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Pianist Lou Teicher; Duo Set Classical Music on Its Ear

Lou Teicher, seated at right, and Arthur Ferrante met each other at New York's Juilliard School of Music when they were children. They had several Top 10 tunes.
Lou Teicher, seated at right, and Arthur Ferrante met each other at New York's Juilliard School of Music when they were children. They had several Top 10 tunes. (Scott W. Smith Collection)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008

Lou Teicher, half of the popular piano duo of Ferrante & Teicher, who defied the arbiters of musical taste to become unlikely hitmakers in the 1960s with their theatrical arrangements of movie themes and light classical works, died Aug. 3 at his summer home in Highlands, N.C., after a heart attack. He was 83.

Mr. Teicher formed a musical partnership as a child with Arthur Ferrante when both were precocious students at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. They performed for several years as a classical duo and often presented duets of popular songs as encores.

In 1960, they recorded a dramatically rhythmic version of Adolph Deutsch's theme from "The Apartment," a film starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. The tune became an unexpected hit, selling nearly 1 million copies in three weeks, and no one was more surprised than Ferrante and Mr. Teicher when large crowds lined up to see them.

" 'The Apartment' record came out while we were on tour, and after just a couple weeks, we started noticing our audiences were acting different," Mr. Teicher told the Chicago Tribune in 1987. "So we did the only thing we could: We switched styles, and we haven't regretted it for a minute."

Ferrante & Teicher followed "The Apartment" with Ernest Gold's theme from the epic film " Exodus," which reached No. 2 on the pop charts in 1961 and was their biggest hit. Their other million-selling Top 10 tunes included Leonard Bernstein's "Tonight" from "West Side Story" (1961) and the theme from " Midnight Cowboy" (1970).

During their 42-year career, the classically trained duo -- dubbed the "grand twins of the twin grands" -- made more than 150 albums, sold 88 million records worldwide and had 22 gold and platinum records. They found themselves sharing space at the top of the charts with such disparate acts as Ray Charles, Patsy Cline, the Carpenters, Led Zeppelin and the Jackson 5.

Ferrante & Teicher were fixtures on television talk and variety shows throughout the 1960s and '70s, performing their signature hits on facing grand pianos. Yet for all their success, they faced a steady barrage of brickbats. A New York Times critic blasted their 1948 New York debut for its "grandiose and overly complicated" arrangements that had "more energy than sensibility."

Thirty years later, The Washington Post's Richard Harrington found their elaborate stylings "passionless, seemingly ruled by a metronome. . . . It all comes across lifelessly, a bit more immediate than Muzak, but ultimately just as numbing."

Ferrante & Teicher never apologized for their brand of musical bombast and spent 340 days a year on tour, drawing on a repertoire of 1,200 songs and a wardrobe of glitzy tuxedos almost as large. They sometimes joked that they found their outfits "at a Liberace fire sale."

"Let's face it -- we don't appeal to hard-core classical music lovers, but I'd like to think that the music we play can, in a small way, help people come to know and like classical music a little better," Mr. Teicher said in 1987. "And that's not such a bad thing to be doing."

Louis Milton Teicher was born Aug. 24, 1924, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and was considered a child prodigy. At 6, he received a scholarship to Juilliard, where he met Ferrante, three years older.

The two pianists were on the Juilliard faculty in the 1940s when they began to perform classical concerts together. In the early 1950s, they were at the forefront of the experimental "prepared piano" movement, in which they altered the piano tone by inserting cardboard, wooden blocks, rubber pads and sandpaper between the instrument's strings.

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