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Pianist Menahem Pressler plays with BSO at 92, thanks to MGH surgery and ‘love’

Menahem Pressler, 92, performed Mozart with the BSO on Tuesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Ask pianist Menahem Pressler why he continues to perform all over the world at almost 93 years of age, and he’ll give you one answer.

“Love,” he said by phone from Symphony Hall on Monday. “The joy of bringing music, of having people share with me, that which is so dear and so deep in my soul.”

Pressler, who is in the city to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra this week, lived in Germany until he was a teenager. When it was forbidden for Jews to receive instruction, his teacher, a church organist, came to his house. He fled to Italy and then Palestine with his family in 1939, shortly after Kristallnacht, and now lives in the United States.


The pianist was a founding member of the renowned Beaux Arts Trio, which made its debut at Tanglewood in 1955, and the only one to perform continuously with the group until its dissolution in 2008. Hailed as “in a class by itself” by The New York Times, the ensemble recorded the entire standard piano trio repertoire and maintained a vigorous global touring schedule.

After multiple appearances with the Beaux Arts Trio and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players on the BSO’s stages, Pressler made his first solo appearance with the full orchestra at Tanglewood in August, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. “You play, and you feel surrounded by that which makes music not only beautiful but talks to people, [giving] them something to enjoy deeply,” he said of performing with the BSO.

Boston holds special significance for Pressler for another reason: Eight days after playing the Berlin Philharmonic’s 2014 New Year’s Eve concert with Sir Simon Rattle, he underwent surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital to repair a life-threatening aneurysm in his aorta. Doctors in Pressler’s home base of Bloomington, Ind., were unwilling to do traditional open-heart surgery, saying it was too risky. But MGH surgeon Virendra Patel came up with the solution: a rare, less invasive procedure called a “fenestrated thoracic endovascular aortic stent graft.” This allowed Pressler to continue performing around the world and teaching at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where he has been on the faculty since 1955.


In a YouTube feature by the hospital about the surgery, Pressler expressed profound gratitude to the doctor. “I knew it was a miracle. I knew that you had performed something that brought me back to life.”

“When I started to touch the piano, of course, it was as if I had never played piano before in my life,” Pressler recalled of coming back after the surgery, which required considerable rest and rehabilitation. “But I did, because I persevered. It was more than just playing an instrument for me.”

Six months after surgery, Pressler was back onstage in London. He has no plans to slow down, citing no desire to retire and “sit in front of a television set.” After his Boston appearances, Pressler departs to Germany for more performances, including one in his hometown, Magdeburg, celebrating his 93rd birthday.

“Playing the piano and making music that I love and adore and have all my life felt hungry for, and wanting to perform,” he said, “that is what I really think I’m born for.”

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.