Ruth Laredo

'America's First Lady of the piano'

Ruth Laredo was the kind of pianist who drew excited and colourful language from the critics. The New York Daily News baptised her "America's First Lady of the piano". The Washington Post found her pianism "marked with a special blend of intensity and rare kind of introspective poetry". The New York Times hailed her as a "technical wizard" who could "hold her own with any pianist alive".

Ruth Meckler, pianist: born Detroit 20 November 1937; married 1960 Jaime Laredo (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1974); died New York 25 May 2005.

Ruth Laredo was the kind of pianist who drew excited and colourful language from the critics. The New York Daily News baptised her "America's First Lady of the piano". The Washington Post found her pianism "marked with a special blend of intensity and rare kind of introspective poetry". The New York Times hailed her as a "technical wizard" who could "hold her own with any pianist alive".

Although her repertoire was broad, beginning with Beethoven and ranging into living composers, Laredo specialised in the kind of big-boned Romantic music that came alive with her forceful and lively keyboard manner. Inspired by the powerful virtuosity of Vladimir Horowitz's approach to Scriabin, whose music was then relatively little played, she attracted international attention in the 1970s with the first complete set of the 10 Scriabin piano sonatas for the Connoisseur label (one reviewer wrote that her "sensuous, beautifully controlled playing caught its mad and slightly evil quality").

And she received credit for what was later considered the first recording of the complete piano music of Rachmaninov, for CBS (in fact, Michael Ponti beat her to the draw), earning herself the first of three Grammy nominations. She tackled the complete Scriabin preludes, too.

Russian music continued to be a favourite stamping-ground: one of her most recent recordings was a two-piano disc for Gasparo, with James Tocco, of the two-piano version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and Rachmaninov's Second Suite. Her last concert, on 6 May - part of the "Concerts with Commentary" series she had presented at the Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York for the past 17 years - was one of three entitled "The Russian Spirit", featuring the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Shostakovich.

She was born Ruth Meckler, a native of Detroit, and studied with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He looked askance on her enthusiasm for Rachmaninov and made sure her pianism was grounded in classical mainstream. In 1960, the year of her graduation, she married the Bolivian violinist Jaime Laredo, forming a duo soon recognised as one of the finest in the profession; they were divorced in 1974.

Ruth Laredo's concerto début came in 1962, in Carnegie Hall, with the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by the veteran Leopold Stokowski - who always had an eye for pretty female soloists. But it was to be 12 years before she appeared with the New York Philharmonic, and 1981 before her first solo recital in Carnegie Hall. By that time her recordings had already made her one of America's best-known pianists.

Other concerto appearances took her to such orchestras as the Philadelphia, the Boston and Detroit Symphonies, and the Orchestra of St Luke's. She played at the White House and Library of Congress. Also an enthusiastic chamber musician, she performed regularly with the Tokyo String Quartet, her other partner quartets including the Emerson, Guarnieri, Muir, St Lawrence and Vermeer; her most recent recording, of the Brahms Piano Quartets (for Arabesque), featured the Shanghai String Quartet.

She may have reached her widest audience in the cinema, though. In a scene in Woody Allen's film Small Time Crooks (2000), Hugh Grant tries to impress Tracey Ullman by taking her to a piano recital - Ruth Laredo playing Rachmaninov.

Martin Anderson

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions