Although many Curtis alums go on to prestigious performing careers, quite a few end up on the other side of the music stand
Although many Curtis alums go on to prestigious performing careers, quite a few end up on the other side of the music stand as teachers of the next generation. Professional pianist and Curtis alum Anthony di Bonaventura's career perfectly demonstrates this gradual shift from performer to teacher. Born on November 12, 1929 in Follansbee, WV, di Bonaventura's prodigious ability on the piano was soon evident, and he gave his first public performance at age 4. Prompted by their son's success, his family moved to New York City where, at age 6, Anthony (along with his siblings) won a scholarship to the Third Street Music School Settlement. Five years later he played at Carnegie Hall and then, at 13, he made his first appearance as a solo pianist with the New York Philharmonic.
After leaving Settlement di Bonaventura studied under piano pedagogue Isabelle Vengerova, first privately and then, in 1949, as one of her students at the Curtis Institute of Music. Of learning from Vengerova, di Bonavetura said “She put me through hell for 18 months. I had to relearn, physically, how to play the piano — I was forbidden to play any music, only Madame Vengerova’s exercises and some scales, for a year and a half.” But di Bonaventura ultimately succeeded, graduating from Curtis in 1953. After leaving Curtis, he temporarily put his musical career on hold in order to marry Sara Delano Roosevelt (granddaughter of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt) and serve in the military.
After his discharge from the Army di Bonaventura began touring professionally, performing in over 25 countries with world class symphonies. Career highlights include his being handchosen by Otto Von Klemperer to play the last three Beethoven's piano concertos at the London Beethoven Festival and his recordings of works by Scarlatti, Debussy, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff. di Bonaventura also notably performed works written expressly for him by, among others, Alberto Ginastera, Vincent Perschetti, Lucio Berio, and Gyorgy Ligeti.
In the early 1970s di Bonaventura's career as a concert pianist began to slow as he took up an increasing amount of teaching responsibilities at Boston University and, later, Colby College. It was at Colby that he founded the Piano Institute in 1974, serving as its director until 2003. di Bonaventura never slowed, continuing to teach and perform up until his death at age 83 in 2012.
“Virtuosity is a two-edged sword,” he told the Boston Globe in 1978. “You have to develop this tremendous skill in order to exhibit yourself to the public. But that same virtuosity leaves you with no place to hide: it can expose how empty your mind is. If you do not have cultural awareness and musical understanding, you have nothing. That is why I tell my students not to practice all the time. Instead they must go out and learn about other things.”
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