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.

Ticket deal for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’

Dmitri Shostakovich

Readers of this blog will receive 20 percent off of their ticket purchase for ‘Watts Plays Beethoven’ by going here and entering the promo code “blog”.

The concert features the venerable André Watts as soloist in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Shostakovich’s epic Tenth Symphony, one of the greatest of the 20th century. Carl St.Clair conducts. The orchestra is just back from its triumph at Carnegie Hall.

The concerts takes place at 8 p.m. on May 3-5 at Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.