Pianist Patricia Zander (1942–2008) died on July 22, 2008, after a long battle with cancer, through which she had continued to teach.
In 1972 Zander joined NEC's chamber music faculty, where her then-husband Benjamin Zander had taught since 1970. By the mid-'70s she was also a member of the piano studio faculty, and quickly justified her characterization as "probably the most influential music teacher in the city," in the words of former Boston Globe music critic Richard Dyer.
Already in 1983, the year her student Stephen Drury won a Concert Artists Guild award, Bernard Holland of The New York Times profiled her under the headline "Music Teaching Is Alive and Changing," describing a lesson with Drury where "when she does talk it is not to pontificate but to ask questions."
Quoted by Holland, Zander said: "As I teach, I find my own voice. And when I'm at home at my own piano with my own problems to solve, I think back to a lesson I've given and try to take my own advice. Sometimes I think it would have been nice if I could have studied with myself."
As a soloist and chamber musician, Zander performed throughout the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Korea, and toured and recorded with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Her discography with Ma ranges from Paganini works to chamber arrangements of Japanese traditional melodies. She coached lieder and opera and presented piano masterclasses in China and Japan. Before coming to NEC, she served on the faculty of Harvard University. She also served as coordinator of the chamber music program of the Round Top Festival in Texas through the early 1990s.
As a teacher, Zander exerted a profound influence on many musicians — not only her piano students but string players and others whom she coached, mentored, and accompanied. The list of students who worked with her includes Sarah Bob, David Breitman, Stephen Drury, Itamar Golan, Judith Gordon, and Max Levinson, and non-pianists Stefan Jackiw, Yo-Yo Ma, Irina Muresanu, and Sanford Sylvan. "Everything she did, she played with such laser-like intensity and razor sharp characterization," Ma recalled. "She made music leap off the page. She inhabited the many rooms in the mansion of music and was very comfortable in all of them."
Though Zander maintained close relations with many of her former students and continued to influence them as a friend and mentor, she often expressed the view that students should receive multiple viewpoints during their development, and would typically decline to continue as "teacher of record" past four years with any given student.
Beyond her work as a teacher, Zander was often consulted on important matters at NEC. She served on the committee that recommends nominees for honorary degrees and was a member of the Presidential Search Committee that chose Tony Woodcock to succeed the late Daniel Steiner. Those who worked with her on those committees could always be certain she would speak her mind with frankness, discernment, and sometimes devastating wit.
A.R.C.M., L.R.A.M., Royal College of Music, London. Studies with Cyril Smith. French government scholarship for study with Vlado Perlemuter and Nadia Boulanger. Fellowship from Arts Council of Great Britain for study in New York with Leonard Shure. Former faculty of Harvard University.
A memorial for Patricia Zander was held at NEC on October 5, 2008. As a visitor to NEC's Firestone Library of audio materials, you may listen to this and thousands of other recordings of unique NEC performances.