By Hannah Reimann
A Benefit Night at Steinway Hall
September 12, 2019
German Diez is perhaps the most memorable late piano maestro of The Greenwich House Music School. Teacher to innumerable students there since 1950, from children to famous virtuosos, he is beloved and revered. Diez taught at Bard College, SUNY Purchase, The Brooklyn Conservatory and Hunter College as well, fitting in students nearly around the clock in various locations including his 76th Street home. Diez studied with the great Jorge Bolet and was invited to the US by Claudio Arrau, one of the titans of 20th Century piano virtuosity, to study with Arrau. This pianistic pedigree traces directly to Franz Lizst, a composer who influenced piano playing and the piano itself like no other. Mr. Diez’s legacy of students continues to pass this lineage of musicality and technical knowledge to their students. They range from Erika Niekrenz, founding member of the Eroica Trio to Robert Lopez who wrote music for Avenue Q and Frozen, plus many, many others.
After Diez died in 2014 at age 90, his student, Francesca Khalifa, decided to commemorate his great work as a pianist and teacher by making a documentary film about him. She went to Cuba, his home country, interviewed his 100-year-old brother, the famous conductor, Alfredo Diez Nieto. She studied a Tocata Alfredo wrote for German while she visited Cuba. Khalifa‘s very dedicated effort, captured on videotape for the film, showed the process of her gaining insight and knowledge for technical and stylistic mastery taught by both brothers since Alfredo was German’s first teacher. She plays the Tocata with bright, uplifting energy and precision.
This work, plus other very carefully selected piano pieces were programmed for a benefit concert that would help fund the film, a work in progress by Khalifa and Director, Antongiulio Panizzi.
Diez’s protegé, Jeni Slotchiver, herself a teacher at Greenwich House and a champion of modern works, played three pieces by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, Margaret Bonds and William Grant Still with ease and finesse. This was followed by renowned composer Joan Tower playing Debussy’s Footsteps in the Snow, Bruce Wolosoff, who studied with both Tower and Diez, playing two of his own compositions including Siempre (dedicated to German), and guest artist Sara David Buechner who was a close friend of Diez, playing three Cuban dances by Joaquin Nin-Culmell, all with great sensitivity and expression.
I had tears in my eyes hearing Erika Nickrenz play the tender and emotional Brahms Opus 118 Intermezzi in A minor and A Major. As one of German’s students, myself, all of this music was a very moving testament to his positive and nurturing influence on all of us. I felt very fortunate that I went to this concert to hear these wonderful artists.
Nickrenz was joined by Antoine Zemor to perform Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche for 2 Pianos, three scintillating showpieces that brought the concert to a joyous and brilliant conclusion.
Interspersed with clips of Diez and his brother and the film’s trailer, the event was created to raise awareness and funding for the film “Piano Lessons.” To make a donation to complete the film and to be kept abreast about progress around this project, please go to https://pianolessons.wedid.it