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Biography

LEONARD PENNARIO


Born: July 9th, 1924 in Buffalo, New York.

Died: June 27th, 2008 in San Diego, California.

Few artists can match the brilliant accomplishments of the American pianist Leonard Pennario. He has successfully appeared with every major orchestra in America. Acclaim emanates from audiences and critics alike for his performances with the "Big Five": Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra. Traveling throughout North America, Pennario is known as guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Honolulu Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, New Orleans Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, Seattle Symphony and Vancouver Symphony, among many others.

Highlights have included performances by Leonard Pennario in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. (Kennedy Center), New York (Lincoln Center), Detroit, Milwaukee, Tulsa, Buffalo, San Diego, Memphis, Norfolk, Richmond, Dallas, Augusta, and Hawaii (with the Honolulu Symphony).

The 1986-87 season saw Leonard Pennario applying his talent as one of the foremost interpreters of Gershwin with an appearance at a Gershwin celebration at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. In the concert, marking the 50th anniversary of the composer's death, Pennario performed the I Got Rhythm Variations and Rhapsody in Blue in its original Jazz Band version. He also performed the works of Gershwin at special festivals in Westbury, NY, Devon, PA, and the Waterloo Festival in New Jersey.

His 1984-85 season included a nationwide television appearance on the PBS "Gala of Stars" hosted by Beverly Sills, where the pianist performed Gershwin's I Got Rhythm Variations with Metropolitan Opera Music Director James Levine conducting the American Symphony Orchestra. He also made highly successful tours of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria in May, which resulted in immediate invitations for re-engagements. In the spring of 1984 he made his first tour of the Far East, appearing in recital and with orchestra in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Manila and is scheduled to return to the Far East in the near future. In other parts of the world the list continues to be as impressive: Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, London Philharmonic, London Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Halle Orchestra, Hague Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Tonhalle Orchestra and Frankfurt Symphony, among others.

Concerts with the greatest orchestras have made Pennario the choice of world-famous conductors. Among the nearly one hundred eminent artists with whom he has collaborated, a reasonable list must included Eugene Ormandy, Sir Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, André Previn, Seija Ozawa, Otto Klemperer, Fritz Reiner, Rafael Kubelik, Leopold Stokowski, Thomas Schippers, Arthur Fiedler, André Kostelanetz, Sir John Barbirolli, Edward Van Beinum, Sir Adrian Boult, Vladimir Golschmann, Josef Krips, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch, Artur Rodzinski, Kenneth Schermerhorn, Robert Shaw, Gerard Schwarz and Alfred Wallenstein.

Of the artist's concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic and Rafael Kubelik, Die Welt of Berlin cited his "superb technique and keyboard touch of exceptional sensitivity." Le Figaro of Paris calls Pennario "a phenomenon of the piano." In London, Andrew Porter told his readers in The New Statesman and The Nation, "Nobody today plays the piano better than Pennario."

In Carnegie Hall and in Los Angeles, Pennario collaborated in history-making concerts with Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. Thousands of music lovers attended, hearing these three great artists in brilliant performances of trios by Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorák, Arensky, Turina and Mendelssohn.

During the past season Leonard Pennario maintained his busy schedule of concerts, visiting cities coast-to-coast for both solo recitals and performances with orchestra. A highlight was his critically acclaimed appearance as soloist with the Budapest Symphony during their United States tour in February and March of 1989.

An auspicious event marked the beginning of Leonard Pennario's career. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra urgently needed a pianist to replace an indisposed artist. Sir Eugene Goosens (who knew of the dilemma) wired his high recommendation of the pianist, at that time a youngster of twelve years. The concerto to be performed was the Grieg, and although Pennario had never seen, heard or studied the score, he made his professional debut within six days and played such a stunning performance that he was immediately launched on one of the most glorious careers in the history of American music. In September 1986, Mr. Pennario celebrated the 50th anniversary of this debut in a concert appearance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, this time playing the Rozsa Concerto; a work composed especially for Mr. Pennario. He was also honored on this anniversary by receiving the Dean's Award for Outstanding Contributions to Music from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in May, 1987.

Other highlights of Mr. Pennario's career included his acclaimed debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. At this concert, Mr. Pennario, who had just been enlisted by the United States Army, performed Liszt's Concerto in E flat in his Army uniform. He also had the honor of playing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the Minneapolis Symphony at the request of conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos in a memorial concert dedicated to the great Russian composer.

Pennario has recorded on the Angel, Seraphim, RCA, Columbia, Vox and Pantheon labels. His acclaimed releases include Chopin Polonaises and Waltzes for Angel, the Rozsa Concerto for Pantheon and Beethoven's Piano Trio in E flat, Op. 70, No. 2 with Heifetz and Piatigorsky for Vox. Pennario's most recent album features solo piano works by George Gershwin, including his "Song Book."

As a composer, Pennario has written a number of works for piano which have been published and earned him membership in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). This distinguished artist has also appeared at the White House and is a regular guest at summer festivals, including the Hollywood Bowl, Mann Music Center in Philadelphia, Waterloo in New Jersey, and Brevard Music Center in North Carolina.

Update November, 2005

Leonard continued to record and give concerts until the late 90's. His recording and performing career spanned more than 60 years!

He retired in the late 90's, and shortly thereafter moved from LA, to La Jolla California, to be closer to his brother.

The 2005 issue of the AMG's All Music Guide  to Classical Music (Backbeat Books) has a nice paragraph on Leonard on page 990. See here for an extract.

Update November, 2007

In 2006, MSR Classics issued a 4 CD set of digitally remastered tracks of Leonard's early recordings. Pennario fans were thrilled to have pieces such as Gaspard de la nuit, Miroirs, and Visions Fugitives once again available in a modern format.The set also included an original composition, Variations on Kerry Dancers, never before heard by the public. Leonard composed this piece while at USC  in 1942, while waiting to be called up for the war.

In 2007 Leonard's birthplace honored him by inducting him into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.

Update July 2008

On June 27th, 2008 Leonard lost his many years battle with Parkinson's and age.
He died in the company of his brother in San Diego California.

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Here is the eulogy by one of his best friends, Phil Leon.
Of the many many obituaries that appeared in the press, this one from
the Independent in the UK, is the most accurate portrayal of the Pennario that I knew.
Here is a link to a text only version, if the original page is no longer available.
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