Pianist Ralph Votapek’s early triumphs — as winner of the prestigious Naumburg Award and gold Medalist in the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition — were an auspicious prelude to an even more remarkable career. Votapek’s compelling keyboard style embodies all that is best in twentieth-century piano traditions, combining the fire, poetry and tonal warmth of the grand-manner prewar era with the modern-day virtues of fastidious clarity and electrifying rhythmic flair.
Mr. Votapek has made literally hundreds of appearances with major American orchestras. Featured no less than sixteen times as the Chicago Symphony’s guest soloist, Votapek has frequently played with the Boston Pops, also concertizing with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony, and leading orchestras in St. Louis, Houston Dallas, Louisville and elsewhere.
With concerto appearances abroad ranging through London, Lisbon, St. Petersburg and into the Far East, Mr. Votapek has made a special commitment to Latin America, where he has toured every other year for more than 42 years, performing in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Asuncion, Montevideo, Sao Paolo, Lima, Caracas, Santiago and numerous smaller cities. Mr. Votapek is equally celebrated as a solo recitalist throughout four continents: in New York alone, he has performed repeatedly at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Guest appearances with the Juilliard, Fine Arts, New World and Chester String Quartets are highlights of his extensive chamber music experience.
Born in Milwaukee, Mr. Votapek began his musical education at age nine, when he enrolled in the Wisconsin Conservatory. Continuing his studies at Northwestern University, he subsequently attended the Manhattan School of Music and The Juilliard School, where his principal teachers were Rosina Lhevinne and Robert Goldsand. He has served as Artist-in-Residence at Michigan State University where he is currently Professor Emeritus of Piano at the College of Music.
Mr. Votapek was the soloist on Arthur Fiedler’s last Boston Pops recording, a Gershwin program released on CD by London Records, and most recently available as part of the Deutsche Grammophon CD titled “The Arthur Fiedler Legacy.” In recent years he has recorded prolifically for the Ivory Classics and Blue Griffin labels. On the former, he has recorded the complete Debussy Preludes, the complete Goyescas of Granados, and a collection of important 20th century works. On the latter there are “Votapek Plays Gershwin,” “The Votapeks, from Mozart to Piazzolla,” Beethoven’s complete works for piano and cello with cellist, Suren Bagratuni, and most recently, “Schubert’s Last Sonatas.” Each recording has received critical acclaim in the industry’s leading publications.
Frequently joined by his wife Albertine in two piano and four hand recitals, the Votapeks 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 have been featured on performing arts series of numerous colleges and universities.
In 2013 Mr. Votapek was awarded best foreign artist in recital by the Association of Argentine Music Critics. In May 2016 he returned to South America for the 25th time celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first tour there.