Sudden death of New York piano guru, 64

Sudden death of New York piano guru, 64


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2021

Sergei Babayan is among those paying tribute to Phillip Kawin, professor at the Manhattan School of Musicat magnet to many students the world over, who died suddenly on September 9.

The funeral will be streamed here today.

Babayan has dedicated his German recital this week to Phillip’s memory.

Yoon Song writes: ”I am still in shock and deeply saddened to hear the passing of my teacher, Mr. Phillip Kawin. A passionate musician, one of the most inspiring and dedicated teachers of the world, and a human with a child-like soul without a mask. “Life shouldn’t be too serious!” I still linger on his saying whenever I encounter life’s challenges.

Mr. Kawin, I still want to hear you pronounce Tchaikovsky and Prokofieff in your own Russian accent. Gee, you sped up too much on your way to heaven. Will hear your Russian when we meet later, ok?’

Tiehan Pan writes: ‘I used to sit in front of room 319 every Tuesday night, waiting for a pause to knock on the door. Although that black double door is closed, whether there was a sound or not, I always feel the energy and warmth behind it.
It was his passion, to music and his pupils.
I know, if I stop by and sit down for a minute, I will hear people murmuring inside, and I shouldn’t disturb them because it is the time for him to teach.
There is a tradition in our studio, on thanksgiving, all of his pupils will be invited to a dinner at Bettolona. Mr. Kawin was responsible for the first toast. It always goes:
“For Music”
The word “music” here, in my perception, has a different definition. It refers to water. The water can be a brook lying in a forest or a drizzle veiling the hill. It can be a storm blowing up or an ocean at rest. It also can be fire, wind, and electricity. Sparkling bubbles in a glass of champagne or melting butter on a piece of hot bread. It means love, happiness, and sorrow. It means playing ‘in the key.’
Our lessons usually finish after midnight, and we will have a short walk after that. When we were ‘sneaking out’ from the main entrance, Mr. Kawin always emptied all his snacks to the doorman. He is able to call every staff straightly by their first name or nickname, including doorman, cashier, cleaner, piano technician, etc. He was obsessed with the renovated front gate of our school, as well as the lobby of the dormitory: Every time we passed by, he stopped to watching it with glaring pride.
Mr. Kawin was a concert pianist, recording pianist, educator, accomplished turtle collector. A very sloppy person who couldn’t find a charger at his home but knew every inch of MSM. A strange man who spelled ‘gute Nacht’ with umlaut but read every Asian student’s name accurately. A prominent artist as well as a father of a big studio.’

Yana Reznik: ‘There are no words to describe the shock of the news that you left us. My dearest Philipchik, your child like soul and deeply loving heart changed lives of so many. Every note I play is with you in my mind, my guide, my inspiration, my mentor, my friend. You often seemed to belong to a different universe and there is no one like you. I love you so deeply and am forever grateful for guiding my life in so many ways. Why so early? Why so sudden? Why without goodbyes. I wish I could’ve said so much to you but I will send you this love through other channels I can think of. Rest In Peace my beautiful beloved teacher.’

David Sklar: ‘ am utterly shocked and heartbroken at the passing of my piano professor and friend, Phillip Kawin. Phillip was my professor at Manhattan School of Music from 89-93′ and I have known him for decades. He was a close friend of my sister and my family as well. I used to run into Phillip all the time on the street and supermarket in NYC. We even sat in a café until 1 o’clock in the morning one evening when he bought me a muffin to help me come up with a stage name that we were researching on his phone. He was a kind, thoughtful and caring man and the best professor, friend and human being that anyone could ever ask for. I feel so blessed to have studied with him and to have known him. He completely transformed my playing like a miracle worker. He was unbelievably passionate, patient and an all around loving person. Phillip, you will always be my professor through eternity. I’ll take all of the wisdom that you have bestowed upon me not just with music, but in life as well, and practice nurturing that seed in my daily life. God bless you Phillip and please watch over and protect me and my family. I will always keep you in my thoughts, heart and soul especially while playing, performing and teaching so that you may live again through me doing what you love the most.
I love you very much Phillip and until we meet again.’

Steinway & Sons: ‘Steinway deeply mourns the sudden passing of Phillip Kawin, a devoted and beloved piano faculty member at Manhattan School of Music, who shared his joy for life, wit, artistry and teaching with all.’


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    The shock of learning about Phillip’s sudden passing this morning here is overwhelming beyond words. I am deeply sorry for all who were his students at the Manhattan School of Music. Phillip and I shared a unique friendship, rooted in our studies with Adele Marcus. Since the early 1990s, we had performed in various scenarios, judged competitions together, but it was our phone calls and conversations when we would meet that were deeply endearing. He shared his love for helping his father, and the trials and difficulties of that time, and would talk about Adele and the affect of her in his playing and teaching. We shared a special and deep respect for each other and admiration based on music, and caring about the traditions for the next generation. He always asked my opinions of his recordings, sound, etc. That he respected my opinion was something very humble and will remain close and dear to my heart. Along with many, I shall miss my friend. I will remember how happy he was when he lost weight and ate healthily. He was very proud of that accomplishment. Play for the great composers now in Heaven, my friend.