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ORANGE COUNTY CALENDAR: ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE
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Pianist Watts Is a Classical Tradition

March 07, 2000|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you listen to classical music, no doubt you've heard Andre Watts, either live or on record. His piano playing, as described by various critics, draws listeners in with "pillows of sound," "persuasive liquid phrasing" and faster-than-light fingers.

Perhaps you've seen him perform on television: Watts may be the most televised pianist on the planet, starting with his legendary teenage debut more than 35 years ago with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.

Watts singles out Rachmaninoff, along with Josef Hoffman and Sviatislav Richter, as among his pantheon of greatest influences. But apparently numerous living pianists--in addition to his teacher Leon Fleischer, who still plays--have also made an impact.

"To some degree you're influenced by every pianist you hear," Watts said. A pianist can vow never to play a work the way another has done it, "or to think, 'Gee, I wish I could do that.'

"Then there's that other realization, when somebody does something and I say to myself, 'Damn, I know that's right. Why don't I do that? What's wrong with me?' "

Other pianists have ample opportunity to learn from Watts.

He plays 100 concerts and recitals a year around the world. His discography thrives. His involvement with television is unique in classical music. The 1963 Bernstein telecast, followed weeks later by a last-minute substitution, again with the New York Philharmonic, for Glenn Gould, thrust him into the public eye. In 1976, he played the first full-length piano recital in TV history.

* Pianist Andre Watts will be the soloist in Beethoven's Concerto No. 1 with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra led by Hugh Wolff on Friday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $35 to $44. (714) 556-2787.

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