Pianist Kovacevich beats stroke, nerves to celebrate 75th

Mon Oct 12, 2015 7:04am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - California-born pianist Stephen Kovacevich, who made his public debut at age 11, has a lot to be thankful for as he celebrates his 75th birthday this week -- including being alive.

He and his former wife, the virtuoso Martha Argerich, will play piano duets at London's Wigmore Hall, a box set of his recordings has been reissued and, perhaps most significantly, seven years have now passed since he suffered a near-fatal stroke.

"I'm incredibly lucky, I've made a total recovery. That isn't everyone's fate," the affable Kovacevich told Reuters in an interview at his flat in north London, where his Steinway grand dominates one room and a stereo dominates the room below.

Kovacevich has talked to other interviewers about how his medical emergency began with a loss of some ability in his left hand and escalated with a loss of velocity in his right. It culminated with his doctors in London sending him a text message saying he had to come in that night for a Pacemaker implant.

A few days later he had the full-blown stroke, which initially left him unable to speak.

"I thought, that's it for me, I'm going to be like this for the rest of my life," he said. "But I could play, not fantastically. And two weeks later I played (Beethoven's) Emperor Concerto, not fantastically, but it was good."

So was it that famous, if not scientifically proven, notion that musicians' brains are wired differently, that helped him recover?

All Kovacevich knows is that when he left the hospital, a specialist told him: "When you go home, you turn the key in your apartment, you go to the piano and you start."   Continued...