Anne-Marie McDermott: Inner strength and a 'life of learning'
Renowned pianist Anne-Marie McDermott plays over 100 concerts a year, has over 50 concerti in her repertoire and takes on mammoth recording projects. However, her personal and musical life has not been without struggles, including the death of a parent when Anne-Marie was a teenager. Classical KC's Christy L'Esperance speaks with the pianist about finding her way and finding her voice.
After decades of performing and recording, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott has no plans to slow down. “It’s a whole life of learning," she says "I'm learning as much now as when I was twenty years old. To me the definition of a career is the longevity of the career...and I’m not going anywhere.”
Anne-Marie grew up in a musical family in Long Island, NY where she and her siblings all learned an instrument. She started on piano and was encouraged by an early teacher. "It was wonderful because he let me do anything I wanted. At that age, I wanted to learn the music that had the most black notes on the page," she jokes. "I loved playing the piano and the challenge of it."
Her piano playing continued to improve, but just before she turned 15, her mother died from breast cancer, changing the course of her life.
"My world was really shaken up [and] my universe shook, so I lost my way for a while."
At 18 years old, she stopped studying piano privately.
"I'm not recommending this to any young people out there, but this was my journey. And from that point forward, I just worked by myself for better and worse. I'm sure I made a lot of bad choices, but I also realized I had to take responsibility for for my learning."
Through these struggles, she was able to carry on and her mother remains an inspiration.
"You have to find a strength that maybe you never even thought you had. That strength that you find is carried with you through your entire life. And, you know, I still think about my mother all the time, especially before important concerts."
Her career got a big jump start when she was noticed by the director of the prestigious Young Concert Artists nonprofit based in New York.
"You need some luck as a young artist in New York. They've started the careers of so many wonderful artists, and that was life changing because it's not, oh, here are some concerts. They become your management and they nurture you. Without that, I'm not sure I would have had the opportunity to to have a career."
Now, as an established artist herself, she enjoys working with young talent.
"At this stage in my career, one of my great joys is to be mentoring young artists, because I remember so vividly what it felt like to be a young artist."
Her recital at the Folly Theater pairs the work of Franz Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert. There are three Haydn Sonatas and one by Schubert on the program. Regarding the Haydn sonatas, McDermott points out that "every single one of these sonatas is a whole world unto itself." She adds, "they have distinctive personalities, which is why I chose the three of them together. This is a fun combination. What I want to do on stage is be fully in the moment, fully relishing every second of this music and bringing other people into this world."
Anne-Marie seems to have endless energy for the piano and for the music.
"I'll be on my deathbed and I'll still have a long list of repertoire I want to learn. The challenges are always there. You're only as great as your last performance. I find the older I get, the more humbling it is to be a musician. I'm so lucky to do what I do and it's very, very humbling to do this work and to try and to constantly evolve with it."
Anne-Marie McDermott will perform as part of The Friends of Chamber Music’s Master Pianist series Saturday, April 15th at the Folly Theater. You can learn more at chambermusic.org.