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Music in a spiritual key

The summer series of Marly Room music recitals, sponsored in part by the Museum of Fine Arts' Palladian Society, rolls out a known winner Sunday in pianist Brian Ganz.

"His playing has a spiritual quality to it," says David Connelly, spokesman for the museum, attempting to define what sets Ganz apart. "He makes a point of talking to the audience, and they feel that warmth."

The Maryland-based performer has filled the auditorium during yearly visits since 1985.

Yet there was a time when Ganz wondered if a life of music was one he should follow. Speaking from Belgium, Ganz looked back on the years preceding his first appearance in the Marly Room.

"In my late teens I had what may be analogous to a midlife crisis," he says. "I simply needed to take a layoff from solo performing. That hiatus lasted eight years."

Ganz says he spent much time in prayer and meditation during this break and even considered the contemplative life of a monk. "At last, I came to realize that a spiritual path and a musical one can blend harmoniously."

It was with that sense of renaissance that Ganz resumed his solo piano career at the Marly Room in 1985. What followed were performances at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony; first prizes from international competitions and rapturous reviews from Paris to Buffalo.

Today, "balance" is the word that seems to describe the best that Brian Ganz is. From his career choices to his affinity for Chopin, Ganz radiates serenity.

"I love playing Chopin because of his mastery of balance," he says. Ganz, who is working on recording every note ever written by that composer, describes playing Chopin as the equilibrium between "beauty and mystery, sophistication and accessibility, and immediacy and a kind of process."

He laughs a little self-consciously, remarking that words can't do justice to music. "All I can say is, Chopin is the language of my heart."

Ganz, who has performed this year in Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Korea, will resume his teaching duties at St. Mary's College in Maryland and at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University.

Is there anything else a pianist juggling a concert schedule, recording projects, teaching duties and a family life could wish for? "Well, yes," says Ganz, chuckling, "about two more hours a day to practice."