David Holzman, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

It was natural. There was a Krakauer upright piano and a phonograph in my parents’ living room. I started playing folk songs that I heard by four; started taking lessons at six; started marching public school students into assembly at eight. There was never any doubt what my career would be.

I was a slow learner. It was not until studying with Louis Martin at the age of 16 that discipline was instilled in me.

After two years, I knew my dedication to new music and Louis suggested that I study with Paul Jacobs at Mannes College of Music. The four years with Jacobs were inspiring both for the discovery of new music and for the pianistic subtlety which he instilled.

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

My challenges were physical. I lost 90% of my left ear at eight; I developed epilepsy at 17; I lost much of my right ear at about 40. The cures posed as much challenges as the diseases. With the loss of much of my right ear, my chamber career disappeared for many years and that caused a life crisis.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

The concerts and records which I made after the loss of my right ear’s hearing were perhaps my proudest achievements. The intense work on each of the five CD’s culminated in electrical performances filled with colour, communication and mastery. They were acclaimed and, more, I learned how to overcome my hearing loss,

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I am inspired by large, complex and mythical works where I can feel conversations – supportive or contradicting – between voices, hands and the rest of my body and mind. It started with Bach and Beethoven and gradually reached Schoenberg, Messaien, Wolpe and many others.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Nothing!

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

I always allow for new works by composers I either know or think highly of. Programmes will always contain masterworks, large and small, new and old. Balance and expressive variety is a must. At times I perform programs devoted to single composers as birthdays, memorials or centennials.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

No. As long as piano is good and there is an eager audience I’m happy.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

In small venues, I will often combine music with talk – usually informally and personal. It humanizes even complex and strange music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I gave an all-Martino program in many cities. The one at Peabody moved Don to tears. I gave a Shapey-Sessions concert at the University of Chicago. Shapey’s widow was deeply moved and told me that if Ralph were present he would be thrilled. I gave a performance of Wolpe’s Battle Piece a day after a seizure. I was still a bit disoriented, but the performance was the best ever and all the Wolpe enthusiasts in the audience told me as much.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is perhaps to have the opportunity to keep learning, improving and reaching audiences.

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

My discovery that challenges are all able to be overcome with mental, physical and emotional efforts.

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

In ten years I would like to be alive, active and still improving

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Love – people, music, myself

What is your most treasured possession?

Friends are happily my most treasured possession.

What is your present state of mind?

After a tough year, I want to regain a career, find yet better hearing with new hearing devices, and keep my health and faith in life.


Hailed as “a master pianist” (Andrew Porter, The New Yorker), David Holzman has won acclaim both for his recitals and his recordings. Among his honors and awards have been recording grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alice B. Ditson Fund and the Aaron Copland Foundation. Commissioning grants have come from such organizations as Reader’s Digest-Meet the Composer and New Jersey Council on the Arts. He has focused much of his attention upon the masterworks of the 20th Century and has been described as “the Horowitz of modern music” (Jerry Kuderna, San Francisco Classical Voice) for his electrifying performances.

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