Menahem Pressler with the Colburn Orchestra

Menahem Pressler with the Colburn Orchestra
Pianist Menahem Pressler, violinist Daniel Hope and cellist Antonio Meneses in 2008 at the final Los Angeles appearance of the Beaux Arts Trio at Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The Beaux Arts Trio made its debut early in the summer of 1955 in the Berkshires of Massachusetts at an early version of what is now the Tanglewood Music Festival. It gave its last performance in late summer 2008, at the Lucerne Festival. Over 53 years this renowned trio went through five violinists and four cellists. The pianist remained the same.

Now that he's done that that, Menahem Pressler has a little more time to pursue a solo career.


Born in Magdeburg in 1923, Pressler fled the Nazis in 1938 and studied with other German émigrés -- all pupils of the great composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni -- in Israel. His career had a jump-start on our coast, when Pressler won the Debussy Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946. But by forming the Beaux Arts nine years later, he has primarily been known as a chamber musician and educator – he has been on the faculty of Indiana University for six decades, where he has not only shepherded the careers of countless pianists but also taken young composers under his wing.

The 90-year-old Pressler, who has a cherubic visage and enviable energy, will appear as soloist with Colburn Orchestra on Sunday evening at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17.

The concerto was written when the composer was less than a third Pressler’s age. The Colburn School student musicians are  a quarter the pianist’s age. James Conlon conducts on a program that also includes Alexander Zemlinsky’s late-Romantic large-scale tone poem, “The Little Mermaid.”

Pressler has also, of late, been releasing solo recordings of late Schubert, late Beethoven and late Mozart that encompass a lifetime of experience.

On a disc for the La Dolce Vita label, Pressler's singing touch in Schubert's Sonata in G Major, Mozart's Rondo in A minor and Beethoven's final Bagatelles have lyric qualities any singer might envy. In a disc on BIS, recorded in gorgeous SACD, Pressler's performances of Beethoven's penultimate piano sonata, Opus 110, and of Schubert's ultimate one, in B-flat major, are further essays in ethereal lyricism.

Not everyone, of course, reaches 90 with no regrets. This weekend at the Wallis Annenberg Center also brings the final performances of Ricky Ian Gordon's tetchy but touching new opera, "A Coffin in Egypt" in which Frederica von Stade portrays a 90-year-old Texas doyenne with memories.