Remembering Menahem Pressler

Menahem Pressler

Alain Barker photo

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of German-born Israeli-American pianist and teacher Menahem Pressler. He died in London on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at the age of 99.

Born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1923, Pressler emigrated to Israel after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. He won first prize at the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946 and made his U.S. debut in Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy at Carnegie Hall on December 9, 1947.

The Beaux Arts Trio — with Pressler, violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse — made their debut on on July 13, 1955, at the Berkshire Music Festival in Massachusetts. The ensemble would flourish for more than fifty years — with Pressler at the helm as the trio's only pianist — and was later called "the gold standard for trios throughout the world" by the Washington Post and "in a class by itself" by the New York Times. The ensemble gave its farewell performances in August and September 2008, at Tanglewood and Lucerne, respectively.

For more than 60 years, Pressler served on the faculty at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music. He received several honorary doctorates, six Grammy nominations, lifetime achievement awards from Gramophone magazine and the International Chamber Music Association, Chamber Music America’s Distinguished Service Award, the Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Music Teachers National Association Achievement Award.

In Chicago, 26-year-old Pressler made his debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival in July 1950, performing Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Grieg's Piano Concerto. Most recently — at the age of 92 — he appeared in recital at Orchestra Hall on January 24, 2016, performing works by Mozart, Schubert, Kurtag, Debussy and Chopin.

A complete list of his performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — as piano soloist and as a member of the Beaux Arts Trio — is below.

July 27, 1950, Ravinia Festival
RACHMANINOV Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
William Steinberg, conductor
Menahem Pressler, piano

July 30, 1950, Ravinia Festival
GRIEG Piano Concerto in A Minor
William Steinberg, conductor
Menahem Pressler, piano

July 26, 1957, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C Major, Op. 56 (Triple)
Georg Solti, conductor
Beaux Arts Trio
Menahem Pressler, piano
Daniel Guilet, violin
Bernard Greenhouse, cello

June 8 and 9, 1972, Orchestra Hall
CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21
Aldo Ceccato, conductor
Menahem Pressler, piano

July 29, 1984, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Fantasy in C Minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Op. 80 (Choral Fantasy)
Kurt Masur, conductor
Menahem Pressler, piano
Sally Schweikert, soprano
Elaine Rogala, soprano
Cynthia Anderson, mezzo-soprano
Thomas Dymit, tenor
Timothy O’Connor, tenor
Richard Cohn, baritone
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director

July 11, 1997, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Donald Runnicles, conductor
Menahem Pressler, piano

July 13, 2002, Ravinia Festival
MOZART Concerto for Three Pianos in F Major, K. 242
Peter Oundjian, conductor
Leon Fleisher, piano
Claude Frank, piano
Menahem Pressler, piano

July 7, 2007, Ravinia Festival
BEETHOVEN Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C Major, Op. 56 (Triple)
James Conlon, conductor
Beaux Arts Trio
Menahem Pressler, piano
Daniel Hope, violin
Antônio Meneses, cello

Numerous tributes have been published online, including the New York Times, Indiana University, the Times, and the Washington Post, among others.

This article also appears here.