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Igor Kipnis, 71; Noted Harpsichord Performer

January 26, 2002|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Igor Kipnis, one of the preeminent American harpsichordists and advocates for the instrument, died Wednesday at his home in Connecticut. He was 71. He had suffered recently from cancer, according to the Associated Press.

Son of Alexander Kipnis, a principal bass with the Berlin State Opera, Igor was born Sept. 27, 1930. His father, although Jewish, remained an audience favorite during the initial years of the Nazi era, but for the sake of safety he moved the family to Vienna. They happened to be touring in Australia when the Nazis took over Austria.

On the eve of World War II, the family relocated to the United States, where Alexander Kipnis became a leading bass at the Metropolitan Opera.

Although Igor Kipnis studied piano as a child, he did not set out to be a musician. He studied social relations at Harvard University, planning a career in radio, television or the recording industry. He discovered the harpsichord by accident--as a filler item on a set of 78-rpm records of Edwin Fischer's piano performances of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier." The harpsichordist was Wanda Landowska, and the filler item was Bach's Second English Suite.

Initially annoyed by the unwanted item, Kipnis soon became intrigued by the instrument, especially after his parents bought him a small harpsichord in 1957 "to fool around with," as he wrote in an autobiographical sketch on the Web site of the agency that managed his career since late 1999, Marilyn Gilbert Artists Management in Toronto (www.mgam.com).

Before devoting himself to the harpsichord, Kipnis spent two years in the Army teaching signal communications, sold books and records at a Doubleday store in New York City and served as art and editorial director of Westminster Records.

Essentially teaching himself (with some assistance from harpsichordist Fernando Valenti), Kipnis sought to increase the expressive possibilities of the instrument. He made his debut in a radio broadcast from New York in 1959, initiating what became an international career that included appearances with major American and European orchestras.

Kipnis had recording contracts with CBS and Angel, leaving a legacy of about 80 recordings, including 26 solo albums.

He was host of "The Age of Baroque" on WQXR radio in New York in the 1960s, and served as a critic and contributing editor at Stereo Review and the New York Herald Tribune, among other publications.

Kipnis taught at Fairfield University in Connecticut for seven years, and lectured and gave master classes at many other colleges and universities, including most recently the Mannes College of Music in New York. He served as artistic director of the Friends of Music of Fairfield County, a chamber music series, and for 13 years as director of the Connecticut Early Music Festival.

Kipnis did not restrict himself to the harpsichord, or to baroque music. In 1995, he formed a duo with Karen Kushner, a New York pianist, playing four-hand music. Their first CD, on the Parnassus Records label, was released in 2000; a second is scheduled for release by Palatine Recordings this fall. He also played fortepiano--a precursor of the modern piano--and music by contemporary classical composers, as well as ragtime and pop.

Kipnis gave recitals with flutist David Shostac--with whom he recorded the complete Bach flute sonatas for Resort Classics--in March at Cal State Fullerton and the Harpsichord Center in Brentwood. He was working with co-author Barry Lenson on a biography of his father when he died.

Kipnis is survived by his son, Jeremy, of Norwalk, Conn.

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