Trivia: Great concert pianists I studied under in the 1970s and early 1980s … (updated post)

include: Arminda Canteros, Berenice Lipson-Gruzen, John Ranck and Jacob Lateiner. Here is a recording of Mr. Lateiner performing Beethoven Op. 126 (Bagatelles)

Here is a short video about Arminda Canteros:

The classical musician society in New York City at that time was rather “interesting” to say the least. I remember the half snobbish – half avant-garde very competitive classical musician scene in Manhattan in the seventies and eighties, where musical pedigrees and lineages which could be traced back to famous composers and pedagogues helped concert pianists in need of cash to command prices of $100 or more an hour for weekly piano lessons. I studied with several myself: most notably John Ranck, Berenice Lipson-Gruzen, Arminda Canteros, and finally Jacob Lateiner. They were all colourful personalities, talented concert pianists and – with the exception of Mr. Lateiner – patient with the imbalances between my excellent interpretative skills and somewhat lagging technical skills. These were the days and years of Carnegie Hall debut dreams, lp (and later cd) recordings for the elite performers, hours of practice, mandatory Beethoven, Bach, Grieg, Mozart, and of course Brahms ( which was my favourite ), before I could earn the right to play with the fun French Impressionist composers like Debussy, Ravel etc. and with Karol Szymanowski.

John Ranck became my friend and mentor, in addition to being my first serious piano instructor in the non-college world. He was a kind and generous man who taught me musical discipline, cured me of my stage fright by continuously inviting me to perform at student recitals and soirees, and he also taught me much about ridding myself of destructive love relationships and other problems which threatened to get in the way of my musical pursuits. He was openly gay and lived with his partner in a luxurious condominium on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue, in The Village. We remained friends long after I moved on to new teachers, and even after I moved to Europe. Unfortunately, years later – once when I visited him while on vacation in New York City – I made the mistake of telling him that there was at that time much heated debate in Europe regarding the Israel vs. Palestine issue. I proceeded to tell him that I had sympathies for both. He started to wave his arms, but I continued talking – not understanding his sign language. Suddenly his partner came into the living room and ordered me to leave their home. I did not know he was there, and did not know that he was Jewish and/or a Zionist. Not that that would have stopped me from voicing my views. Many of my employers, best friends, neighbours and lovers at the time (and before and later) were Jewish (including some Zionists), and I had studied and practised both the Kabbalah and Sufism myself. I have always been open to discussions with persons with other and alternative perspectives. However, that stupid incident ended a precious longterm friendship, as John chose to let me return to Europe in silence in order to maintain peace in the household … and his partner (S.) was not interested in explaining his behaviour or why he had a bug up his ass.

My next teacher after John was Ms. Berenice Lipson-Gruzen. Berenice looked like a Parisian fashion model with her stunning features, used heavy French perfumes, smoked French cigarettes, and looked half her already then advanced age. She was a fireball and extremely sexy … She excelled at performing Debussy and Ravel, and literally unnerved me with her electricity. She made a habit of sitting tightly up against me on the piano bench, covering and guiding my hands with her own. I went nuts, and eventually had to tell her that she was deliciously distracting. Her comment was a coy: “Oh, really Adam!!?” Berenice had me bathing in Debussy and worked with me for quite a while on Ravel’s “Valses nobles et sentimentales”, which became my signature piece along with several Brahms piano pieces ( Opus 117, 118 and 119). While Berenice was away on tour she arranged for me to study under her teacher: Arminda Canteros.

Arminda was a charming elderly lady, an amazing pianist and a great pedagogue. It was Arminda who started me on the road to proper classical technical discipline. When Berenice returned to Manhattan I decided to continue studying under them both. I explained that I needed what both of them were teaching me. This, of course, insulted Berenice.

After some time I eventually moved on to my final teacher ( also on the Upper West Side of Manhattan ): Jacob Lateiner. Jacob was an excellent pianist, very well-known, “all business”, and both soft and hard at the same time. I can give one colourful example: one day on my way to his condo for my weekly lesson, I was mugged outside of Zabar’s in the middle of the afternoon … by a wacko who insisted that I had jumped him the day before. I was knocked to the pavement and suffered a mild concussion. When I arrived at Lateiner’s flat I explained what had just happened and said that I was unsure if I could play the piano. He immediately fetched a drink of whiskey, told me to drink it quickly, and then commanded me to sit at the piano. Like a military commander, he ordered me to play Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg etc. ( all pieces he had started me on ). Finally, he told me to play the Ravel. After a few minutes into the piece he marched over to the piano, snatched the music away and threw it to the floor, and barked: “I don’t know who these people are that you have studied with previously, but I forbid you to ever perform this piece in public!”
And with that he smiled, said he hoped I was feeling better, took his $100 and I was off to practice for my next lesson in the following week.

Because I had started my professional training at such an adult age ( in my twenties ), it was doubtful whether my talent would be enough to gain me a musical career. In New York City in those years EVERYONE was an artist of some sort, and the litmus test was earning your income from your art. I managed to earn half my income from performing music at all venues possible, including restaurants, bars, weddings, bar mitzvahs, hospitals … whatever – both solo and in violin-piano duos. I even got a great compliment and generous tip from Art Garfunkel while playing at a restaurant across the street from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s condo building.

I realized that I would never be as great or well-known as my teachers, and being a classical musician was a hard life and all work all the time for me. Thus, I went back to school and took a master degree in international and development administration, before writing my first poetry book and moving to Norway to start a dance- theater company with my Norwegian dancer-choreographer lover.

Music became my poetry, which became my music through words and pictures … eventually encompassing visual art as well ( I had my debut as a painter in the mid-nineties ).

Adam Donaldson Powell (piano) and Cathy Craig (violin), New York City.
Adam Donaldson Powell (piano) and Cathy Craig (violin), New York City.

4 Comments

  1. Dear Adam Donaldson Powell

    My name is Sebastian Colombo, pianist from Argentina living in Brussels and teacher at Utrecht Conservatory (The Netherlands).

    In 2013 I published in Spain a book about the piano school of Vicente Scaramuzza. Currently, I prepare a second edition of it.

    In my work, I include a long list of direct disciples of Scaramuzza, students of students, etc.

    As you know, Arminda Canteros studied with Scaramuzza more than 10 years. I you agree, I would like to include your name as a studentd of Canteros.

    Do you remember other names of good students of Prof. Arminda Canteros?

    Thanks a lot!

    Best regards,

    Sebastian Colombo

    Like

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