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Ruth Laredo

1937 – 2005

by Irma Commanday

Ruth Meckler, a piano prodigy from Michigan, became Ruth Laredo when she married violinist Jaime Laredo. A petite woman, she yielded to no one in the strength of her playing and her dedication to the instrument. “Ruth Laredo is about as big as a hummingbird. Her hands sometimes appear to hover over the keys, a blur to the eyes if not the ears. ... But what hummingbird ever packed such power?” wrote Donal Henahan in the New York Times.

Ruth (Meckler) Laredo was born the older of two daughters in Detroit, on November 20, 1937. Her first teacher was her mother, Miriam (Horowitz) Meckler, who chose Edward Bredshall as Ruth’s instructor when the time came for more formal training. Her mother took Ruth to concerts at a very early age. One was a Vladimir Horowitz recital. “It changed my life irrevocably. I knew then, as an eight-year-old, that I wanted to become a pianist.” Her first public appearance was with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra when she was eleven years old, playing two movements of Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto. A turning point was when she met Seymour Lipkin, pianist, and Berl Senofsky, violinist, at Indian Hill, a summer workshop in the arts. They introduced her to Rudolf Serkin, who became the most important influence in her career. Serkin said, “I can see you play like a tiger!”

After graduating from Detroit’s Mumford High School, Laredo studied with Serkin at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and spent many summers at the Marlboro Summer Festival in Vermont. She was a charter member of “Music from Marlboro,” and joined the first touring group in 1965, which included a visit to Israel. There she played Bach’s Concerto for Three Pianos in the Mann Auditorium with Rudolf and Peter Serkin. At Curtis and at the Meadowmount summer music festival, Ivan Galamian and Leonard Rose chose her to play for their students, who included Arnold Steinhardt, Michael Tree, Pinchas Zuckerman, and Itzhak Perlman. And during Marlboro summers, some of her colleagues were Murray Perahia, Richard Goode, Emanuel Ax, and Yo-Yo Ma. At the end of each festival season, the traditional closing work was Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy with Rudolf Serkin as soloist and the entire Marlboro community in the chorus.

Ruth Meckler met Jaime Laredo at Curtis. They married in 1960 and performed together until their divorce in 1974. Their daughter Jennifer was born in 1969 and is married to Paul Watkins, principal cellist of the BBC Symphony; they live in England. In the early 1970s, Ruth Laredo began a solo career that developed rapidly after her New York solo debut at Avery Fisher Hall. She made her New York Philharmonic debut, playing the Ravel Concerto with Pierre Boulez conducting. She traveled extensively in the United States, Europe, and Japan, and performed as soloist with many major orchestras in the United States and abroad. She frequently joined the Tokyo, Shanghai, and Vermeer quartets in chamber music recitals, and appeared with the Guarneri Quartet on Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers” series.

In December 1974, she was honored as Musician of the Month by High Fidelity/Musical America, and was nominated three times for a Grammy Award. She was also honored by the Music Teachers International Association for Distinguished Service to Music in America, and was given the Music in Humanity award by the Gretna, Pennsylvania, Music Festival in 1994.

Laredo’s innovative series “Speaking of Music” (later re-named “Concerts with Commentary”) was a continuing event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She wrote the comments, and discussed the lives and works of musicians whose compositions she performed, assisted by guest artists. She had a strong commitment to Jewish tradition. In a lecture about Felix Mendelssohn, she discussed the significance and depth of his Jewish background. Abraham Mendelssohn’s decision to convert to Protestantism, said Laredo, was a practical one to ensure his son’s acceptance into the music profession of Germany. In addition to Mendelssohn, the series included the work of composers Clara and Robert Schumann, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Fauré, Franck, and Dvorak.

Laredo was commissioned to edit a new edition of Rachmaninoff’s piano works, and in 1992 published a guide for aspiring pianists, The Ruth Laredo Becoming a Musician Book.

Laredo recorded the complete solo piano music of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. The Rachmaninoff collection of five CDs was produced under the Sony Classics label; the Scriabin records, originally released by Connoisseur Society, were rereleased by Nonesuch. She was a member of the faculty of Yale University and the Curtis Institute, and gave master classes at the Eastman School, Indiana University, the New England Conservatory, and the Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. She was appointed to the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music in New York City and continued to lead the Metropolitan’s Concerts with Commentary series.

A survivor of ovarian cancer for some years, Ruth Laredo died suddenly on May 25, 2005, in New York City, at the age of sixty-eight. Three weeks earlier, she had completed her seventeenth season of concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bibliography

Current Biography (October 1987); Laredo, Ruth. The Ruth Laredo Becoming a Musician Book (1992).

The International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland, College, Park, Md., include Laredo’s collection of personal and professional material relative to her career.

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How to cite this page

Commanday, Irma. "Ruth Laredo." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/laredo-ruth>.

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