Local treasure and pianist Ann Heiligman Saslav, whose musical career spanned nearly seven decades, has died. She passed away on Friday, September 14 at Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, at the age of 82.
Her musical talent was recognized early on. Born in Tyler to Overton doctor Haskell Heiligman and Velma Ruth Heiligman, she took to music right away playing a children’s toy piano, and then began formal piano lessons at age 3. She later went on to study with Dr. Silvio Scionti in Dallas, making her professional concert debut at age 15 with the Houston Symphony, performing the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto under the baton of Efrem Kurtz.
As a teenager, she studied with Menachem Pressler in New York, earning a coveted scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to study with Isabelle Vengerova and Mieczyslaw Horszowski.
After touring the U.S. as pianist of the Nova Arte Trio with violinist Arnold Steinhardt (later first violinist of the Guarneri Quartet) and Robert Newkirk (later principal cellist of the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra), Saslav was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Vienna, Austria, where she attended the Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst.
She received a Master of Music degree from Indiana University, where she continued her studies with Pressler, and studied chamber music with Josef Gingold and Janos Starker.
Her expertise expanded into violin/piano repertoire when she met her husband, violinist Isidor Saslav, while at Indiana University. He would become Concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Minneapolis Symphony, Baltimore Symphony and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras. They performed as a violin/piano duo throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and New Zealand.
She appeared as soloist with the Baltimore, Houston, Akron, San Antonio, Longview, Marshall, East Texas, and Northwest Louisiana Symphonies, as well as the Orchestra of the Pines, the Round Top Festival Orchestra, the Chamber Soloists of Philadelphia, the Orchestra of the American String Teachers in Gmunden, Austria, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
She was a passionate champion of performing classical music and live chamber music for school children of all ages, making it part of her life’s mission through her non-profit, “Adventures with the Arts.” She and her husband performed for over two million children over the course of their 51-year partnership. “I try to bring children through my doorway,” said Saslav in one of numerous articles about her work. “I want the audience to be enraptured and to go to the world of Mozart and Bach. When I hear a child say, ‘That’s beautiful!’, then I know they understand.”
She presented a formal program she devised showcasing keyboards of all kinds with the Baltimore Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, and Akron Symphonies.
Ms. Saslav was a piano faculty member of Goucher College in Baltimore, MD, the University of Maryland/Baltimore County, and SUNY/Buffalo. She and Van Cliburn grew up in the same area of East Texas and actually competed against one another during early piano competitions as youngsters. She and her husband were also great supporters of the Texas Shakespeare Festival, based in Kilgore.
Though she travelled the world, she was always most proud to be an East Texan. Her home in Overton was her sanctuary, and she was an active member of her community. She will be greatly missed.
She leaves behind a son, David, of Great Falls, Montana, daughter-in-law Melissa Smith, and daughter Leanora Annette of San Diego, Calif. Survivors also include her sister, Sandra Heiligman Nichols, brother-in-law Edmund Nichols of Austin as well as several nieces and nephews, and great nieces and nephews, all of Austin.
Donations in her name can be made to the Texas Shakespeare Festival, the Longview Symphony Orchestra, the Marion Jones Scholarship at Overton High School (for college bound seniors), P.O. Box 130, Overton, TX, 75684, or a musical or artistic organization of your choice. A memorial service celebrating Saslav’s life will be held at a later date.