PIANIST'S PROGRESS by Helen Drees Ruttencutter


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Even when it appeared as a long piece in The New Yorker, this close-up chronicle of a young professional pianist's grueling climb--Juilliard study, competitions, first concerts--seemed strangely bland and uncompelling, over-reliant on quotes from all and sundry (a New Yorker trademark) and lacking in grit, humor, or focus. Here, slightly expanded for hard-cover publication, those flaws are highlighted, and so is the basic failure to generate much excitement or sympathy around the all-important heroine--pianist Robin McCabe. Ruttencutter meets 23-year-old Juilliard student Robin in 1973, fills in her smalltown, regular-gal background, and then sits in on lessons, rehearsals for a first recital, parties, conferences with a prospective manager, post-mortems of concerts, etc.--and stops in briefly at the Leventritt competition (a friend of Robin's is competing). The talk along the way is of repertory, brands of piano, memory slips, nervousness, teaching vs. performing, reviews, the business--with Robin doing most of the talking, plus contributions from friends, colleagues, and (much too much) her mother. But, though bright and likable, Robin herself is far from articulate or charismatic enough to sustain a book; and Ruttencutter's smooth, neutral, sometimes rather gushy reporting probes and illuminates not at all. So, though obviously of vivid interest to those gifted pianists planning to follow in Robin's footsteps, this never digs in or branches out to succeed as human drama or esthetic inquiry--fine for an hour's browse (as it was in The New Yorker), otherwise disappointing.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1979
Publisher: T. Y. Crowell