American pianist, composer and teacher Leo Smit, who once taught at UCLA and was director of Monday Evening Concerts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, died Sunday of heart failure at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas. He was 78.
Once described as "a polymath as well as a virtuoso," Smit studied piano with Isabelle Vengerova at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, the city of his birth, and later with Jose Iturbi in New York and Dmitri Kabalevsky in Moscow.
Smit made his debut as a pianist in Carnegie Hall in 1939, and began his teaching career at Sarah Lawrence College in 1947.
Ten years later, Smit became head of the piano department at UCLA and a highly visible member of the Southern California music community in the late 1950s. He then taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1962 to the mid-1980s.
A prolific composer, Smit produced two ballets, two operas, three symphonies, works for soloist and orchestra, choral music and numerous solo songs--83, by his own count, to texts by such writers as Emily Dickinson. As pianist, he recorded in his final decade the complete published piano works of Aaron Copland. As a recitalist who always eschewed conventional programs, Smit specialized in the music of, among others, Liszt, Brahms, Bach and his own contemporaries, Leonard Bernstein and Copland.