"You have dreams," said pianist Andre'-Michel Schub, "and some of them come true. One of them came true last night." It was yesterday morning and Schub, who won the Van Cliburn piano competition two months ago, had played a Beethoven concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra Saturday night. Now Schub was relaxing; his face is pale, and a receding hairline makes him look somewhat older than his 28 years, but he smiles easily, all tension gone for the moment. Along with a breakfast of hot oatmeal at the Watergate, he was savoring the memory of his first concert with "one of my idols, one of the musicians I admire the most . . . Slava Rostropovich."
Winning a major competition like the Cliburn does change you, he reflected. "It's not that my playing has changed," he said, "but when some of your goals begin to be realized, it does make you a different person -- if not in terms of piano-playing, perhaps in terms of stage personality and all that kind of thing. And I find that with all kinds of demands on me, my standards keep getting higher and higher. When you play with someone like Slava, you have to rise to the highest level to make music together. Your standards keep going up, and especially when so many people are coming to hear you, you feel more responsibility -- to the audience and to the music you are playing."
The chief change in his music-making since the Cliburn competition, he concluded, is that "the opportunities are totally different." The fact that he is now famous began to hit home, he recalls, when he got a free breakfast back home in New York.
"The day after the contest," he recalled, "I was taking some very good friends to breakfast in my neighborhood, and several people recognized me -- patrons. Then the owner came over and greeted me. He was very friendly, and when I tried to pay him, he refused to take any money." Since the victory, which was shown nationwide on television, people have begun recognizing him walking down the street, at airports and at public entertainments. "There's a strong correlation, obviously, between that and a performing career, even though what's important to me is making music," Schub says. "This fits into having opportunities and having an audience come out to hear you play -- you know, you can't play to an empty hall."
Schub has been performing in public -- and not to empty halls -- since 1974, when he won the Naumburg Piano Competition. "I had enough to do," he says, "but now it is completely different. Last year, I did about 50 concerts. Next year, it will be over 100." And presumably, like last Saturday night's concert at the Kennedy Center, most or all of them will be sold out. In the 10 concerts he has performed since winning the Cliburn, Schub has not noticed any empty seats. "That's very gratifying, of course," he says, "but it also gives you a feeling of responsibility."
Schub was born in Paris of an American father and a French mother who were both studying at the Sorbonne. He grew up in Brooklyn, where his parents settled down to careers as French teachers in New York City when he was 8 months old. French was the language spoken in his home. "I'm theoretically fluent," he says. "I learned English when I was 3 or 4" -- about the same time he began learning music. His mother had once wanted to be a professional pianist, but her career plans were disrupted by World War II, which broke out when she was 13. She began teaching him piano when he was 4 years old, after noticing his special sensitivity to music. "They had a record player," he recalls, "and they would play Sammartini, Boccherini, things like that, and I would conduct and know what was coming next when I was 3. So they thought I was talented and they started me. What they did, basically, was to make it possible for me to have every kind of advantage in musical education, whether that meant taking me to lessons every week or going to concerts. So when I was growing up, I heard Richter and Horowitz and Gilels -- all the greats -- and I think that was part of my training as well. They made it possible without really pushing. I didn't play concerts and that kind of thing, but I mostly practiced when other kids were watching TV. I don't know any of the TV shows of the early '60s. I guess that's my biggest loss, if you want to call it a loss."
He began serious studies with pianist Jascha Zayde while going through the New York public schools and on to a year at Princeton. During that year, he auditioned for Rudolf Serkin, who offered to become his teacher at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, and that was the end of Princeton. "All I did during those three years at Curtis was practice," Schub says. "Otherwise my biggest activity was walking down to Sam Goody's, which was about 10 blocks away, to buy records. That was my social life. I worked hard on the basic repertoire that I play now, and I won't say I mastered it; you keep on working. But I made it presentable for concerts. Then after I graduated, I entered the Naumburg Competition, won it and got a manager and started to play concerts."
He still spends a lot of time practicing. It must be hard work, he concedes, "but I don't really see it that way. Fortunately, when you're a pianist, there is an endless wealth of truly great, inspired music that you can live with and grow with, the way you live with a very dear friend. A lot of it is discipline and hard work, but it's a . . . joy is not exactly the word. It's just a total part of my life. I don't complain about it as long as it leads to concerts. I don't see myself as working, I see myself as living music. I'm fortunate that my job happens to be not really a job. But it is awfully hard work in terms of hours. If you don't discipline yourself and make sure that you get in your practice, then ultimately you do a disservice to the music you play and ultimately to the quality of your concerts. It can be very hard when you travel all day and then have to play, but it's not too hard if you choose music that you really love."
What he really considers hard work is competition, and he shows obvious relief when he says that, after winning the Cliburn, he will never have to do it again. "My two weeks in Texas were the most trying two weeks in my life," he says. Now he faces a new kind of trial and, being already a seasoned performer, he has no illusions about the glamor or exotic attractions of a barnstorming virtuoso's life. "It will really begin to accelerate in September," he says. "There are periods when I'll be playing every day, and I will be home for only two weeks between September and May. I wanted that. In a few years, perhaps, I'll think about it some more. Meanwhile, I plan to enjoy it. I'll be in Europe several times next year -- Amsterdam, London, Germany, eastern Europe in the spring, and in the spring of '83 I'll be in China and Japan. I'm at the point where I have to plan two years ahead -- but I let my managers take care of the details. It's probably fortunate that I didn't go from nothing to everything in one step."
Does he really like it? He looks around the Watergate dining room and says, "This is a nice place," smiling, but a moment later he is more thoughtful. "Frankly, I don't like it. If it weren't for the opportunity to play concerts, I wouldn't do it. When I'm in Amsterdam and Helsinki next year, I will have one day in each city. I'll see the concert hall and the hotel and not much else. But I will keep playing and hope for return engagements -- that's how you build a career, with return engagements. I hope to keep playing. I have to do it; it keeps my life going."