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William Kapell (1922 - 1953)


William Kapell’s parents were not musicians, but they did own a bookstore in Manhattan, his father being of Spanish-Russian ancestry and his mother of Polish descent. For such a large talent, it is surprising that Kapell did not show signs of developing into a pianist until he was around ten years of age. He had taken some piano lessons a few years before, but when he specifically asked his parents for more, they took him to a renowned teacher, Dorothea Anderson La Follette. She recognised his talent and the boy made incredibly rapid progress. La Follette patiently laid the groundwork for Kapell’s technique, but by the time he was sixteen La Follette was looking for another teacher to control Kapell’s fiery temperament and ‘untamed qualities’. She approached Olga Samaroff who taught Kapell at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music for which he was granted a scholarship. In 1940 he was granted a further fellowship to continue his studies with Samaroff at the Juilliard School of Music. The same year he won the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Youth Competition and played Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 with Eugene Ormandy conducting. The success of this performance led to an invitation to play at Robin Hood Dell that summer. The result of winning the Naumberg Award the following year was a concert at New York’s Town Hall; Kapell made his debut there in October 1941.

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