Writing the following to a friend who is reading a new, soon to be released biography on Richter, I thought that perhaps it was worth putting it on the blog:
When I first went to Paris, I was shocked to find out that he was still playing. I knew that he hated playing in the US, and his fear of flying just reinforced his decision in the 70’s to not play in the US anymore. His concerts in Europe and Japan were so much under the radar, being mostly recitals, that I thought he had retired or was dead!
It was very exciting, during my time in Paris, to have had the Yamaha connection in common with Richter. I would very often arrive in the studios while he was there, but never saw him because they would block off the ground floor studios just for him, and we would all go to the first floor rooms. But then, when he left, we could go into those same studios and work on the pianos that he had just been practicing on! I often played in concert the pianos that he himself had just played.
I also saw the first prototype of the GranTouch, which was a boxy case with a keyboard in it, which was developed for Richter so that he could practice even more hours in his hotel room. He was very happy with it, and Yamaha eventually developed that into the GranTouch, and now the next iteration of that technology is the AvantGrand.
Only a couple of times did I cross paths with him at the studios, and I did do the silly “fan” thing and have him sign my copy of the Prokofiev Sonatas – he picked a passage from the ninth Sonata, which he said was one of his favorites.
Us Americans didn’t know what we were missing!