Piano Spheres is heartbroken to announce that Susan Svrček, a founding member and anchor of Piano Spheres, passed away yesterday, May 31, from cancer. Susan’s devotion to Piano Spheres was inspiring to all of us. As a Piano Spheres artist, Susan performed in over 25 annual recitals in solo programs and occasionally with musical partners.
Jess Morton, President of Piano Spheres Board of Directors, noted, “Susan’s death feels as though one of the four points of Piano Spheres’ compass has broken off, leaving us all saddened by her passing, but assured that her legacy of good spirit and wonderful music will nevertheless endure through her influence on colleagues, students and those, who like me, are great admirers of her accomplishments.”
She was known for her elegant and insightful performances: as noted in the Los Angeles Times, “because she has probed so carefully into, and brought so many facets out of the massive repertory for the solo piano, one comes to her recitals with high expectations, new thrills, rediscovered gems, unknown masterpieces.” Susan loved to tackle extremely challenging pieces, and was known for her performance of Ives’ Concord Sonata. Her devotion to teaching and the love and admiration she had from her students led to several trips to Korea and Japan for master classes. Susan was Chair of the Piano and Chamber Music Departments at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, taught at Scripps College, Claremont Graduate Universities, and California State University Fullerton. She was still teaching remotely through her bout with cancer until just a few weeks before her passing. Susan is survived by her husband of 32 years, the composer Frederick Lesemann, whose music she championed, and who wrote much of his later music for her. Susan was 71. Below are remembrances from members of the Piano Spheres family…
“I was shocked to find out this sad news. My heart is broken. Susan was the most generous soul on earth. She premiered my “Reflections from a Rainbow” in 1996. Working with her was such a joy! Last time I talked to her was 2020 during the pandemic. She was going to do my piano piece again and was disrupted by the Covid. Her spirit will live with the Piano Spheres and the entire music community. I miss her and my sympathy thoughts to Rick.”
Joan Huang-Kraft – composer
“My heart is broken. As a former student of Susan’s from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, my goal at that time was to attend conservatory at a nontraditional age (late 20s to early 30s). With her patient and passionate guidance, she helped me become a better pianist/musician than I ever thought possible. After leaving California to attend conservatory to pursue a second bachelor’s degree, I did the best I could to remain in contact with Susan. Whenever I came home to LA to visit family, I would have lunch with Susan, and be in the audience if she happened to be performing. (During my most recent visit to LA last September, sadly, I was unable to have lunch with Susan or hear her play Messiaen in Piano Spheres’ season-opening concert.) Yet in looking back on many other moments with Susan, I realize now how her advice and counsel have helped me become a better person as well. I recall one instance where I was fortunate enough to observe Susan teaching a young beginning student. This young girl was sincerely doing her best to incorporate Susan’s guidance into her playing. After the lesson, Susan made the comment that she viewed all of her students as her “spiritual equals”. I will always cherish this sentiment. I am forever grateful to have had Susan as a teacher and friend. Her example of viewing us all as “spiritual equals” will continue to light my path. Here’s to you Susan wherever you are. I will always miss you. I will always love you.“
“Susan’s death feels as though one of the four points of Piano Spheres’ compass has broken off, leaving us all saddened by her passing, but assured that her legacy of good spirit and wonderful music will nevertheless endure through her influence on colleagues, students and those, who like me, are great admirers of her accomplishments.”
Jess Morton – Piano Spheres Board President
Susan was such a positive and warm light and a fantastic pianist and teacher I always looked up to. Her kind heart and sensitive playing will be sorely missed.
Sarah Gibson – Piano Spheres Core Artist
Even though we all know her passing was imminent, I am truly heartbroken. We go back at least 25 years or more. Her death is a tremendous loss to our musical community on so many levels. Besides her magnificent talent as a pianist, she was selfless in her devotion and her dedication to the craft of teaching. She was also an extraordinarily kind and generous human being. Her beaming smile and gracious composure is forever embedded in my memory and in my heart.
I shall miss her deeply.
Mark Saltzman – Piano Spheres Board Member
Susan had the most explosive laugh of anyone I know. Our rehearsals could dissolve into hilarity at the slightest moment. But Susan was as fierce as she was funny and I can hardly believe her beautiful, intense spirit is not with us anymore. We met almost 40 years ago as doctoral students at USC. We were founding members of Piano Spheres together with Mark and Leonard. We played piano four hands and duets on countless concerts. I’ll treasure those memories forever. I love you always, dear virgo pal. Sweet music be yours.
Vicki Ray – Piano Spheres Core Artist
Some of my favorite times with Susan were at our breakfast meetings at Julienne’s, a quaint neighborhood eatery. We always had to search for a date to get together but managed to treat ourselves every now and then to a special breakfast. We talked about anything and everything, from her love of teaching, to the latest Piano Spheres happenings, to her desire to take a deep dive into Beethoven. Her sunny and bright outlook always put me on the right track for the day. Susan’s Piano Spheres recitals were special events. Le printemps a surgit with Nelson Ojeda Valdes and Schoenberg Reimagined come to mind and I credit her for introducing me to Charles Ives. Susan delighted us all with her stunning appearance and her warm, caring persona. There was nobody like her and it is a huge loss to be without her.
Mary Hannon – Piano Spheres Board Member
I am so grateful that I got to know Susan. It was an utter delight to work with her, and perform with her, although it was only one time. What a loss to music, and to all of us who were lucky enough to know her.
Mary Anne Steinberger – ‘cellist
OMG, that’s so sad. I had no idea she was sick. She was a glorious pianist with an inspiring hunger for new, fascinating music but, from what I could tell, an even better human being. We hardly knew each other but she was always so warm and kind to me. I am grateful to her, and Piano Spheres, for the music she made, and the joy she brought. May she rest in peace.
Elliott Goldkind – composer
“I’m saddened to hear of Susan’s passing. My heart goes out to her husband and family; please accept my heartfelt sympathy. I was deeply appreciative of her performances of my music on Piano Spheres.”
Stephen Cohn – composer
My deepest sympathies to you and all who worked with Susan closely over her many years as a PS founding artist. Yours (and particularly Morton’s) message says it so very well. I add my own thought from personal interaction > such a kind and warm gentleperson, a thoughtful and beautiful woman. Such a tragic loss; still, so pleased to read that she worked right up ‘til near the end of her time in this realm—a fantastic way to live!
Sending you Love and Thanks, Luchus Smith – Patron
I heard Susan play several concerts before I even met her. Over the years she transformed from an artist I admired from the audience to a dear friend. She was a master programmer, who spent the time to find pieces that worked well together so that her recitals were always a window into what she was thinking about or feeling at the time. She had a unique and valuable talent for creating a complete experience for an audience, and her programs have always inspired me to try and match that thoughtfulness. I’ve never been as good at it as she was. If either of us needed a break, we both knew we could call the other set a lunch up at The Hat in Pasadena. We’d just talk about whatever was on our minds, and dream up things we were going to do next. The pandemic put those to a stop, and then I moved out of Los Angeles but we had already decided that whenever I was back in town we were going to meet up there for overpriced (yet delicious) pastrami. I will miss her endless enthusiasm for music, and remember her as someone who was always planning her next artistic adventure. I hope I can in some way live up to that energy in my own lifetime.
Jason Barabba – composer
I am very sad to hear that my friend and magnificent pianist Susan Svrcvk has succumbed to cancer after years of battling it. I first met her at the Master Classes of my beloved friend Maestro Mario Feninger in his Hollywood home. Her personal warmth was evident from the first moment I was introduced to her. Her passion for the artistry and technical skill needed to play piano works that communicate the intention of the composer and that LIVE in one’s ear, mind and heart was striking, and I followed her performances and attended some. As a composer, I always resonate with performers who care and who want to keep the legacy of classical and contemporary music alive. I was proud of Susan for founding and heading up the Pasadena Conservatory. I wish her well on her journey and thank her! With some tears and a full heart, I am Susan’s friend and colleague, Carol Worthey
Susan was my piano teacher throughout the ’90s.. I remember going to hear her play at what must have been a Piano Spheres concert. I was very young. And I remember being perplexed by the sounds that I heard! But because of that early exposure to new music, I would later become one of those strange pianists who would seek out very new compositions, and I’m sure Susan has had that kind of influence on many others. Susan was such an exhilarating breath of fresh air! I kept going back to my lessons with her – never once thinking that I wanted to quit – because I needed another hit! When it came time to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I decided that I wanted to be an exhilarating breath of fresh air too, so I joined the piano teaching profession myself. She’s the reason I’m a musician and a teacher, and I know she has been the reason for many others also. Her influence has been Magnanimous. I’m only sorry that the world did not get to experience her Concord Sonata. There are rare instances when you hear a piece of music and think: THAT’s IT!! Susan and the Concord was one of those special, alchemical moments. I’m so grateful for her influence and I feel so lucky to have been among the few to hear her Concord.
Josephine Chang – piano student
This is such sad news. I am very moved by this and my heart aches for her husband and family. She was much too talented to pass so young. My thoughts are with all who lost such a champion for the arts. Music has lost a pinnacle of light. I have tried but it’s hard to express words that have deep emotion tied to them. I am so sad for us all.
Dr. Louise H. Earhart – educator
At 71 it is just so sad to lose Susan. Cancer is just one of the worst. Knowing about her teaching at the Pasadena Conservatory, I donated my piano score library to them when converting to all electronic. Piano Spheres, so sorry for your loss too.
Michael Glenn Williams – composer
Pianist Susan Svrček established a versatile career that encompasses critically acclaimed solo, chamber, and orchestral appearances in the United States and abroad. A winner of the Concert Artists’ Guild International Competition in New York, she made her debut in Carnegie Recital Hall. She has also had solo engagements from the Boston Museum of Fine Art to Tokyo’s Zero Hall, Art Hall in Seoul, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. She was soloist with the Pasadena and Long Beach Symphonies, among others, and has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. She has been a featured artist on National Public Radio, Bavarian National Radio, and NHK Radio (Japan).
As a founding member of Piano Spheres, Susan Svrček has premiered works by Joan Huang, Benjamin Lees, Frederick Lesemann, Hyo-shin Na, Jeffrey Holmes, and Sean Heim. She is the pianist with ensembleGREEN, the Los Angeles-based chamber music group, specializing in the performance of new music. Concurrently, she performs chamber music of the “old masters.”
Ms. Svrček is noted for her wide range of repertoire, from Mozart and Beethoven to Xenakis and Boulez. She has achieved mastery in her performances, as noted in the Los Angeles Times, “because she has probed so carefully into, and brought so many facets out of the massive repertory for the solo piano, one comes to her recitals with high expectations, new thrills, rediscovered gems, unknown masterpieces.”
Ms. Svrček is in demand to give master classes throughout California, as well as in Japan and Korea. She has served on the piano faculties of Scripps College, Claremont Graduate University, and California State University Fullerton. Currently, she is the chair of the Piano Department and also chairs the Chamber Music Department at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music.
Ms. Svrček has recorded for CRI, Cambria, and ORFEO. She holds two degrees from CalArts, a master’s degree from Yale University, and a doctorate from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music.