ALBANY — Few pianists can claim a performance career that spans more than 80 years. But Frank Glazer can.
“I’m amazed myself,” Glazer said, who at 98 will give a recital on Tuesday at the University of Albany. “I have one month to go to be 99.”
This concert is his fifth appearance at the college since 2007. It is one of about 20 that he gives annually.
That his program of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel and Chopin would challenge a pianist barely a quarter of his age is certain. That he can still perform these pieces reflects what Glazer came to know in his 20s when, instead of pursuing a burgeoning career, he chose to spend time to determine how he could play piano in the most efficient and most effective way possible.
“I took time off to do a study on how to play with as many colors as possible with the greatest ease, on how to use less tension in various muscles and even how to hold my hands on the piano,” he said.
Frank Glazer recital
WHERE: University at Albany Performing Arts Center, Washington Avenue, Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
HOW MUCH: $15, $10
MORE INFO: 442-3997, www.albany.edu/pac
“You can’t practice Czerny if you’re tense. You need to know where you can be relaxed and where to be tense. You don’t do more than you have to do. That’s why I’ve never had tendonitis.”
The suspicion that he might have developed bad habits was substantiated after studying anatomy books and string technique studies. Changing those habits is what has allowed him to still be active as a performer, he said. Only a quadruple heart bypass a few years ago changed his routines, as he now spends no time memorizing music.
“My doctor said I don’t need the extra stress, so now I use the music and [as a result] can play more kinds of music,” he said laughing.
When he was a teenager, however, he hardly envisioned what lay ahead.
Growing up in Milwaukee, he was a talented pianist by the time he was 17, in 1932, when some businessmen became interested in sponsoring his further studies. When asked what teacher he’d like to study with, Glazer said Artur Schnabel, who was a reigning star on the concert circuit and famous teacher whose lineage went back to Beethoven.
But he lived in Berlin, Germany. One of the businessmen was going there, and because tapes didn’t exist then, Glazer wrote out a list of the repertoire he had played since he was 12.
“Schnabel looked at the list and agreed, but the question he asked was how good a student I was; you know, because I was in high school,” Glazer said.
Glazer, who spoke some German, arrived at Schnabel’s home one rainy night that October. Schnabel had promised to find him housing but he was teaching his usual schedule of 4 p.m. to midnight. Eventually, a hotel room was found and later Leonard Shure, Schnabel’s American assistant, who would go on to a substantial career of his own, agreed to put him up.
“My first lesson was Chopin’s 24 Preludes from memory,” Glazer said. “I was studying privately and lessons cost 100 marks or about $25. Then the mark was devalued and the lessons cost $40. I’d get a two-hour lesson of a Beethoven sonata and would go through two movements. He didn’t want to hear the same thing twice. He’d want tempos faster or slower, never the same. That was the danger in his teaching.”
Glazer, who had composed since he was 12, also visited with composer Arnold Schoenberg, who looked at his work and told him he had a flair for counterpoint. But Glazer’s sponsors weren’t willing to fund lessons. He said he did get some lessons later when he moved to Boston and Schoenberg took a job at Boston’s Malkin Conservatory before he moved to California.
Life in berlin
Berlin was a wild city in the early 1930s with wonderful theater, exciting concerts, marvelous social life and fabulous musicians playing the many cabarets, Glazer said. But hunger, beggars everywhere and prostitution was rampant.
When Hitler came to power that January and began ransacking Jewish apartments and arresting outspoken individuals, Schnabel decided it was time to go.
“He moved in May to Lake Como in Italy and I went with him,” Glazer said. “But he wasn’t sure if he’d stay in Italy, so I went to Leonard Shure’s in Cambridge and spent the next best five years there. Then, I went to New York City for 25 years.”
Glazer made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1936 at age 21, debuted with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1939 under conductor Serge Koussevitzky and was headed toward major management, when he decided to take what he calls his detour.
“I wanted a rationale for things: Why do it one way and not another. Schnabel had told me what to do in various pieces but I wondered if the interpretation was the right one. I was questioning. I wanted to find out,” he said.
“A lot of people thought I was losing my way. I even turned down an audition with major management to do my study that summer. But I was lucky. It was a unique road I took.”
He eventually returned to the circuit to perform with such major orchestras as those in New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati. During World War II he served as an interpreter.
In 1965 he began his 15-year stint teaching at the Eastman School of Music and in 1980 moved to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where he recently celebrated his 34th year.
He has written a couple of books on his approach to piano technique and the art of music.
He has recorded extensively, including the complete works of Erik Satie (Vox).
He’s also the only non-retiree living in his retirement complex.
“I keep my eye on the calendar and am always practicing to be ready, often until midnight,” he said.
“I’m expanding my repertoire even now into contemporary music. The thing is, I never said I can’t or I won’t. It’s how you’re going to grow. I play better now.”