The pianist Luis Batlle, a key figure for five decades at Marlboro Music School and Festival and mentor to such noted pianists as Jonathan Biss, Yefim Bronfman, Murray Perahia and Peter Serkin, died today, May 25, at his home in Marlboro of complications from Parkinson’s Disease. Luis was 85.
Mitsuko Uchida, Marlboro’s Artistic Director, said: ‘Luis was a ‘Mensch’ with integrity and honesty. He carried his intellectual and highly cultured background lightly. I loved the simplicity in his music-making. It was in 1974 that we first met in Marlboro and we were friends ever since.
Luis was the one who phoned me in 1993 to ask whether I was prepared to join Andras Schiff and Richard Goode as an ‘Interim Artitsitc Advisor’ for Marlboro. He explained that ‘they think you like me, that’s why I am phoning you.’ My answer was that I might be truly interested in being involved with Marlboro, but I may not be a suitable choice. I am a committed chamber musician, but my life is that of a soloist.’ His answer was, ‘It is not your business, it is our business to think about that.’ This was typical of Luis, and I said yes. Here I am, still at it. Marlboro without Luis will be a sad place. We will all miss him.’
Born in Montevideo on October 19, 1930, he was a member of one of Uruguay’s leading political families – his brother Jorge Batlle Ibanez (2000-2005) and his father Luis Conrado Battle Berres (1947-1951) served as Presidents of the country, as did a great uncle, Jose Batlle y Ordonez (1899, 1903-07, 1911-15) who instituted a series of progressive reforms that shaped the modern day republic.
As a child, his health was frail and because he enjoyed music and singing, his mother, who came from a musical family, borrowed a piano from an uncle to give young Luis’ life a focus. His brother Jorge described that event – “one day, he sat down at the piano and never got up.” Batlle recalled memorable musical experiences growing up in Montevideo -“hearing Beniamino Gigli at age sixty and still in his prime. He was incredible in Il Trovatore and Carmen.” The young pianist also experienced touring Italian opera companies and was very taken by the performances of the great Austrian conductor Erich Kleiber. There experiences heightened his desire to make music his life.
In Montevideo, he studied with Victoria Schenini and Wilhelm Kolischer, a pianist from Poland closely associated with Anton Rubenstein. In1951, he won an award from the Chopin Foundation that allowed for three years of advanced studies in Paris with Yves Nat and later, with Rudolf Serkin in Philadelphia. He, subsequently, served as Director of the Kolischer Conservatory in Montevideo.
He has concertized around the world, including performances with such artists as Salvatore Accardo, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Pina Carmirelli, Miriam Fried, Jaime Laredo, Benita Valente and Harold Wright. He was a juror for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1974 and the Bach Competition in Washington, DC in 1976. In March 1985, Batlle played at the inauguration of Uruguay’s first democratically elected president since the military coup of 1973.
As part of the celebration of Marlboro College’s 40th anniversary, he performed all 32 Beethoven sonatas in eight concerts in conjunction with a course on Beethoven’s life.