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Arts Desk

A Pianist Who Goes Way Back with The Philadelphians

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André Watts, Credit: Adrian Siegel Collection
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The Philadelphia Orchestra Archives
Guess who? It's André Watts, age 10, at his student concert debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1957. "

Born in Germany in 1946, André Watts moved to Philadelphia with his Hungarian mother and American father when he was 8 years old. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, after decades of performing, the celebrated pianist still finds new inspiration and challenges in the music.

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Listen to André Watts talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 with The Philadelphia Orchestra during the 2014-2015 season. He made his concert debut with the Orchestra at the age of 10.

Radio Script:

Susan Lewis: André Watts has played for heads of state and audiences all over the world. When he was 10 years old, he  won a student competition and performed with The Philadelphia Orchestra. So when he comes to the city to play with that ensemble, it’s a bit like coming home.

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Credit University Musical Society
Conductor Eugene Ormandy, pianist André Watts, french horn player Mason Jones, and stage manager Edward Barnes prepare backstage for The Philadelphia Orchestra's concert on April 29th, 1976.

André Watts: On the one hand, it makes me feel old because there are a lot of years that have gone by in Philadelphia. But it's very nice, feels very comfortable, even though we are are no longer in the Academy of Music, where it began for me, with this orchestra.

It’s a good feeling on stage, even though there are many younger players. Many of the people I knew when I was young are long gone. Still, it's a big pleasure for me I have to say.

SL: Watts performed on a nationally televised Young People’s Concert with The New York Philharmonic in 1962.  Two weeks later, he filled in for Glenn Gould at a Philharmonic subscription concert. Today, he says, exploring the great masters, like Beethoven, doesn’t get any easier.

AW: You want more, with simpler means. When you’re very young, everything is fancier, every moment of drama becomes high drama. When you get older, and of course, wonderful players when they’re young understand early on, every climax in the piece is not the major climax. Every pronouncement is not a major pronouncement.

There are lesser pronouncements. And the big ones really have meaning. It's more difficult to do that with conviction when you’re young and hot-blooded than when you have a little maturity.

SL: André Watts' many honors include a GRAMMY Award, the Avery Fisher Prize, induction into the Hollywood Bowl of Fame, and a 2011 National Medal of Arts award from President Barack Obama.

André Watts performs Beethoven’s first piano concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra on WRTI, January 29, 1 to 3 pm. This is a re-broadcast from 2015.