Ruth Laredo: 1937–2005

Ruth Laredo, a classical pianist whose style combined passionate ferocity with refined elegance, died May 25 of ovarian cancer, which she had battled for four years. Her last performance was May 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in one of her long-running performance/lecture sessions known as "Concertos with Commentary," a format that was so popular that she had begun to offer it in other venues around the world.

Ms. Laredo was born Ruth Meckler in 1937 and studied piano with her mother, Miriam Meckler. She made her orchestral debut at 11, playing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the State Fairgrounds. She studied with Rudolf Serkin at the Curtis Institute, graduating in 1960, having absorbed Serkin’s dictum that interpretive artists must base their performance decisions upon the information contained within the score.

Ms. Laredo performed with a signature blend of fiery emotion, assured technique, and refined intelligence, and her concerts were always immensely rewarding. Among the public at large, she is perhaps best known for her Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and DeFalla, although it was always a treat to hear her Ravel, Stravinsky, Barber, and Rorem as well. However, among audiophiles, she may well be best known for her recordings of the complete piano sonatas of Scriabin for the Connoisseur label, which introduced many of us to these transcendental works for the first time, while also raising the bar for recorded piano sound.

Laredo also possessed a lively writing style, as evidenced in her Piano Today articles, essays on National Public Radio, and her book, The Ruth Laredo Becoming a Musician Book. She also edited a complete edition of the Rachmaninoff preludes for piano.

I was fortunate enough to hear Ms. Laredo many times playing in a wide variety of works ranging from her signature Scriabin sonatas to chamber music with the Tokyo String Quartet to Mozart piano concertos, and she never failed to offer revelations in even the most familiar warhorses—not that anything ever seemed a warhorse in her hands. On one occasion, a musician friend insisted on taking me to the Green Room to meet Ms. Laredo, a former teacher, after a pulse-quickening Rachmaninoff recital. I hung back, intimidated at meeting such an august personage, but she made me feel as welcome as her old pupil.

Ms. Laredo also offered New Yorkers a particular measure of comfort in the days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, performing as she had long been scheduled to at Avery Fisher Hall on September 13, 2001. It was a moving reminder to us all that there was still beauty in a world that suddenly seemed quite cold and bleak.

The world is, of course, somewhat less warm and rich for her absence, but we do still have her recorded legacy to savor. I’ll treasure that always—and I’ll rely upon it in the days to come, always saying a little prayer for Ms. Laredo for lighting a small candle to fight against the darkness.