Memories of my dearest mother, a phenomenal concert pianist who never quite received the recognition she deserved, but in the final analysis she did through the legacy that she laid through her students. Certainly her tone of pianism was indescribable and her technique and musicality noted in time as one of the finest pianists of her age. Pierre Montreaux, the great conductor took her under his wing. Many others commented her artistry as genius, perhaps.. but she was self-effacing to the words. Her Biography and Legacy is a life as a pianist and teacher as well as a remarkable young lady and as a teacher. As a woman she was strong, and the tune of her legacy was symphonic as the students she had helped built one of the best strongholds of today in classical music.
Patricia Benkman was a relentless perfectionist who insisted on the best qualities within her students and gave to them concepts and ideas that they would perhaps find no where else.
She was the a student of the best and she demanded the best, but with such sensitivity and nurturing that she protected her students in many fine and noble acts that they did not realize when they were studying with them. Often scholarships were provided for these students in her behalf and I do remember well that stack of checks that she refused to cash simply because she believed the students didn’t properly gain from her lessons, or that they were not receiving her specific message as a wonderful (artist) teacher.
My mother had a very strict sense of values that were unshaken. She was a dynamo! The straight line was towed lyrically and intelligently through her teaching and mastery of music. She believed in the power of music not only to transcend one in a metaphysical sense but to make one more viable as a person in the study of music as a craft.
She was a genius and I as her son still say so in no uncertain terms.
I could never imagine someone with such a clarity of vision that she could literally see through anything and had so much sensitivity that she could balance cause and effect by circumstance and end up with a prodigy bringing out the very best in students talents. As a mother she was determined and conscious.
No matter how many years past I still look back...and try to remember her, and simply it comes out as though she were living today somewhere inside me. Those last days, which I remember precisely, gave a very keen insight into her clarity clear until the end. I do remember quite a mystical occurrence which I shall remember to my dying day, and I do somehow know that she is somehow with me in spirit as long as I live.
Patricia Benkman was born in San Francisco California, to Herbert Benkman and Gertrude Francis Marlowe. 1917.
Her father Herbert Benkman was first flutist/piccolo of the San Francisco Symphony form the late 1920's until his retirement from the orchestra the 1960's.
Her relatives were almost all musicians. The brother of her father Herbert Benkman was the famous Siegfried Benkman, pianist and composer who composed many piano pieces and works for orchestra.
My mother began her piano studies at 5 years old. The story here is rather interesting as to why she tuned into the piano in such an intense manner. It was during the period as a child when she was recovering from what could have been, in its day, an illness of acute (Hepetitis) that she came to the piano and began playing. The illness laid her weak, and almost at deaths bed on several occasions as a child from the period 1923-25. She was home schooled barely able to lift from her bed at times except to reach out and write, make drawings on scraps of paper and have a unique interest in the sounds being created by her father in his studio.
Upon her recovery a period of a couple of years had lapsed where she began lessons and came to the instrument in a brilliant fashion, that of a prodigy.
Her sisters had similar musical interests and developed their studies during their early years.
In her youth the young Patricia Benkman began a passion for music and was listening and learning music far beyond her years with such interest and intensity as to be the interest of several noted musical luminaries, and the legendary Russian pianist Lev Shore, the so called "Prodigy Builder", who became a favorite student of the Russian.
Patricia Benkman became studious and determined, absorbing all the information she would have contact with. As a young lady she would 'camp out' at the Symphony concerts and literally absorb all the music she would listen to. (A stack of programs are in her file-listening to many of the greatest pianists of her day and getting the best seats possible in order to hear the musicians first hand) There were few recordings available to her at this time. My grandfather, a concert flutist insisted to get a clear hearing of any of the masters you had to hear them in person. As a youth she didnt pile up the records or plug into MP3's or Digital CD's as we know them today. Recordings were a curiosity, and in some cases considered a phantom voice by the new technology that was still very primitive during this era of Wax recordings (although most done in one sitting without edit-still a novelty- as to the technology that was represented.
"You could never hear a performer through the recording" she often commented behind the scenes. And remarkably as true as it was in that day, it is still somewhat true to this day with all our perfectionism in the media
"There is an active life on stage that is not in the recording..." she commented.
In the years ahead, she never owned a record player per say but would much rather hear the performer in person. She shrugged at recordings and even during her later years... when that recording machine moved in, the reels moving and positive and negative static impressions laid on a piece of mylar moving between two spools...she did'nt want to be a part of it.
"But it is a necessity..." she would say in her later days, not crowding out the technology as the recording art developed.
"And I do not wish to make recordings" she would respond..."much cleaner is the response in actuality of a performance " she would resume, knowing the process and debating the quality and issues of sound to her friends.
Of course by the 60's and 70's the recording art had become much more advanced, even including video. She never squabbled over a "direct live recording" of my fathers...so long as it was right there, but the "image" transposed on disk was another matter entirely-"A recording art.." as she projected hearing how much better the technology was after Joseph Hoffman worked with the media, and how much better the technology had become with the advent of HiFi-
She was a lady who took things to heart of the musical image of a performer, as there seemed to be a lack luster in any recording made except for the live performance, which she elected to do, but not record except in rare cases when this was needed-
19th century beliefs? No. Recording has its own are today 2011 that is somewhat beyond the performance stage...The live performance seems to be, and always will be what any good artist will aim for...as even today with the vast array of media we cannot catch certain specifics through Digital media...call it the essence of life, or whatever...many will disagree.
Going back I recall when I asked my mother when she heard her first recording. Whatever it was, or whomever it was it sounded aweful, a spinning disk with a large horn attached to it, casting out sounds that only mimicked a live performance at best in the days of the 78's.
Her favorite pianist, shared with my father, was Vladimir Horowitz whose technique was taught to him through lineage-Essipova/Vengerova. There were other performers who she knew through reference with her father. Other performers would come over for dinner at the Benkman residence as well as conductors and composers. The Benkman household was afresh with commentary of music and musicians from her youth. Even as a young lady she was not easily impressed except by the notion of a good performance. At every performance, even of my father, she was active back stage at the listening and briefing of each phrase and incidence of color, quantities of volume and contrast to make a live performance better.
In 1926 the young Patricia Benkman rose to the occasion and learned the Liszt Piano Concerto#1 in E Flat, playing it almost as if it was made for her winning performances and a piano that graced her parents home as well as my own for many years. Within a very short time she was lauded in the press for her performances and commanded the piano with a virtuoso facility but with a melodious tone that to this day is indescribable.
She was a mere 10 years old and within a couple of years had this piece as well as the very new Rhapsody in Blue of George Gershwin ready for a dynamically received stage performance. In 1928 the young Ms Benkman made her first appearance with this grandiose work in San Francisco, as well as the Liszt Piano Concerto.
Somewhat ironicaly George Gershwin came to town, the city of San Francisco in the late 20's, my Grandfather Herbert Benkman on stage under his baton in a highly publicized concert in celebration of the new composers work, my mother front-center audience. Back stage after the concert my Grandfather approached Gershwin and invited the then young composer to their home, my mother soon to appear back stage to greet the composer. Gershwin had heard of her performances of the piece in San Francisco and was happy people were so responsive to his work.
The San Francisco audiences were thrilled at the young prodigy and during the early 1930's she shared many spotlights for her piano in performance, not only in San Francisco but in other cities around the country...and yes in Europe too.
It was not soon there after that she was contacted by Madame Vengerova:
Wikipedia Article on Isabella Vengerova:
Isabelle Vengerova (1 March [O.S. 17 February] 1877, Minsk - 7 February 1956, New York) was a Russian, later naturalized citizen of the United States, pianist and music teacher
She was born Isabella Afanasyevna Vengerova, in Minsk (now in Belarus). She studied the piano at the Vienna Conservatory with Josef Dachs, and privately with Theodor Leschetizky; in Saint Petersburg she studied with Anna Yesipova. From 1906 to 1920 she taught at the Imperial Conservatory in St Petersburg and then toured the USSR and Western Europe from 1920 to 1923, when she settled in the USA.
In 1924 she helped found the Curtis Institute and in 1933 joined the faculty of the Mannes College, teaching at both institutions until her death in 1956. Vengerova could be tyrannical with her students, sometimes to the point of hurling the furniture in her studio, but she was also known for her painstaking attention to detail and for a psychological insight that brought out the best in each pupil. While she denied having a particular method, she drilled all students in techniques designed to achieve expressive playing and beautiful tone, keeping the fingers close to the keys for evenness and a seamless legato; playing deeply in the keys while using the weight of the forearm and a flexible wrist to achieve a full singing tone without harshness, and controlling tone by higher or lower positions of the wrist.
Among her pupils were Ralph Berkowitz, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, Anthony di Bonaventura, Gary Graffman, Lilian Kallir, Virginia Reinecke, Joseph Rezits, Abbey Simon, Gilbert Kalish, Jacob Lateiner, Leonard Pennario and Stanley Babin. She was the maternal aunt and first teacher of Nicolas Slonimsky.
In the 1930's Ms Patricia Benkman traveled to Europe and had an invitation to study under scholarship with Marcel Mass at the Brussels Conservatory as well as perform.
She traveled to Europe and concertized and appeared in Prague Czechoslovakia in the years before the war. The Prague conservatory was her aim for study, but unfortunately the news of the encroaching Second world war pulled her home right after a concert tour of 1938.
Upon her return to America she had referance to some other pianists of unique interests for study. It was during this time that she had contact with a famous touring pianist Egon Petri who took great interest in furthering development of my mothers career, and invited her to Zakopane Poland for study the summers of 1937-38, shortly before the outbreak of WWII.
It was at this time she met my father Ozan Marsh in Poland.
Recollections: My father heard her and was amazed not only at her technical capacity at the keyboard in playing Liszt Etudes for Egon Petri in Zakopane but at the sheer beauty of her interpretations. There erupted a jealousy initially. At this point my father was learning the Franz Liszt Apres u du Lecture d Dante. My mother was deeply impressed with my fathers performance of this piece and made deep suggestions for the interpretation as well as a way of improving the technique and lyricism. The two set for hours together studying from one another, my father having his first appearance "Debut" in Warsaw of this particular piece at the Fredrick Chopin Zal. After meeting and becoming extremely jealous of each others playing- Both pianists were dynamos--Egon Petri introjected that they both continue study at Cornell New York in the following years. They both seperated, and later met in upstate New York at Egon Petri's studio. Ozan and Patricia Benkman were married in New York City just after the outbreak of the second world war 1941.
My mother was giving concerts during her travels and had quite a few opportunities open to her in other parts of Europe (Germany, Brussels, France) as well as in Prague (then Czechoslovakia) , where she performed in the Master Classes of the Prague Conservatory(insert article from 1938) on a slow route to attend Petri's summer sessions in Zakopane.
(It was during the summer of 1938 that my father and mother met, in Zakopane Poland)
As the war broke out my mother went to England and then returned to America returning to San Francisco and later studying -1940 with Egon Petri at Cornell University for advanced training.
According to Petri, she was a dynamic in his class who could play as though the piano was entirely hers and grace each note delicately and powerfully if needed. Under Petri's training she developed a large repertoire that consisted of works from Bach to Scarlatti through Busoni and some of the most modern contemporaries of this era. During the weekends she would return to train with Vengarova and meet some of the most outstanding pianists of the day, trade notes, and appear in performances across the country from New York City, Chicago and other engagements across the United States. She appeared on radio live numerous times in Chicago and also in San Francisco during the 1940's during the war, as part of her sponsorship the WPA Administration under Roosevelt.
My father and mother were married in New York City in 1941 just after the outbreak of the war. My father went into the Navy while my mother continued her performance career and taught in New York City, then moving to Williamsburg PA closer to where my father was stationed in the Navy.
As the war intensified and my fathers reprieve from the service came to pass, the couple stayed in New York and continued to concertize in solo and duo-piano concerts up and down the East Coast.
1917 Born in San Francisco California
Her parents, Gertrude Marlov Benkman-Herbert Benkman, first chair flute for the San Francisco Symphony from 1925-1963.
Her father was a serious and deeply set musician, one of the best flutist and flute teachers in San Francisco (also taught at San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Mills College)
From a family of three sisters, my mother blossomed in her craft at an early age.
From her earliest music lessons- approx..1924-She was known as a prodigy who took the concert stage by storm. In one article from the early 1930's she was tagged as "The Sunset Girl", a young lady of stunning beauty that would grace the stage with a command of the piano. She began concertizing in her early teens with a rather powerful repertoire of classical and modern music.
Early recollections on paper of her history record that she would learn a Beethoven Sonata a week, study and practice Bach Preludes and Fugues as though they were elements of important logic in her early study. She had a precocious technique and ability to memorize which was studied by my father and later added to his book "The Pianists Spectrum" in its elements. Other notes include a precocious study of number of volumes of many composers, their lives and history accounting for style and dates as well as interest in modern music which she played in concert on numerous occasions. David Brookman (Film composer, arranger and pianist) , and Anis Fulihan (Composer) were some of the composers which she befriended during her life and gave debuts of their piano pieces on occasion. She had a love for the music of Dmitri Kabalevsky and as soon as she had received the score of the 3rd Sonata it was on tour with her on arranged concerts under New York management, it was played as a stable in performances.
Early Concerts 1928-1939
Memories of Brussels Conservatory-Europe-New York
Protege of Conductor Pierre Montreau
First Appearance with Orchestra 1928 Edward Grieg Piano Concerto- Second/Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin Praise)
Chicago 1930's/New York City/Zakopane Poland
1940-1950's New York City
The Influence and the Life of Patricia Benkman
1942 Marries Ozan Marsh (Pianist)
William Kappel/Earl Wild/Egon Petri
Isadora Vengerova-William Masselos- Others...
1950's Radio Concerts/Tours Across the Country/Appearances with Orchestra
Personal Research/Guides and Life
Lindenwood College of Music
Sherwood Early Days-
San Francisco Conservatory of Music 1961-63
Converse College, Spartanburg South Carolina
Committing the Elements of the Artist to Teaching
Teaching Tucson Arizona
Cooperative Research with Ozan Marsh
in Europe 1973
Chautauqua Institute 1957-1974
She gave lessons in piano as well as joint recitals with her husband (my father) Ozan Marsh at Chautauqua Institution, having numerous pupils who later became concert pianists, conductors and well known teachers of piano. Her study of musical approach and ways of performance behind the scenes were relentless in perfectionism, and emphised the craft of piano, technique and a well tempered approach to interpretation as part of her approach to teaching. In her life her passion, and commitment was to teaching, especially in her later years.
Memories of her approaches to keyboard study as a young child, and as her son were memorable.
Her last pianistic achievements were honorable, remembering her playing Prokoffiev 3rd Piano Concerto and Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto shortly before her passing with the accompaniment of my father at second piano. As a young man I remember her approach towards a slower more lyrical Rachmaninoff #3rd Piano Concerto finding specific phrases that were particular to another version of the piano concerto and a special interest in profound but rapid technique that was another side of virtuosity with emphisis on the lyrical aspects of piano playing.
Memories in Her Passing
Marsh/Benkman Star (a physical star in the heavens)- Right Assention 20minutes 10.4 seconds-Declination 48m. 40.83 seconds Magnitude 8.30 Type F5-
By a wonderful student of my parents who, interested in astronomy thought this a personal keepsake-
Several Trees were planted in Israel following her passing-
The Sherwood-Marsh Studios at Chautauqua Institute, Chautauqua New York named-