Two Pianists, Two Recitals, Two Deeply Personal Statements

Buechner was unsparing in her description of becoming the “punching bag” at her elementary school, abuse that became so extreme that she was sent to a Quaker school. There she fell in love for the first time; Buechner said she wonders whether she was actually in love with this splendid young woman or she secretly wanted to be her.

Music and piano became Buechner’s outlet — where she could be what she called her “true self.” As if to demonstrate, at the recital on Saturday she gave an exciting account of the teeming (and very difficult) first movement of Chopin’s Third Sonata. After tossing off the final chords, she proudly shouted: “I played that at my Juilliard audition! I was 16!”

Indeed, Buechner had early success after success, including winning top prizes at major competitions and extensive tours. All the while, though, she struggled with her gender identity. On Saturday she shared stories of developing ulcers and contemplating suicide, and had the audience grimly laughing at her accounts of sessions with a series of hopeless psychiatrists.

“Therapists are like piano teachers,” she said. “There are lots of them, and they are mostly bad.”

Finally, in the late 1990s, Buechner began her transition to her true self, which included a botched surgery in Bangkok that later had to be corrected. In the process she lost friends, family, her manager and concert dates; her letters seeking teaching jobs were not even answered.

Eventually she found her way to a new, more welcoming life teaching at the University of British Columbia near Vancouver. From that point on, slowly and steadily, her international career was reborn. Today she teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia; the text for “Of Pigs and Pianos” comes from an autobiography she has written and hopes to have published. She ended the program with a melting rendition of a wistful Scarlatti sonata, which conveyed the place of satisfaction and peace at which she has arrived.

In the evening, at the Y, speaking to the audience, Tao, 27, said that during the hard, lonely months of the pandemic, improvisation had become increasingly crucial to him, allowing him an immediate “response to an environment” — it “kept me in my life.”

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