Marjorie Mitchell

October 28, 1921August 7, 2017
Internationally acclaimed concert pianist Marjorie Mitchell died on August 7, 2017. She was 95. Born in Oklahoma in 1921, Miss Mitchell moved with her family to Charlottesville in 1931 and lived there for the rest of her life. Her first piano teacher was her mother, Eula Mitchell, who taught piano in Charlottesville for 40 years. Miss Mitchell continued her studies at the Julliard School of Music in New York City. She interrupted those studies to join the USO and entertain the troops for two years during World War II. Upon completing her graduate studies at Julliard, she received a Fulbright Scholarship in 1952 for additional study and training in Europe. By that time she had already begun playing professionally in the U. S., including a debut with the National Symphony in Washington. Her career took off with her highly successful European debut in 1953. Many bookings quickly followed on the Continent, and over her career she appeared in virtually every major European city. In 1961 one critic wrote “Marjorie Mitchell with her dynamic rhythms and elan is the best America has sent to this continent in a long time. . .” In 1956 she made her Carnegie Hall debut in spectacular fashion, as she played three concertos and one ballade all on the same program. The tough New York critics hailed the performance. One said “Her technique is all steel and flame…In short, the mechanics of piano rendition are as child’s play to her. The keyboard is her natural medium. She revels in it.” Early in 1957 she appeared in recital in San Francisco. Again the critics raved: “Clarity, brilliance, and a superb sense of style were the leading themes in Marjorie Mitchell’s recital. She…knows all there is to know about pianistic tone color…” In 1959 the New York Mirror reported that, “They call her America’s female Van Cliburn.” Also in 1959 she gave her first performance of Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Andre Kostelanetz. The New York Times reported that, “The audience recalled Marjorie Mitchell, American pianist, ten times…” The demand for more was immediate. She subsequently toured Europe playing all-Gershwin programs, and she teamed up with a German orchestra and two American singers to produce German-made recordings of Gershwin’s works. In the 1960s the United States State Department’s Cultural Presentations Program sent Miss Mitchell on tours to far-flung world capitals in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, Mexico, and South America. On one of those tours, she played an impromptu memorial recital at the American embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan upon receiving news of President John Kennedy’s death. She made numerous recordings, in particular for Decca and Vanguard. Her recordings reflect a wide-ranging repertoire, from Mozart to Ernest Bloch. While she was an ardent admirer of Franz Liszt and Sergei Rachmaninoff, she paid particular attention to neglected works of modern composers, both in her programs and in her recordings. She premiered a piano concerto written for her by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Robert Ward. One of her last collaborations was with Charlottesville composer Walter Ross. Throughout her career she found time for performances in her hometown, often as benefits for local charitable groups. She played solo recitals and orchestral concerts with local musical groups. In 1967 she teamed up again with the National Symphony to play an all-Gershwin benefit concert at University Hall. Long after her retirement from the concert stage she played periodic recitals for the elderly residents of the Martha Jefferson House. Like her mother before her, Miss Mitchell taught piano privately in Charlottesville for many years. She also served briefly on the faculty of the North Carolina School for the Arts in Winston-Salem. Miss Mitchell is survived by three nephews and a niece: H. Bryan Mitchell of Madison County, Virginia, Charles P. Mitchell of Wichita, Douglas G. Mitchell of Austin, and Mary Virginia Pinho of Boston. Burial will be private, and a memorial service will be scheduled at a later date at Connect Church. Contact the church for details. Memorial contributions may be made to the Martha Jefferson House, Connect Church, or the charity of one’s choice.

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