Correspondent
 

A musician can be a hiker or a mountain climber - either striding over a lot of musical flatlands and foothills or tackling the highest peaks. Pianist Lee Luvisi likes his musical mountains to be high ones.

“Every time you play a great classic, you see something different in it. It’s like climbing the Himalayas; it’s never the same experience.”

This weekend, Luvisi will climb one of the highest peaks of the piano repertoire, Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, playing it with the Spokane Symphony Friday in Spokane and Saturday in Coeur d’Alene. The orchestra, under the baton of music director Fabio Mechetti, will also perform another of Beethoven’s greatest works, the “Eroica” Symphony.

“Now that I’m getting older,” says the 59-year-old Luvisi, “I’ve reduced my repertoire to a handful of composers whose music I love more than any other, essentially the classic and great romantic literature - music that is so enduring and so great one can never find everything there is in it, not even in a lifetime.”

Luvisi comes to his allegiance to the classics naturally. He studied with two of the great proponents of classical piano playing, Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horzowski. Born in Louisville, Ky., the son of a prominent restaurateur, Luvisi studied with both pianist giants at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute from the time he was 14.

“Their musical personalities were poles apart: Serkin was a master of the grand gesture, the big sound, the monumental approach to everything he played,” Luvisi recalls. “Horzowski was more the intimate player, a very personal player with an almost spontaneous, intuitive approach. To study with them both was the best of both worlds.”

After graduation, Luvisi joined the Curtis faculty, becoming the youngest faculty member in the history of the school. Like many other Curtis Institute students and faculty, he spent summers in Marlboro, Vt., at the chamber music festival founded by Serkin; his fatherin-law, violinist Adolf Busch, and flutist Marcel Moyse.

“One of the greatest boons to my life was being able to sit down and play music with artists like Felix Galimir or Alexander Schneider or Isadore Cohen,” Luvisi says. “It was a tremendous experience for a young pianist.

“In fact, I think of all music as being an extension of chamber music,” the pianist says. “Even a concerto is an enlarged form of chamber music - it means listening, it means fitting in, it means being a part of a whole - and that’s what chamber music is.”

Chamber music concerts, along with his orchestral appearances and solo recitals, play a significant part of Luvisi’s life. He is a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and will begin a two-week tour with the group after his local appearances.

Luvisi may be a musical conservative, but he is anything but stuffy. “I’m in my 34th year as artist-in-residence at the University of Louisville,” Luvisi says.

“Someone recently reminded me, ‘Gosh, you’ve been here so long you’re practically part of the plumbing.’ I said, ‘Well, that raises the question: Which part?”’

Luvisi’s experience with Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto began 40 years ago. He confesses mixed feelings about his first performance. “I shudder at my foolhardiness,” he says. “It was with Lenny Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic when I was 19 years old. I’d just learned it, innocent young fool that I was.

“As I recall, the performance went reasonably well, but when I think of the audacity of playing that piece for the first time with that orchestra and that conductor, I think I must have been out of my ever-lovin’ mind.”

Subsequently, Luvisi performed frequently on the Community Concert circuit, where artists would perform four to five times a week in small and medium-size towns. “I must have played more than 900 such concerts in the U.S. and Canada,” he says. “It made a real pro out of me. and I’m thankful for it. You had to play on godawful pianos, in halls that were too hot or too cold. Riding a bus all day long, you grabbed a hamburger and walked out there and played.

“After doing that for a while, you can do one of two things: You can think ‘I’ve had enough of this’ and quit; or you can put your head down and put your heart into it and make music.”

Luvisi chose the latter course. His career has led to performances with conductors such as Eugene Ormandy, William Steinberg and Robert Shaw, chamber music with artists like Leonard Rose, Ani Kavafian and the Guarneri Quartet and solo recitals in the major cultural centers of the United States and Europe.

“I am looking forward to working with Fabio Mechetti,” Luvisi says. “I’ve worked with him several times before and have the greatest admiration for him as a musician.

“The first time we worked together was in Chattanooga three or four years ago. We discovered that his grandparents and my grandparents came from Lucca, the same small city in Italy, near Florence. That made a bond between us right from the beginning.”

For the Spokane performance, pianist and teacher Margie May Ott, one of Spokane’s most distinguished piano teachers, will discuss the music in a pre-concert talk beginning at 7 p.m. in the Opera House auditorium.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo File illustration

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. CONCERT The Spokane Symphony will perform with piano soloist Lee Luvisi at 8 p.m. Friday at the Spokane Opera House and at 8 p.m. Saturday at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. Tickets for the Spokane concert are $13 to $28, available at the symphony ticket office, G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call 325-SEAT. Tickets for the Coeur d’Alene show are $15 and $17; call (800) 4-CDA-TIX.

2. SYMPHONY AT PULLMAN The Spokane Symphony will perform Beethoven’s “Erocia” Symphony along with his “Egmont” Overture and “Leonore” Overture No. 3 at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum in Pullman on Monday at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $10 to $25 (with some discounts for seniors and students) and are available at the symphony ticket office in Spokane, 624-1200; the Beasley box office and Cougar Depot in Pullman; all G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets, or call (800) 325-SEAT.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. CONCERT The Spokane Symphony will perform with piano soloist Lee Luvisi at 8 p.m. Friday at the Spokane Opera House and at 8 p.m. Saturday at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. Tickets for the Spokane concert are $13 to $28, available at the symphony ticket office, G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets or call 325-SEAT. Tickets for the Coeur d’Alene show are $15 and $17; call (800) 4-CDA-TIX.

2. SYMPHONY AT PULLMAN The Spokane Symphony will perform Beethoven’s “Erocia” Symphony along with his “Egmont” Overture and “Leonore” Overture No. 3 at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum in Pullman on Monday at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $10 to $25 (with some discounts for seniors and students) and are available at the symphony ticket office in Spokane, 624-1200; the Beasley box office and Cougar Depot in Pullman; all G&B; Select-a-Seat outlets, or call (800) 325-SEAT.

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