Pianist Gyorgy Sandor: Lessons on Music, Life

Pianist Liz Huang talks about the life and work of her former teacher, Gyorgy Sandor, who died last week. Huang studied with Sandor for 20 years. She learned about music from him, as well as lessons that he had learned when he was studying with composer Bela Bartok.

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(Soundbite of piano music)

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're listening to the Hungarian-born pianist Gyorgy Sandor playing one of Bela Bartok's three Hungarian folk tunes. Sandor died last Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93. He gave his last concert in April.

Sandor was born in Budapest. He studied piano with Bartok and kept up a close friendship with the composer until his death in 1945. Sandor premiered Bartok's Dance Suite and also his Piano Concerto Number 3. Sandor moved to the States in 1939. He taught at the University of Michigan and later at The Juilliard School in New York, where pianist Liz Huang was his student for 20 years.

Ms. LIZ HUANG (Pianist): I remember my first lesson with him very well, which was on March 22nd, 1985.

BLOCK: You remember the day.

Ms. HUANG: I actually remember the day because he inscribed his book to my first lesson. He also inscribed the date.

BLOCK: Aha. Mr. Sandor was so well-known for his connection with Bela Bartok, for having studied under him in Hungary, for having premiered some of his works. Were there times when, as Mr. Sandor's student, you felt like, in some way, you were also by extension studying with Bela Bartok?

Ms. HUANG: Very much so. The presence of Bartok is always there. Mr. Sandor really respects how Bartok approaches music and his understanding of what music is, is the commonality of all music. In short, to quote Mr. Sandor, "Music is music and you deal with it according to the basics."

BLOCK: That sounds like it could be a frustrating thing to try to follow.

Ms. HUANG: It is; at the beginning it seems very broad, but, you know, once you start studying with him, you really begin to see his points every time.

BLOCK: Did Mr. Sandor share with you any memories he had of studying with Bela Bartok?

Ms. HUANG: Yes. I remember Mr. Sandor telling me that his first lesson with Bartok he brought certain big pieces, if we could call it that, and he sat down and played. And after he played, Mr. Bartok would just very, very politely say, `Thank you, Mr. Sandor.' And he just sat down and he played a scale for him. Mr. Sandor remembered that; he said that he had never heard a scale played so beautifully, it sounding as if just a sound coming from somewhere and going somewhere.

BLOCK: When did you last see Gyorgy Sandor?

Ms. HUANG: I saw him on December 1st. And I went and I played for him, and we did both feel that was probably going to be our last time working together, even though we never said that verbally but, we had an understanding. So we bid our farewell that day. I had brought three short pieces of Bartok compositions, the three Hungarian folk tunes and a C major Mozart sonata and in the middle of the third movement he put down the music and just started to just listen. At the end of my playing, he asked me if I would play the whole sonata again and that this time he just wanted to listen.

(Soundbite of piano music)

BLOCK: Pianist Liz Huang remembering her longtime teacher Gyorgy Sandor. Sandor died last Friday of heart failure at the age of 93. Last year he told an interviewer, `I tell people that the first 90 years are hard. After that, it's easy.' We could find no recording of Gyorgy Sandor playing the Mozart C major sonata. This is Alfred Brendel.

(Soundbite of piano music)

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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