Vladimir Horowitz, one of the world's best-known pianists, will perform before an invited celebrity audience at the White House Feb. 26 in a recital to be taped and televised later that night by the Public Broadcasting Serivce (PBS).
The occasion promises to be the most glittering cultural event yet to be staged in the Carter White House and another chance for public television to lure the big audiences it needs to make its mark next to the mass-appeal commercial networks.
Horowitz, 74, is known as not only a brilliant artist but a large inaccessible one. His rare concert appearances are always quick sellouts and his recordings relatively few. His only previous television performance was a Carnegie Hall Concert on CBS in 1968; he was interviewed on "60 Minutes" in December and played a few notes on the piano in his New York apartment during the interview.
Negotiations to get Horowitz to the White House and then on public TV were delicate. After President and Mrs. Carter expressed an interest in having Horowitz perform, White House social secretary Gretchen Poston and Mrs. Carter's press secretary, Mary Hoyt, made the initial contacts with Horowitz's agent in New York.
At the same time, it occured to White House media adviser Barry Jagoda that the appearance of Horowitz could carry the Carter philosophy into millions of American homes if it were shown on public TV, and he contacted station WETA-TV here.
When Horowitz first agreed to the recital, will begin at 4 p.m., and then to the telecast, which will air at 10 p.m. in order to reach the widest possible audience, WETA applied for and got a $50,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CBP) to produce the program.
Horowitz, who has reported turned down lucrative offers from commercial stations for appearances, will not be paid for the recital or for the telecast. He will play works of Chopin, Schumann and Mozart and be introduced by the president.
"We consider it quite a coup for us," WETA vice president Gerald Slater said yesterday. "The commercial stations have been trying to get him for quite some time."
But the White House would not agree to admit the public TV cameras to the recital until assured the telecast would capture the luster of the event and communicate the administration's view that high art should be made as widely available as possible. In other words - that it would be good TV and good public relations as well.
There is precedent for concern. The last sojourn into the Whire House by public TV to cover a major event was a State Dinner for Queen Elizabeth II during the Ford administration. The telecast was a debacle that mortified the White House and embarrased WETA.
So Slater promised Jagoda that he would import a New York producer, Christopher Sarson, and a New York director, Kirk Browning, to handle the show.
Jagoda said yesterday he has confidence the program will go smoothly. "Its all too easy to critize public broadcasting for mistakes, Jagoda said. "Everybody makes mistakes. Public TV didn't produce the second presidential debate last year. We have full confidence in PBS and their capability in handling this event."
The Horowitz appearance will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Russian-born pianist's American concert debut. Also in conjunction with that anniversary, RCA Records will release next week "Golden Jubilee Concert," a recording Horowitz made with the New York Philharmonic under Eugene Ormandy's direction of Rachmanioff's Third Piano Concerto.
The recording is the first Horowitz has made with an orchestra since 1952 all the others have been solo recital albums. A spokesman for RCA Records said the Company hopes the Horowitz album, on which advance orders are "just phenomonal," will challenge and perhaps overtake Van Cliburn's recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto as the largerst selling classical recording of all time.