Walter Witt, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My father. Dad was my first piano teacher. My father was a surgeon but also a gifted pianist and organist, equally gifted in both instruments. I honor his memory when I play. Also my piano professor in Los Angeles, Mae Gilbert Reese. Mrs. Reese was an extraordinary human being, a student of Nadia Boulanger and Alfred Cortot. Finally, Jeanne le Bozec. Jeanne is a former piano professor at the Cortot conservatory and my neighbor in Paris. She heard me playing one day in our building and knocked on my door. I am a concert pianist today in large part thanks to her.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rubinstein, above all, and Alicia de Larrocha, a friend of my professor, Mrs. Reese. As a boy, I would listen Alicia de Larrocha practice when she was a guest at Mrs. Reese’s house. Menachem Pressler, who taught me so much about how to approach the piano, Debussy in particular. Arturo Michelangeli, Nelson Freire, Martha Argerich, Samson François, Grigory Sokolov. And Dinu Lipatti. When I listen to his Mozart, it’s like listening to the angels.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

My career trajectory has been an exciting one, to say the least! I wrote a memoir for my daughter about it called “Lessons From the Piano.” I started giving concerts and competing when I was 12. After Yale and graduate school, I was heading into the Foreign Service as a junior officer candidate, but went instead into international business, with assignments in Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Through it all, music and the piano remained first among equals. I had almost given up on the piano. But then I thought of my father, and Mrs. Reese, who knew me well. She would say to me: “your piano is your soul. Don’t ever forget that.”

In 2010, I returned to study at the Rachmaninoff conservatory in Paris and have been a concert pianist since then. I also teach at several universities in France, which I love doing. My career and life abroad has given me insights I believe into people, cultures and different ways of thinking which has made me a better musician.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps my Chopin Berceuse or the Brahms Ballade Op 10 in B major. Also the Fauré Nocturnes. I will be recording an album of Fauré, Chopin, Schubert and Debussy soon.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My primary focus right now is Fauré and Debussy. I like to go from one discovery to the next with each composer and then share what I have discovered with my audiences.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The most memorable so far would probably be a recital I gave at the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris. The museum was once a house which belonged to the Dutch painter Ary Scheffer. Chopin played and composed there quite often, surrounded by Scheffer’s paintings. I could feel Chopin’s presence there, no doubt about it.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To move a single heart after moving my own.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Stay true to what is written but trust your instincts. Listen deeply. Never stop searching. Never give up on what you love to do as a musician or in life. If you do, it is like running out of water, you will die of thirst.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Where I am now. In 40 years’ time as well. One of my favourite quotes is from Pablo Casals. A reporter asked him: “Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I’m making progress.”

What is your most treasured possession?

The love of my wife and my children.

Walter Witt is an American-born classical pianist and educator based in France. A lifelong student of the works of Chopin, Walter captivates audiences with his innate musicianship and dynamic presence at the piano. Together with his advocacy for classical music and its educational importance, these talents make him one of the most compelling figures in classical music today.

A native of California, Walter began studying piano at the age of 5. At age 12, Walter debuted with the Westchester-Marina del Rey Symphony (today the Culver City Symphony Orchestra), and later with the LA Philharmonic in its “Stars for Tomorrow” young artists program, performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor. At 16, he won first prize in the California Music Teachers Association piano competition, which led to masterclasses with renowned pianist and pedagogue, Menachem Pressler, founder of the Beaux Arts Trio. Walter specializes in the “French school,” notably Chopin, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel. He performs regularly in public and private settings around the world. In 2018, Walter started a highly acclaimed concert lecture series on Chopin. He also gives tours together with an art historian of the historic “New Athens” quarter in Paris, home to Chopin and other luminaries of the Romantic Movement. In June, he was selected by l’Institut Polonais, Poland’s cultural institute in France, to give their showcase Chopin tour and concert for Poland’s “Warsaw in Paris” summer festival. He is particularly proud of his most recent initiative, “Tous En Concert,” an association he co-founded that provides performance opportunities to amateur classical pianists and chamber musicians.


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