Forty-four years of four-hand piano by Misha and Cipa Dichter at Aspen Music Festival
IF YOU GO …
Who: Misha and Cipa Dichter
Where: Harris Concert Hall
When: Wednesday, Aug. 8, 8:30 p.m.
How much: $60
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House and Harris Concert Hall box offices; aspenmusicfestival.com
More info: The program includes piano works for four hands, Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major, Copland’s ‘El Salon Mexico’ and Ravel’s ‘La valse.’
Misha and Cipa Dichter have toured the world for decades, often seated side-by-side on a piano bench, performing and championing compositions for four hands and for two pianos.
The husband-and-wife pair met as students at Juilliard and have been married for 50 years. Their first concert in Aspen was in 1974, and they’ve since become a staple of the Aspen Music Festival — keeping alive the classical repertoire for duo piano. The Dichters return Wednesday evening for a recital at Harris Concert Hall.
Misha Dichter said that coming to Aspen always reminds him of their early Aspen summers in the 1970s, when their two sons were young boys.
“It was most important as family time,” he said.
Dichter recalled afternoons playing tennis with the boys at Aspen Meadows and then walking across the campus to see a symphony in the Benedict Music Tent.
“I think they got a lot out of being raised in a country atmosphere, but also to realize that something important was going on just across the meadow,” he said.
He and Cipa have been giving duo concerts since a 1972 debut at the Hollywood Bowl. He compares collaborating with his wife to playing doubles tennis. Or, to put a finer point on the emotional minefield of it: “(It’s) like teaching your spouse how to drive. … Things get heated sometimes because you want to get to your goal of everything sounding fantastic immediately.”
Because they are partners in life as well as in music, he said, they can be more blunt and more critical of one another in their creative preparation. Cipa has commented that Misha is kinder to guest musicians or string quartets than he is to her during rehearsals.
“I say, ‘It’s because I’m married to you, I love you, we’re going to have dinner later — this is very important. I may never see the quartet again — it doesn’t matter. You’re more important and that’s why I’m getting so agitated,’” he said.
Despite the stress, he said, the joy of sharing a life in music is a rare pleasure.
“There’s nothing like repairing to the bar of the hotel and having a nice vodka afterward, when we both feel so close and accomplished in the program that we’ve just given together,” Misha Dichter said.
Wednesday’s four-piece program opens with Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor, which Dichter calls “one of the greatest pieces ever written.” Composed shortly before Schubert’s death in 1828, it is dark, dramatic and morbid. But, Dichter promises, worth the downer.
“You don’t get to hear it that often, because four-hand music is not that often played,” Dichter said. “That remains one of the pinnacles of the entire keyboard repertoire and especially the four-hand repertoire.”
The rest of the program showcases works for two pianists, touches on the Music Fest’s Paris-themed season and includes Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C Major, rearranged by Edvard Grieg for four hands. Dichter calls it “a comedy of a piece.” Part of a curious collection of Grieg four-hand arrangements of Mozart works, it calls on one pianist (Cipa at the Aspen recital) to play the familiar Mozart sonata mostly intact, while the second musician (Misha here) plays a wild and showy new Grieg part simultaneously.
“Grieg is just running around it like a vaudevillian,” said Mischa Dichter. “I would like to think that an educated audience would appreciate it not only for the beauty that is closer to Grieg than to Mozart but to almost giggle at the comedy element of it.”
After more than four decades at the top of the classical music world, the Dichters are not shy about their opinions. Misha, when he meets young and emerging musicians like those studying in Aspen, strikes a note of caution about a troubling trend he’s seen take hold: “I sense a growing need for the instrumentalists to feel they must distinguish themselves as individuals, and they may do so at the expense of the music being played.”
He pleads for the next generation of musicians to resist individualism and instead to honor the composers whose work they are performing. On several occasions recently, he said, master-class students have added confounding flourishes to works by Schubert and Beethoven.
“When I say, ‘Why are you doing that?’ they say, ‘Because I feel like it.’ … This attitude is the end of music,” he said. “If you feel like it, become a composer, not a performer of someone else’s music.”
These days, Misha, 72, is grateful for the opportunity to play the piano at all. Eleven years ago he was given a nightmarish diagnosis for a pianist: he had Dupuytren’s Disease, a hereditary ailment that slowly debilitates the hands. But after a surgery on his left hand in 2007 and his right in 2016, he has recovered completely. Luckily, playing piano doubles as physical therapy.
“We now realize piano-playing is just about the best therapy you can do,” he said. “I’ll show (doctors) passages of Beethoven that I’m doing and they’ll say, ‘Keep it up because you’re doing great.’”
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