A transgender concert pianist finds hope across the border

A transgender concert pianist finds hope across the border


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2014

He played concertos with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Philadelphia and other top orchestras until , in 1998, he underwent gender realignment surgery and became Sara Davis Buechner.

Since then, says Buechner, US orchs have slammed their doors. If it weren’t for Canada, she’d despair.

‘Canada was my salvation in many ways,” she tells the Calgary Herald. ‘The conductors and presenters in Canada were much more open, because they hadn’t really known me. They judged me on the music itself.’

Early on, Buechner won the Gold Medal of the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition in Salt Lake City, Utah, and came third in the 1986 Tchaikowsky International Piano Competition in Moscow.

A Dvorak concerto last month in Victoria shows the pianist at full pitch. Watch.




  • Jonathan Simpson says:

    Well, let’s get the facts straight here: Beuchner tied for 6th place at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition (3rd prize went to Irina Plotnikova), and Beuchner’s career had already slowed down long before her gender realignment surgery — a slowdown that can only be attributed to her artistic standing in comparison to her colleagues. American orchestras are not to be blamed here.

  • sdReader says:

    David Buechner, as she then was, placed jointly 6th in the competition, receiving a bronze, hence the confusion. Seven pianists were ahead, with the 4th and 5th places also shared. Buechner was the top U.S. entrant. Barry Douglas won.

  • Gary Schneider says:

    Sara is fabulous musician and a spellbinding pianist. We did a Ravel Concerto in G together many moons ago that was magical. Such a towering pianist should be heard much more often. (By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful performance of the rarely heard Dvorak concerto. Thanks for the link.)

  • Nate says:

    I’ve heard her with San Francisco Symphony a year or so ago. She is fab!

  • Jonathan Simpson says:

    Bottom line: It is completely inaccurate to claim that her gender change suddenly closed American doors to her, or that she is the victim of any bias. As the contest-player David Buechner, he had a modest-sized career appropriate to that kind of a player who demonstrates keyboard dependability and mid-level musicianship — and such a “skill-set” earns a career that usually runs 4 to 7 years, or 10 at the most, as there’s always plenty of younger contest players coming up to take their place (and perform for a lower fee). Such players get their one-shot on the circuit and then they fade because they aren’t re-engaged. Buechner’s gender-change didn’t change her playing — it remained at a level that doesn’t produce re-engagements, period. Certainly Buechner has a huge, interesting repertoire that deserves exposure, but there are realities to be faced here. There is a market for her talents, and clearly she is navigating it successfully, so let’s wish her well.

  • Sylvia says:

    Sara is simply the BEST! She should be heard/seen by all the major American Orchestras. Anyone that does not agree with that has not heard her. She stands out from all the pianists I have heard

  • Paul says:

    Sara’s playing is captivating. I have never heard any pianist “connect” with audiences the way she does. She is obviously one of this generations major talents. Everyone in New York is waiting to hear her with the NY Philharmonic! Come on Alan Gilbert book her now.

  • Arielle says:

    I heard her recently with the Detroit Symphony. She was breathtaking! Never heard anyone like her in my life. She had multiple standing ovations. I still can’t stop thinking about that performance.

    • Rex says:

      Arielle, you are exactly correct. Sara gave a knock-’em-dead performance of Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody this past February. It was thrilling! And I have heard her either play with our fabulous Detroit Symphony Orchestra or in recital at Orchestra Hall on numerous occasions, so the DSO has certainly not “slammed the door” on her wonderful artistry.

  • Olassus says:

    Transgender is hip now. She just needs a clever, energetic U.S. manager and P.R. (styling) help. This Dvorak shows talent, and Argerich arms.

  • Angry New Yorker says:

    This note it to Jonathan: It is very difficult to ascertain why a career may have taken a bad turn. I recall that Sara, before the gender reassignment surgery, had quite a promising career. Also, please let’s not overemphasize competitions here….Many a respected pianist has not finished first (or at all)..

    After the New York Times magazine feature (anyone with a NYT archive available might be able to find it), I do believe coming out — at that time — did indeed affect her career. After that feature, I started to hear less and less about upcoming performances. While we like to think of the arts as progressive, I’m sorry to say that back then there was still a great deal of institutional (and other types) of prejudice. I have no doubt her manager started to get “no”, as an answer, especially from smaller markets (and particularly in the U.S.).

    P.S. Anyone looking for old recordings, should find two early ones, made when she was “David” (forgive me Sara), which were absolutely wonderful: a Bach-Busoni disc; and one including Stravinsky’s “Three Movements from Petrouchka” and three works by Busoni (both on the now defunct Connoisseur Society label).

  • Bonnie Barrett says:

    I find it sad and disheartening that the headline of this piece has to make reference to Sara’s sexual orientation rather than simply celebrating a major milestone in an impressive career. In my more than 35 years in the music business working with many of the top performing and recording artists of classical music, Sara’s God-given talent and sheer musicality rank among the best. She is also devoted teacher who inspires her students with an encyclopedic knowledge of repertoire, music history and technical expertise, delivered with intelligence, grace, sensitivity and contagious wit. I remain hopeful that those of us who consider the arts a beacon of enlightenment in society, especially during this time of political uncertainty and ugly bigotry, will rise to the inspiration found in great music, no matter what the color, race, gender, or sexual orientation of the musicians performing it may be.

  • luciano tanto says:

    Ustedes perdonen, pero, ¿qué importa lo que tiene un/a artista entre las piernas?