Pianist Ralph Votapek ‘60 won the prestigious Naumburg Award in 1959 while still a Northwestern student. He went on to receive the gold medal in the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1962.

Votapek has been featured 16 times as the Chicago Symphony’s guest soloist and has performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Boston Pops, and the Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis, and National Symphonies, among other top ensembles. He has served as artist-in-residence at Michigan State University, where he is currently professor emeritus of piano.

Votapek's wife, Albertine, frequently joins him in two-piano and four-hand recitals. They have appeared in Buenos Aires under the auspices of the Mozarteum Argentino, on the Van Cliburn Series in Fort Worth, the Pabst Theatre Series in Milwaukee, and on many college campuses.

What made you choose the Bienen School of Music?

At age 17 my parents thought I was too young to tackle the New York musical scene. Fortunately, Northwestern had a fine academic reputation and a piano teacher who was highly recommended. Besides, it was only 75 miles away from Milwaukee, where I was from.

Which professor influenced you most during your time at the Bienen School of Music?

Gui Mombaerts was probably the best piano teacher I ever had and certainly the one who was just right for me at my stage of development.

Tell us about a particular experience that impacted you during your time at the Bienen School of Music.

It’s hard to find just one particular experience. Certainly soloing twice with the university orchestra and going every Friday afternoon to hear the Chicago Symphony with Fritz Reiner for 65 cents and my Northwestern ID.

What lesson did you learn at Bienen that has continued to resonate with you in your career?

I always remember the excellent theory classes with Aaron Parsons and the music history classes with Earl Bigalow.

Top three of your Desert Island Discs (any genre)

Serkin - Brahms Piano concerto No. 1
Horowitz - Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3
Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle - The Gershwin Songbook

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