The Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, whose name regularly appears on great pianists of all time lists, died last Monday July 27 in his beloved Prague. I note his passing here because the Princeton University Orchestra had the great good fortune of performing with him twice. Ivan was a frequent visitor to Princeton University Concerts, and so we were able to hear him repeatedly in the early 20th Century French repertory, his beloved Chopin, and of course others. He always seemed in top form for Princeton audiences, and adored performing in Richardson Auditorium.
His first time with PUO was in the Fall of 2007, in Beethoven’s C minor concerto. On this occasion (with the help of then-Princeton University Concerts Director Nate Randall) Ivan was a Belknap Visitor in the Humanities. He also gave two master classes in which he pushed student pianists to interpretive insights, even breakthroughs. Then in the Spring of 2009 he returned and gave us Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Lucky us.
Much has been written about Ivan’s playing by closer observers of the international piano world, and its history, than I. My personal reaction was always that of being bowled over by his elegance and exquisite poetry, and moved to tears more than once. Personally he was the gentlest of souls, with a completely natural old world courtesy, but with an underlying steel, forged in the years of being an artist with integrity under Communist rule. My wife Marty and I had the honor of visiting with Ivan and his vivacious wife Zuzana in Prague after his Princeton visits. After a laughter-filled dinner at his favorite restaurant, we walked slowly through the neighborhood in the Old Town where Zuzana lived during the war, listening to chilling tales of the behavior of the Nazi occupiers. We cannot know, we can only admire the strength these people had to develop in order to live in a country first under the harsh boot of the Nazis, then the Soviets, for so many years. It was an unforgettable evening.
Ivan repeatedly told me of the pleasure he took from working with Princeton students, both as a teacher and fellow performer. He regarded it as a very special treat for him. I hope he knew that we felt exactly the same way, many times over. I mourn his passing, and express my gratitude that we all came in contact with this incomparable artist and brave human being.