Last weekend, when Pressler found out that I was a composer, he regaled me with wonderful stories about his work with Kurtag, who he knew as a chamber coach before he knew him as a composer:
I saw him with a young quartet coaching Death and the Maiden. He spent two-and-a-half hours on the first 15 measures. When my trio commissioned a piece from him, he wrote a four-and-a-half minute composition. He then coached us twice on the piece – three-and-a-half hours each time! I loved it. We had an opportunity to commission him again, and our cellist said he’d need three bottles of whiskey just to get through the coachings.
Pressler’s recital on Saturday night was centered around Classical works written by composers at the ends of their lives, and it was easy to see that he is, at 83, assessing his own past and future. Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor, K. 511, Beethoven’s Sonata in Ab Major, Op. 110 and Schubert’s posthumous Sonata in Bb Major all present issues of scale and expression that would intimidate pianists ¼ his age. A packed house of young and old was suspended in edge-of-seat listening. Add a colorful rendition of Debussy’s Estampes and two encores, and you have a very generous night of substantial music-making, played on as high a level as one could wish.