Ray Lev (May 8, 1912 – May 20, 1968) was an American classical pianist. One year after her birth in Rostov na Donau, Russia, her father, a synagogue cantor, and mother, a concert singer, brought her to the United States.
Lev’s early piano studies were with Waiter Ruel Cowles in New Haven, Connecticut and Gaston Déthier in New York. She made her debut at age 17 in England performing Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 under Sir Landon Ronald. After winning the American Matthay Prize and the Philharmonic Symphony Scholarship, she studied with Tobias Matthay in England from 1930 to 1933. Thereafter, Lev returned to the United States, where she made her New York debut in 1934 with the National Orchestral Association. Her annual recitals in Carnegie Hall were generally sold out; she also toured successfully in Europe, the United States, and Canada and performed on radio network broadcasts. In one such Carnegie Hall recital, on November 10, 1944, Lev gave the first complete traversal ever presented in that venue of the Six Pieces, op. 118 of Johannes Brahms. Lev also was a champion of modern works. For instance, in November 1945, again at Carnegie Hall, she gave the premiere of Louise Talma's Alleluia in Form of a Toccata and of 24-year-old Douglas Townsend's Sonatina No. 1, which she repeated in a March 31, 1946 recital at New York Times Hall broadcast live over WNYC. A November 1948 Carnegie Hall recital included the Hora movement from the 1937 Chassidic Suite of Jakob Schönberg.
Lev gave two command performances in London, England, performed for US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and earned seven citations for patriotic service by extensively performing for US and allied armed forces during World War II. In 1948, however, she took a step that would negate any benefit from these public-spirited activities and that effectively would put an end to the progress of her career: she joined 31 other American musicians, artists, and writers in signing an open letter of solidarity with twelve Russian writers who had called for fellow Communists to declare themselves publicly. As a result, in 1950 she had the dubious distinction of being the sole classical pianist named in the Red Channels list of alleged communist sympathizers during the American Red Scare. Little information about her appears thereafter, and her name is largely forgotten today, although one reference suggests that she continued playing throughout her remaining life, including nearly annual Carnegie Hall recitals, and performed the Schumann Piano Concerto in April 1968, a month before her death. Some support for the former claim can be found in the Fall 1958 Juilliard Review, which indicates that on April 8 of that year she performed the premiere of Toccata for Piano by Juilliard alumnus Wallingford Riegger at Carnegie Hall. Presumably, however, she became primarily a teacher; her students include Aki Takahashi and the currently active American pianist Miriam Brickman.
In a 78 RPM set released by Musicraft Records in early 1939, Lev and clarinettist David Weber collaborated in the first recording of the Brahms Sonata in F minor, op. 120 no. 1, in its original instrumentation for clarinet and piano. After World War II, Lev began making phonograph records for the Concert Hall Society label, issued first on 78 RPM disks and then on LPs. She set down some adventurous literature for the day, including Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C Major, D. 840 (Reliquie) with the completion by Ernst Krenek, probably otherwise represented on records in this form only by the slightly later performance of Friedrich Wührer on Vox. Her recording has not appeared on compact disc, although Wührer's has received a private CD release copied from LP. Lev’s records that have achieved CD reissue include her 1946 account of Bach’s Concerto No. 5 in D minor after Vivaldi’s op. 3, no. 11, BWV 596, in her own transcription, and a waltz by Sergei Prokofiev, no. 2 from his Music for Children, op. 65.
- Biographical sketch on Bach Cantatas Website, accessed August 11, 2008
- Biographical sketch at Naxos Website, accessed August 11, 2008)
- Program notes for Carnegie Hall recital of Murray Perahia, November 3, 2007, accessed May 18, 2009
- Walker-Hill, Helen, Notes to Music of Louise Talma, Theresa Bogard, piano, CRI NWCR 833 (1999)
- Entry for Townsend's Sonatina No. 1 at American Music Center web site, accessed May 18, 2009
- The Jakob Schönberg Collection at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary accessed May 18, 2009
- "We Grip Your Hand," Time, May 10, 1948
- Women at the Piano web site, accessed May 20, 2009
- Juilliard Review, Fall 1958 Alumni News, accessed May 18, 2009
- Biographical sketch from Baker's Student Encyclopedia of Music appearing on enotes web site, accessed May 18, 2009
- "February Records," Time, February 6, 1939
- Album notes to Franz Schubert, Piano Sonata No. 15 in C Major (Unfinished); Allegretto in C Minor — Ray Lev, Pianist, Concert Hall Society Release B3 (78 RPM, 1947)
Album notes to Johannes Brahms, Sonata No. 1 in C Major; Two Choral Preludes -- Ray Lev, Pianist, Concert Hall Society Release A7 (78 RPM, ca. 1946).