By Matthew Young, RealWV
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the third of a three-part series documenting the 2023 West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Part one serves as an overview of the event and the posthumous inductees. Part two covers the induction of Buddy Griffin, and part three covers the induction of Barbara Nissman.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – There is nothing left to say about Barbara Nissman that hasn’t already been said. So, to celebrate her on the occasion of her much-deserved induction into the WV Music Hall of Fame, let us talk of the trail that Barbara has blazed, and her musical-legacy by which the world has been made better.
Barbara was born in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve, 1944. Recognized as being “one of the last pianists in the grand Romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Rubenstein,” Barbara is among the finest concert pianists alive today. Having performed all over the world, Barbara has made music with some of the finest to have ever done so.
At just 11-years-old, Barbara knew what she would do for the rest of her storied life. Her dedication to the craft gained her international acclaim, and the attention of Argentine-composer Alberto Ginastera. Ginastera was so enamored with Barbara that he dedicated his final work, Piano Sonata No. 3, to her in 1982. In a way, it was Ginastera who led Barbara to her late husband, influential-poet Daniel Haberman. The couple met in New York City where Barbara was performing a memorial concert for the composer.
Barbara and Daniel married in 1987, and moved to Lewisburg in 1989, where they would enjoy far-too-few years together. Sadly, Daniel passed away in 1991.
“He’s (Daniel) the reason I’m here,” Barbara once told me. “He brought me here so we could live together, really. I mean, when you put a poet and a pianist together, you need a lot of space. So we finally found a home where we could both work.”
Having lived in the Mountain State now for more than 30 years, Barbara is a “West Virginian by choice.”
“It’s my home, and I love it here,” Barbara said after a February performance. “I really feel blessed – living where I do is kind of a miracle.”
Among Barbara’s professional accolades are the W.Va. Governor’s Distinguished Service to the Arts Award, and the W.Va. Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Barbara also received the Order of the Arts and Historical Letters and Excellence in Support of the Arts award from the W.Va Division of Culture and History.
During their induction ceremony on June 3 at Charleston’s Culture Center Theatre, Barbara took her place alongside the newest members of the WV Music Hall of Fame. On hand to induct Barbara was world-renowned drummer, and founding member of the Jazz Crusaders, Stix Hooper.
“It’s more than an honor for me to be here, and to have known Barbara for many years, and to be able to develop our careers almost simultaneously in two different genres,” Hooper began. “Music is music – it’s a matter of expression. It’s an audio-art that requires a certain amount of skill, dedication, creativity, and all of those things.”
“Albert Einstein said, ‘Creativity is excellence coming to life,’” Hooper added.
“I want to introduce you to one of the world’s greatest pianists – greatest, greatest pianists,” Hooper continued. “A wonderful person who has been blessed to have the ability to execute great things on the piano, and to acknowledge some of the great composers. Without further ado, I’d like to bring on Barbara Nissman.”
In her acceptance of the induction, Barbara explained that her status as an “adopted West Virginian” added to the significance of the moment, saying, “It has been such a blessing for me to live in West Virginia.”
“I fell in love with the piano when I was a little girl, and I think I fell in love with Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’ when I heard Bugs Bunny play it,” Barbara noted with a laugh. “Liszt was really – I think it’s accurate for me to say – the first popstar. Before he would even play a note, this guy had women fainting, drooling, and tearing at his clothes. That’s why I call him the Elvis Presley of the 19th Century.”
However, for Barbara, it was more than Liszt’s popstar-magnetism that had enchanted her so – it was the substance behind the showmanship.
“But when he sat down at the keyboard, that’s when the fireworks truly started,” Barbara continued. “He mesmerized audiences everywhere. He loved the piano, he knew the piano better than anybody else, and he spread so much joy with his concerts.”
To commemorate her induction, and in celebration of her greatest musical-inspirations, Barbara performed Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No.2,” and Ginastera’s “Two Danzas Argentinas Op. 2. Danza de la moza donosa.”
There is nothing left to say about Barbara Nissman that hasn’t already been said. But, as Barbara learned many years ago, sometimes it is best to leave the talking to the poets…
Though mild is the wind of day,
The year in its flowering burst,
A bird sang alone, denying;
I can’t begin, but continue…