Even though Cuban-born, American pianist Jorge Bolet has been called “the greatest pianist in the Western hemisphere,” the fame he deserved eluded him until late in his life. Born in Havana in 1914, Bolet began studying the piano under the tutelage of his sister when he was five. At ten he was a featured soloist with the Havana Sinfónica. Two years later he received a scholarship from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Bolet returned to Cuba when he graduated from the Institute in 1934
After graduation from the Curtis Institute, the Cuban government sent Bolet to Europe to continue his training. He also began his concert career with performances in Amsterdam, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and London. In 1937 he made his North American debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
When World War II began, Bolet served his country by joining the Cuban army. Under the regime of President Fulgencio Batista, Bolet was stationed at the Cuban Embassy in Washington. When the Batista government fell, Bolet joined the US Army and became an American citizen in 1942.
To distinguish himself from artists needing endless hours of practice to make small degrees of progress, Bolet called himself a “born pianist.” For Jorge Bolet, playing the piano was as natural as breathing. He was a tall, good-looking, intense man with large, powerful hands. Those hands and their strong, meaty fingers coaxed subtle, rich tones from the piano which were perfect for performing the works of Romantic composers such as Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin. Bolet also had the mental stamina to perform any composer’s most complicated piece. He could memorize and play the most physically demanding, complex passages with almost no preparation. With all of the qualities of a “super star,” fame still eluded him.
In 1978 when he was 64 the Decca/London record company put Bolet under contract. After performing for decades the contract gave him his first real international exposure. Despite enormous talent, Jorge Bolet did not achieve the recognition and acclaim he deserved until he was in his 70s
Bolet’s health began to fail in the late 1980s. He died of heart failure in his Mountain View, California home in October 1990.