Remembering pianist André Watts, one of Philadelphia's finest
André Watts, an American pianist of preternatural power and grace, died on Wednesday, July 12 at the age of 77.
Born in Nuremberg, Germany to a Hungarian mother and African-American father, Watts was raised in Philadelphia. While a piano student at the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now part of the University of the Arts), Watts made his professional debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of nine.
Seven years later, in 1963, the 16-year-old Watts rose to meteoric stardom when he performed Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in a nationally televised broadcast with conductor Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.
Acclaimed for its exceptional technique and poise, Watts's performance launched both his decorated career and life-long association with the music of Liszt, which he described as “the pinnacle of joy in virtuosity.”
Watts recorded more than a dozen albums (receiving Grammy nominations in 1975 and 1976 and winning a Grammy for Most Promising New Classical Recording Artist in 1964), won the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize in 1988, was bestowed the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2011, and was elected into the American Philosophical Society in 2020. In 2004, he joined the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, where he retained an Endowed Chair in Music until his passing.
Watts frequently returned to Philadelphia to perform with The Philadelphia Orchestra and graciously spoke with WRTI’s Susan Lewis about his long history with the ensemble. Hear their conversation by clicking "LISTEN" below.