By Katharine Morgan Contributing Writer
---- — Roger Peltzman, concert pianist, takes the stage at the Otesaga Hotel to perform the first concert in the Concert Series this year.
The show is at 7:30 pm Saturday.
Peltzman, who has performed six times at Carnegie Hall, has a unique family history which brings a particular poignancy to his playing. His gift of music is used to remember an uncle lost to the tragedy of the Holocaust, who also had the gift of music.
Always drawn to music, one of his Peltzman’s first recollections is watching the Beatles play on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. Shortly after, his mother mentioned that a neighbord boy, Johnny, could read the newspaper.
“Can you read the newspaper?” she asked. Peltzman said he responded, “No, but does Johnny know who Tchaikovsky was?”
Peltzman laughs when this story is recounted, “I was a music fanatic from day one, whether or not it was classic or pop.”
Peltzman was one of three brothers who all took piano lessons when young. Peltzman said he started at age six, “but I wasn’t always sure I wanted to be a musician. That didn’t happen until college. I was interested in film making as well as music, but there I discovered I was much more passionate about music which is why it changed.”
He attended SUNY Binghamton where he graduated with honors in both music and cinema. He went on to receive his Masters in piano performance at the Manhattan School of Music. Peltzman’s musical genes can be directly traced to his Uncle Norbert Stern, his mother Beatrice’s brother.
Despite Peltzman’s easy manner on the phone, the story is dramatic and tragic.
“In 1933, my grandparents, my mother, Beatrice, and my Uncle Norbert fled Hitler’s Berlin for Brussels, Belgium,” he said. “In 1936, Norbert enrolled at the prestigious Brussels Conservatory of Music, where he was recognized as a singular talent who held the promise of becoming one of the world’s greatest pianists. Then, in 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium. My uncle continued at the conservatory until 1942, when the life-threatening situation in Brussels finally forced the Stern family into hiding. At that point Norbert had no choice but to abandon his studies.
“Then on a winter’s night in 1944, Nazis, informed of the Sterns’ whereabouts, broke down the door of the attic in which they were hiding and seized the family. Norbert and his parents were taken, while my mother, Beatrice, escaped out of her bedroom window to the freezing roof outside. The Sterns, without Beatrice, began the journey to Auschwitz where they ultimately perished,” Peltzman continued. “I always knew my uncle was a great pianist and that he died in Aushwitz but I didn’t know many of the details until after my mother’s death. Ultimately, I came to discover transportation documents which revealed dates and places.”
In 2010, he heard from a Mrs. Hennessy of Brussels. She had attended the Brussels Conservatory of Music when younger and was friends with both Peltzman’s mother and uncle. While his family was hiding in fear of capture by the Nazi’s, Mrs. Hennessy, at obvious risk, allowed Norbert to practice on her family’s Steinway. It was Mrs. Hennessy’s father who delivered Beatrice Peltzman to the underground after her parents and brother had been taken away, a heroic action that helped her survive the war.
Peltzman subsequently visited Mrs. Hennessy in Brussels that summer, and played on the very same piano as his uncle had practiced on for many hours. The experience was life altering for Peltzman, making the bond between his long deceased uncle that he never knew and him even stronger. The New York Times published an article about the event, noting that Mrs. Hennessy turned the pages for Peltzman in much the same manner as she had done for his uncle so many years ago.
Peltzman became determined to record an album of all Chopin’s works, his uncle’s specialty, in the spectacular and acoustically rich concert hall at the Brussels Conservatory of Music. He found the setting a particular powerful place in it’s connection to his uncle to pay tribute to a life and talent so tragically destroyed. Stern died at 21 years of age. Peltzman did accomplish this feat and his CDs will be on sale at the concert on Saturday night. He will also include a film describing his journey in recording the CD during the event. Fifty per cent of the proceeds from the sale of the CDs go to the recently opened Holocaust Museum of Belgium, Kazerne Dossin.
The museum is on the site of the barracks where 26,000 Jews, including Stern, were deported to Auschwitz. “It’s primary focus is the plight of the Belgian Jews during WWll, but it also addresses the discrimination and hate that still exist throughout the world” explains Peltzman. “I will give a talk, too, about the process of why I made this CD.”
Like his uncle, Peltzman considers Chopin, along with Bach, Schubert, and Bartok, his favorite composers. “These are the composers I feel a real kinship to,” he said.
Only Chopin’s work will be played for this concert. “I have always felt a kinship with this uncle who only lived for me in history. I see this project as an homage to his great talent, tragically lost to the world, and as an act of remembrance for a life cut short which may, in this way, continue to live.”
Peltzman worked as a musician, musical engineer and record producer, garnering praise from publications like The Chicago Tribune, and The Atlantic Monthly. Now, he is back to his real true passion, playing piano. He lives in New York City with his wife, Sharon, and when he is not performing he teaches at The Third Street Music School.
The Cooperstown Concert Series, in it’s 44th season. For tickets and/or more information please call (607) 547-1812 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.