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Marilyn Neeley, 69; piano soloist and educator

June 04, 2007|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Marilyn Neeley, a concert pianist who appeared as a soloist with symphony orchestras from Boston to Los Angeles, has died. She was 69.

Neeley died May 30 of pneumonia at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., her son Andrew said. She was being treated for bone cancer.

A native of Glendale, she was a child prodigy who began performing before age 10.

She proved her mettle in 1962, when virtuoso pianist Glenn Gould fell ill two days before he was to appear as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Musical director Zubin Mehta phoned the 25-year-old Neeley at home.

"It was an opportunity you dream of," she said in a later interview. "I didn't expect it to happen to me until I was 35 or 40."

The day before she was to perform the Schumann concerto as a soloist, she spent 12 hours practicing the piece.

Her remarkable early career earned her a Times Woman of the Year award in 1963.

Neeley was born Dec. 26, 1937. Her father, William B. Neeley, was a Superior Court judge. Her mother, Vivian, taught piano. Neeley showed talent at 3 and began private music lessons at 5.

She graduated from USC as a music student and earned a master's degree in theology there.

In 1968, the year that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Neeley taught piano to African American high school students at a Methodist mission school in Camden, S.C.

"I'm not a marcher or a placard carrier. I just felt I owed something to a life that has given me so much," Neeley said in an interview that year.

She joined the faculty of Ohio State University, where she met her future husband, violinist Robert Gerle. Together they performed the complete Beethoven violin and piano sonatas, which aired on television and won an Emmy in 1970. They married the same year.

The couple had one child, Andrew, a composer and pianist who survives her. Her husband died in 2005.

Neeley and her family moved to Baltimore in the early 1970s, and she and Gerle joined the music faculty of the University of Maryland. They also toured and performed together in concert.

She continued to teach and perform. Most recently Neeley was chairwoman of the piano faculty at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

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