André Watts, the celebrated American pianist, has passed away following a battle with prostate cancer. He was 77.
At the age of 16, Watts made his national debut, performing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic as part of a nationally televised Young People’s Concert. Soon after, Bernstein invited Watts to perform on one of the orchestra’s subscription programs, where he substituted for an ailing Glenn Gould. Watts went on to an esteemed performance career which spanned more than 60 years. In 1988 he received the Avery Fisher Prize. In his final years, he suffered nerve damage which led him to rework Ravel’s Piano Concerto for Left Hand to be played by the right hand. Following one injury, Watts commented sagely, “The last few years have been a bit of a struggle. I got over the brain thing and my hand has come back nicely.” In 2004, he joined the faculty of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
André Watts stands out among the great artists whom I have had the pleasure to accompany as a member of the Richmond Symphony. His powerfully dramatic performances, rooted in the expansive Romantic repertoire, were memorable “events” for audiences and orchestra alike.
Here are selected recordings of André Watts: