André Watts, 16, debuts with New York Philharmonic

The 16-year-old André Watts debuts with the New York Philharmonic in a Young People’s Concert, nationally broadcast in prime time on CBS, Jan. 15, 1963. Leonard Bernstein introduces him with distinct references to Watts’ race. (His parents were Hungarian and African-American.) This was the Civil Rights Era, after all.

“Look, he was a very smart man, he thought this through,” Watts, referring to Bernstein’s speech, told me in 2016. “I’m sure he discussed it, ‘Can I say this? Can I not say this? How far can I go?’”

With this same piece (Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1) a couple weeks later, Watts substituted for an ailing Glenn Gould on New York Philharmonic subscription concerts, Bernstein conducting. Watts had to ask his mother if it was OK first. A commercial recording on Columbia was also made at the time and is still in print.

Watts performs Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto tonight and tomorrow with Pacific Symphony.

Here are two interviews I did with Watts, nearly 26 years apart.

André Watts Sounds Off. Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 1990.

André Watts Looks Back on a Storied Career. Orange County Register, May 27, 2016.

New subscription series: ‘Symphonic Voices’

Pacific Symphony has launched a new subscription series focused on the human voice.

Puccini

Dubbed “Symphonic Voices,” the four-concert package is centered on the annual semi-staged production of an opera, which next season will be Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” (Feb. 21, 23, 26).

To this is added the other opera on the schedule, Ravel’s “L’enfant et les sortilèges” (May 16-18, 2019); a semi-staged production of “My Fair Lady” on the Pops series, conducted by Richard Kaufman (May 31-June 1, 2019); and the season-ending performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Symphony of a Thousand,” featuring the Pacific Chorale, the Southern California Children’s Chorus, and soloists to be announced (June 6-8, 2019).

Carl St.Clair conducts everything except “My Fair Lady.”

For those who sign up for the subscription in the near future, a fifth concert, “Bernstein @ 100,” celebrating the centennial of Leonard Bernstein (Oct.25-27, 2018), is added free.

Subscriptions to “Symphonic Voices” are available for $270. Call (714) 755-5799 for more information or to purchase. This offer is not available online.