BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It is with sadness that the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music announces the death of Menahem Pressler, distinguished professor of music in piano and Dean Charles H. Webb Chair in Music, at age 99.
Pressler died peacefully May 6 in London. He joined the Jacobs School of Music faculty in 1955 and received IU's University Medal in 2013.
Co-founding member and pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, Pressler established himself among the world’s most distinguished and honored musicians with a career that spanned more than seven decades. He continued to captivate audiences throughout the world as a performer and pedagogue, performing solo and chamber music recitals to great critical acclaim while maintaining a dedicated teaching career.
“Mr. Pressler was a brilliant pianist, extraordinary teacher and gentle soul who has left an indelible mark on generations of pianists around the globe," said Abra Bush, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean. "He believed that his ‘performance informed his practice, and his practice informed his performance,’ and he loved nothing more than practicing! His loss is an enormous loss for us all, but his presence will continue to be felt through his students, past and present, for decades to come.”
Born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1923, Pressler fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and emigrated to Palestine.
His world-renowned career was launched after he was awarded first prize at the Debussy International Piano Competition in San Francisco in 1946, followed by his successful American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy. Pressler’s ensuing tours of North America, Europe, and the Far East included performances with virtually all of the world’s leading orchestras.
After nearly a decade of an illustrious and praised solo career, the 1955 Berkshire Music Festival saw Pressler’s debut as a chamber musician, where he appeared as pianist with the Beaux Arts Trio. This collaboration quickly established his reputation as one of the world’s most revered chamber musicians.
With Pressler at the trio’s helm as its only pianist for nearly 55 years, the New York Times described the Beaux Arts Trio as “in a class by itself,” and the Washington Post exclaimed that “since its founding more than 50 years ago, the Beaux Arts Trio has become the gold standard for trios throughout the world.”
The 2007-08 season was bittersweet, as violinist Daniel Hope, cellist Antonio Meneses, and Pressler took their final bows as the Beaux Arts Trio which marked the end of one of the most celebrated and revered chamber music careers of all time.
Pressler continued to excite audiences throughout the world, both as piano soloist and collaborating chamber musician, including performances with the Juilliard, Emerson, American, Cleveland, Pacifica and Ebène quartets, among others. Nearing 90, he collaborated with tenor Christoph Prégardien, playing Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise” for the first time.
Following lifesaving surgery in 2015, Pressler resumed his robust teaching and touring schedule in the United States and Europe. In 2017-18, he again toured the United States, Europe, Israel, and Asia giving recitals, playing chamber music, as soloist with orchestra and giving master classes. In 2018, he again performed across the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Equally as illustrious as his performing career, Pressler was a master pedagogue and had prize-winning students in all the major international piano competitions including the Queen Elizabeth, Busoni, Rubinstein, Leeds, and Van Cliburn competitions, among many others. His former students grace the faculties of prestigious schools of music across the world and have become some of the most prominent and influential artist-teachers today.
In addition to teaching his private students at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Pressler presented master classes throughout the world and served on the jury of numerous international piano competitions. In 2019, he was invited to join the jury of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Many contemporary composers wrote works especially for him including three works by Kurtag.
Among his myriad honors and awards, Pressler received honorary doctorates from the Manhattan School of Music, University of Nebraska, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the North Carolina School of the Arts, an Honorary RAM from the Royal Academy of Music London, and an honorary doctorate from Ben Gurion University Be’er Sheva.
He garnered five Grammy nominations, lifetime achievement awards from Gramophone magazine and the International Chamber Music Association, Chamber Music America’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Gold Medal of Merit from the National Society of Arts and Letters. He was also awarded the German Critics “Ehrenurkunde” award and election into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 2005, Pressler was honored with two additional awards of international merit: the German President’s Deutsche Bundesverdienstkreuz (German Cross of Merit) First Class, Germany’s highest honor, and the Commandeur in the Order of Arts and Letters award, France’s highest cultural honor.
In 2007, he was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in recognition of a lifetime of performance and leadership in music.
Further honors and awards include the prestigious Wigmore Medal (2011), the Menuhin Prize, given by Queen Sofia of Spain (2012), inductions into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and the Gramophone Magazine Hall of Fame (2012), and the Music Teachers National Association Achievement Award. Pressler received the 2015 ECHO Klassik Lifetime Achievement Award in Germany and the 2016 Victoire d’honneur Lifetime Achievement Award from the French Victoires de la Musique Classique.
Pressler recorded almost the entire piano trio repertoire with the Beaux Arts Trio. In 2015, Decca released a 60-CD set of the trio’s complete Philips recordings comprising some 122 works. Additionally, he compiled more than 30 solo recordings.
The piano legend’s second volume of the complete set of Mozart sonatas for the La Dolce Volta label was released in 2017. His CD of French music for Deutsche Grammophon, “Clair de Lune,” was released in 2018, and his Schumann recording featuring “Dichterliebe” with Matthias Goerne and “Kinderszenen” for Harmonia Mundi was released in 2019.
Pressler’s DVDs include a live recital, concertos with Paavo Jarvi and the Orchestre de Paris, and his Mozart concerto for the Berlin Philharmonic’s New Year concert with Simon Rattle, transmitted live worldwide in 2015.
Pressler’s own 90th birthday concert, live from the Salle Pleyel in Paris, was recorded for DVD and CD with the Ebène Quartet and Pregardien, among others.
The documentary “The Life I Love: The Pianist Menahem Pressler” won Grand Prize at the Golden Prague International Television Festival in 2015.
Books honoring his life and legacy include “Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching” and “Always Something New to Discover: Menahem Pressler and the Beaux Arts Trio.” In 2016, a book of conversations with Holger Noltze, “Dieses Verlangen Nach Schönheit,” was published in Germany by the Koerber Stifftung.
Memorial service arrangements are pending.