Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti is in the intensive care ward of a Miami hospital after being taken by ambulance from a truncated all-Beethoven solo recital at a local church on Thursday night.
Mr. Kuerti, who is 75, spoke lucidly to the audience for about five minutes before beginning a Beethoven rondo that went on far longer than usual. "He kept repeating the same thing over and over, like he was stuck in some sort of loop," said Alan Penchansky, a board member of the Friends of Chamber Music of Miami, which presented the concert.
Mr. Kuerti finished the piece and began a set of bagatelles, but soon "lost himself entirely," restarting one piece several times, Mr. Penchansky said. At that point, Santiago Rodriguez, a professor of piano at the University of Miami, approached Mr. Kuerti "and very gently put his arm around him," Mr. Penchansky added.
"Anyone who knows the maestro's playing could tell something was wrong," Mr. Rodriguez said. "My fear was that he might fall or hit his head on the piano. He looked at me, and though we know each other, I didn't find any recognition. Then there was a brief slurring of my name, and he said, 'Oh no, I must keep going,' or words to that effect, so I stepped back."
But when Mr. Kuerti tried to resume, Mr. Rodriguez said, his continued disorientation was obvious. At that point, Mr. Kuerti was coaxed away from the piano, but remained in the chapel, walking under his own power to one of the front seats.
An intermission was called, and paramedics arrived about 10 minutes later. Mr. Rodriguez said he received a text message this afternoon from FCMM president Julian Kreeger, at whose house Mr. Kuerti was staying, in which Mr. Kreeger said that Mr. Kuerti remains in hospital and that "the diagnosis is still inconclusive."
The pianist's partner, Catherine Berthiaume, is said to have flown to Miami on Friday morning.
Mr. Kuerti, who was born in Vienna, is one of Canada's leading pianists. A former child prodigy and winner of numerous awards, he has performed in recital and with major orchestras across Canada and around the world. He has championed the works of Beethoven and Schubert, as well as lesser classical lights such as Carl Czerny.
Mr. Kuerti was also the founding director of the Festival of the Sound, an annual summer event in Parry Sound, Ont., and runs Mooredale Concerts, a Toronto series begun by his late wife, the cellist Kristine Bogyo. He has been politically outspoken, and ran unsuccessfully for the NDP in the 1988 federal election.
He has two sons: Julian, who was recently named principal conductor of Montreal's l'Orchestre Métropolitain; and Raphael, a classically trained cellist who performs as Rumpelstiltz with the Toronto hip-hop group Babylon Warchild.
Mr. Kuerti is a regular guest at FCMM recitals, Mr. Penchansky said, and always draws a crowd that includes eminent Miami pianists. The audience was shaken by the swift disintegration of Thursday's concert, he said.
"To see that happen to someone of his stature was very frightening and saddening."