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Pianist Alexis Weissenberg dies aged 82

Bulgarian-born French pianist Alexis Weissenberg, considered one of the great classical music performers of the 20th century, has died aged 82.

He died Sunday in Lugano, Switzerland, Paris Orchestra artistic director Didier de Cottignies said, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 30 years.

Born to a Jewish family in Sofia in 1929, Weissenberg, a specialist in the music of Bach and Rachmaninov, was taught piano by his mother and gave his first performance at the age of 10.

Attempting to flee Bulgaria for Turkey in 1941 as fascism ravaged Europe, Weissenberg and his mother were captured and thrown into a concentration camp.

After three months in the camp, he and his mother were freed and put on a train to Istanbul by a German guard who had enjoyed listening to Weissenberg play the accordion.

In 1943 he entered the Jerusalem Academy of Music and later studied at New York’s Juilliard School of Music in 1946 and 1947, when he made his New York debut at Carnegie Hall under the baton of George Szell.

Over the next 10 years he toured the globe and in 1967 was chosen as soloist at the Berlin Philharmonic by Herbert von Karajan.

He joined the Paris Orchestra in 1968 and settled in France, eventually becoming a French citizen.

He spent many years teaching, founding a Piano Master Class in Engelberg, Switzerland, and composed a number of works for piano.

He had three children — a son and two daughters.