Internationally acknowledged as one of the preeminent piano duos, Norman Horowitz and Melvin Stecher, took the stage to give us a glimpse of their story and share their vision for encouraging and training the musicians for tomorrow.
In recapping their involvement in the music education world, Horowitz told about some of the pedagogues that were active in their earlier years. Robert Pace, Frances Clark, William Gillock, David Glover, and the Bastiens.
They have always looked for good arrangements and sought ways to inspire the individual and focus on the whole student. They have more than 15,000 alumni from their Stecher and Horowitz School for the Arts! They have always sought to implement progressive and creative approaches in their endeavors.
They consider their lives as being comprised of four segments:
2. Founding a School for the Arts
4. Creating and Directing and International Piano Competition
Horowitz humorously stated that they would share their history in as chronological a manner as possible at this stage in their lives.
The two individuals became a piano duo in 1951 when they played together as teenagers. They got their start not on the concert stage, but at cocktail parties, hotels, and resorts. Their repertoire ran the gamut from Gershwin to Broadway shows, with as much Chopin thrown in as the traffic would allow!
They toured the United States and Canada for five years, and were sponsored by the State Department under the leadership of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to travel to South America. In 1960 they came across a piece of property on Long Island that was bursting with potential in their minds. They purchased the land for $10,500. Thus was borne the Stecher and Horowitz School for the Arts.
In addition to performing, they turned their attention to improving music education standards in this country. A school seemed like the best way to begin to realize this vision. After opening in September, 1960 with 40 students it went on to expand numerous times with large increases in the student body. In time, this gave way to the development of a comprehensive curriculum and performance regimen for all students. Stecher and Horowitz scheduled their touring schedule around these student recitals and made a point to be present at each one and even spend two weeks prior to the recitals to listen to and provide constructive critiques to students preparing for their performances. They also called the school at 6:00 p.m. each evening to get a full report of the day’s activities.
Learning to Play and Keyboard Strategies are two of the texts that they published that are still in use today.
When it was time to move on, Stecher and Horowitz did extensive research into existing competitions and looked for a way to establish an opportunity for their advancing students to continue to achieve higher levels of musical excellence. The duo left the stage for 15 minutes to allow the audience to view a documentary that encapsulates what they have taken almost a lifetime to accomplish.
In their innovative, New York-based, competition, no one is eliminated. This is driven by the premise that pianists will only grow if they perform. Their goal, therefore, is to provide the maximum number of performance opportunities for every contestant.
Pictures, reminiscing, video clips, and humorous anecdotes gave life to the incredible path the Horowitz and Stecher have traveled over the last six decades. Truly fascinating!
In reference to their international competition, they shared that those who enter a competition are accustomed to pressure. Life is full of pressure, so it’s important to learn to tolerate it, adjust with it, and learn to grow with it. Students work for years to prepare repertoire for performance, so the modern approach of playing maybe 20 minutes worth and then either moving on or being eliminated is unfair. They want to give students a chance to play to their fullest ability.
The duo inserted that the first three years of a student’s study at the instrument is the most creative, the most instructive, and the most formative.
The competition includes a unique element of piano duo repertoire that each contestant is sent prior to the event. Each pair prepares and performs the same selection of repertoire. Stecher and Horowitz see this as a significant and joyous element of their competition.
After the documentary concluded, the duo resumed their places at the podiums and recapped the goals of their New York International Piano Competition. These intentional and well-constructed goals are designed to provide “an opportunity for contestants to perform, network, exchange information and cultivate a support system that will carry them through their pre-professional years.”
Horowitz and Stecher are obviously passionate about this endeavor and see it as an invaluable contribution to the ongoing music education and artistic excellence of the next generation. Stecher described their four-fold career as exciting, heart-warming, productive, intensive, time-consuming, and, at times, very difficult. If asked, “Would you do it again?” Yes, in a heart-beat! If anyone is in need of encouragement, they graciously offered that any attendee could visit them at their 57th Street office or call them.
In lieu of playing themselves, the duo concluded the session by inviting one of their competition winners, Charlie Albright, to perform. His playing of the Etude No. 7 in C-sharp Minor was exquisite and the arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca was quite interesting!