What a pianist, 90, does when his airport’s snowbound

What a pianist, 90, does when his airport’s snowbound


norman lebrecht

January 11, 2014

Menahem Pressler was snowbound in Bloomington Indiana, with Indianapolis airport closed, when he had rehearsals the following day in Berlin with Semyon Bychkov and the Berlin Philharmonic.

What to do? He hired a 4-wheel drive jeep and asked a devoted student to drive him to Chicago. After a seven-hour drive, he found Homeland Security blocking the main roads in to Chicago.

Undeterred he took a side road without knowing where it would lead. He reached the airport and was delayed there for two hours by the plane’s de-icing. At Munich airport, his connecting flight to Berlin had gone and he had to wait hours more for the next connection to Berlin.

He arrived sleepless for rehearsals, played an immaculate Mozart Piano Concerto in G major K453 at the concert, received a standing ovation and encored with a Chopin Nocturne.

There is only one Menahem.



menahem pressler, semyon bychkov


  • Steven Ledbetter says:

    There is indeed only one Menahem….an extraordinary musician and a warm, generous human being. Has anyone brought so much joy to so many people for so long?

  • Sanda Schuldmann says:

    You can say that again! He is certainly ONE OF A KIND!

  • Norm says:

    I love this story for so many reasons. Thanks for posting.

  • I shall send this to my students some of whom will only have their lessons later in the day and nearly have a breakdown if they have an exam or competition before 11am!

  • Edgar Brenn says:

    Am stuck at SFO for only a little while, and reading this wonderful article about Menahem Pressler makes my day. All my hats off for him. And lucky the Berliners who got to hear his Mozart and Chopin!

  • JDCMB says:

    What an incredible man & musician. An inspiration to us all!

  • NTA says:

    Lovely story, but why was Homeland Security blocking roads into Chicago? I find that very alarming.

  • M.A. Steinberger says:

    I adored the Beaux Arts Trio, & never missed them when they were out here. They had such FUN playing.

  • Donald Wright says:

    A lesson in patience that I badly needed. (When my computer dares to hold me up for 3 seconds, I’m about ready to blow a gasket.) No wonder the great man has managed to live to 90, and keep going!

  • ruben greenberg says:

    What an amazing man and artist! Breaking up the trio has actually given him a new lease of life, though I loved the Beaux Arts, of course. Where does get his energy? From music and from having had to be a fighter from the start. His wasn’t an easy youth, given the historical context he was brought up in.

  • Burbank says:

    Can we all just stop worshipping Menahem Pressler? He’s completely messed up in his own way just like all the rest of us.

    • D says:

      Messed-up?????????????? This is an extraordinary person who can do this at 90. Most people cannot maintain his schedule at 40… You should be ashamed of yourself. Sounds like jealously to me.. What do you do for a living and how old are you ??? Where do you think you will be at 90 and what kind of a life do you think you will have???????????

  • Steve Wogaman says:

    When I was a student of Menahem at IU he once told me he typically slept only 3 hours per night. He said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Here’s hoping that’s still a long way off!

  • MarieTherese says:

    Depending upon which day this was last week, the roads in most of Indiana and northern IL were closed, by orders from their governors. The individual state DHSs then help to coordinate the use of National Guard members to assist where needed- which seemed mostly to be with helping already those already stranded and with enforcing travel bans.

    While I find it admirable that Mr Pressler wanted to honor his contractual obligations, his actions as listed were foolish and dangerous, placing his life and that of his student at risk. You only had to live in the region where these life threatening conditions existed- blinding snow, ice and -45 degree wind chills- to realize what a stupid action this was.

    • Steve Wogaman says:

      I can assure you this had NOTHING to do with contractual obligations. Menahem has waited his whole life for an invitation from the Berlin Philharmonic, and I know of no pianist alive who would have acted differently. I would have driven him myself if I had been there (as I have several times in the past).

      • Milana says:

        Steve, you would risk your own life, so that Mr Pressler would get to play a concert? What im interested in, is who is that brave student? The kid deserves some acknowledgement!

        • Steve Wogaman says:

          Well, with a 4-wheel drive and ample experience driving in windy sub-zero climes, it would not be much of a risk. More like a fun adventure with a living legend.

    • gowest49 says:

      It’s sad..You just don’t get it..Open you eyes,open you mind try and see the big picture..This 90 year old man had a plan to get to Berlin and,perform with this great orchestra..And it worked!!

  • Kathy says:

    Glad he got there safely, but I don’t like that he took that kind of chance. As important as a concert may be, going out on those unpassable roads was probably not worth it. That was a dangerous storm – a concert is not worth risking your life. Kudos for the dedication, zero for the common sense.

  • gowest49 says:

    I saw this concert live..I paid to see all of the concerts performed by the Berlin Philharmonic so I saw Mr. Pressler play the Mozart live from Berlin here in New York Saturday..He was wonderful,just wonderful..The audience and orchestra just loved him…He even played a Chopin ballade has a encore…

  • Mike Schachter says:

    Not a man easily detrred even at 90! A lesson for us wimps everywhere.

  • Roy Lisker says:

    Breathless with admiration …

  • thomas p says:

    By my calculation, he couldn’t have arrived for rehearsals in Berlin the next day, could he?