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Remembering Constance Keene (1921-2005):
an appreciation by JOHN BELL YOUNG


Thirty years is a very long time between friends. Though it was nearly that long ago when I first met Constance Keene, who died on Christmas Eve, it now seems like yesterday.

Constance was long esteemed by her colleagues and admired by the public as a magnificent pianist, a consummate artist, and an exemplary teacher. But she was also much more than that to those who knew her. She was a loyal and devoted friend, a tireless mentor, and an extraordinary human being.

During a career that spanned more than 70 years, she enjoyed every advantage: the enthusiastic endorsement of such great artists as Horowitz, Rubinstein, and Hofmann; unanimous critical acclaim that never abated from the first to the last note she played; a distinguished recording career that gave permanent voice to her superb pianism and her large yet unique repertoire; substantial material success; and performances with the world's leading conductors and orchestras. That's no wonder, given her phenomenal technique tempered by steely discipline, her interpretive authority, and her unlimited imagination. Her 35 year tenure as a professor, and then trustee at the Manhattan School of Music, as well as her service as an adjudicator at many prestigious international competitions (including the Cliburn) contributed to her broad influence in the world of classical music.

Constance Keene. Photo © Greg Griffin
Constance Keene. Photo © Greg Griffin

Indeed, her generosity, both artistic and material, was legendary. It would have been an easy thing to hoard every opportunity and advantage for herself, resting on her laurels while refusing to share her contacts or prestige. But Constance was above all a giver; she was determined that others should be afforded a fighting chance in a mercilessly competitive business. More often than not she put the needs of her students and colleagues above her own, using her influence to open important doors and opportunities that the music business would routinely deny them.

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Copyright © 8 January 2006 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA


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