Claudette Sorel is a name many are probably not familiar with, but that is more an indictment of the time that she was living and working in, as an active as a concert pianist. Throughout the 1950’s through to the early 1970s she was a force of nature at the piano. She performed throughout the United States, making more than 2000 concert, recital and festival appearances. Sorel performed works by American classical music icons such, as Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, Paul Creston and others, and she did all of this at a time when women in classical music needed to be iron-willed in order to have a successful career in classical music.
Born in France Sorel’s family immigrated to the United States. At the age of ten she received a scholarship to study at Julliard, and by the age of 11 she was performing as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic. She would go on to study at the very prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, while at the same time studying mathematics at Columbia University.
A slip on the ice in in New York in 1974 ended her performing career, but she would go on to have a prominent career as a pedagogue and advocate for women in music.
As the conductor Joanne Falletta states “She had a tremendous personality and force at the piano…it was amazing how she produced this multi-faceted color from the piano…she was a very, very strong player, but with a lot of imagination.”
The Sorel Classics label has released a terrific two CD retrospective of Claudette Sorel’s recordings called “Claudette Sorel-Rediscovered”. The label is a part of the Elizabeth and Michel Sorel Organization. Named for her parents, the organization was put in place by Claudette Sorel in the hopes of supporting women pianists, composers, and conductors.
Joanne Falletta knew Sorel from her time heading the piano department at SUNY Fredonia. Falletta was, and still is the Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. Sorel approached her about the possibility of starting the “Elizabeth and Michel Sorel Organization,” whose mission would be to support women composers and conductors. “She always felt that women didn’t have quite the same opportunities as men in her time and she thought this organization might help,” states Falletta.
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The two discs consist of the first CD showing Sorel’s prowess at the piano with works by Rachmaninov, Moszkowski, and Chopin. The second CD shows how Claudette Sorel dominated as a piano soloist with orchestras. On the second disc there are historical performances of three complete piano concertos by American composers, Eduard MacDowell, Joseph Wood, and Harold Morris. “She was way ahead of her time in seeking out unusual or new music. She was a champion of people like Peter Mennin, Lukas Foss, Aaron Copland, Paul Creston,” states Falletta.
This two CD retrospective of her recording is really something to behold! There are recordings that were made during rehearsals as well as recording made during solo piano recitals. Throughout the set you always get the sense that Sorel was a master pianist, are a true trailblazer in regards to championing works by lesser known composers.
Claudette Sorel and the Sorel Organization have successfully brought Sorel’s legacy back into the spotlight. Portraying her, as a piano virtuoso, philanthropist and advocate for gender equality in classical music.