The Cuban-born American pianist, Jacob Lateiner, was born in Havana to Jewish parents who had come from Poland. He was actually born on March 31, 1928, but his father did not get around to registering his birth until May 31 the same year. He was the brother of violinist Isidor Lateiner. The pianist Jacob Lateiner studied in Havana from 1936 to 1940. He made his debut at age 10 playing L.v. Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with the Havana Philharmonic under the direction of Ernesto Lecuona. Two years later, in 1940, his parents moved to the USA so that Jacob and his violinist brother Isidor could study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where Jacob studied with Isabelle Vengerova. As teenagers, both Jacob and Isidor made their debuts with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, Jacob playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1945 (or 1944), when he was 16. Two years later, in 1947, he performed L.v. Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto at Tanglewood Festival with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to great acclaim. He showed what turned out to be a lifelong interest in chamber music, studying with the violist William Primrose and the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
In 1948, Jacob Lateiner made his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall in a program of J.S. Bach, L.v. Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Alban Berg and Prokofieff.. Reviewing the recital in The New York Times, Olin Downes called it “astonishing,” going on to praise Lateiner’s “maturity of technique and musicianship.” He made his recording debut at 21, a performance of L.v. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Op. 111, for Columbia. In 1950, he took a year off from his career to study privately with Arnold Schoenberg, and subsequently collected Schoenbergiana since that period. After this sabbatical and three years’ Army service in the early 1950’s, Lateiner made his New York Philharmonic Orchestra debut in 1954, performing Prokofieff’s Third Piano Concerto under the baton of Franco Autori. From 1954, he performed and toured widely throughout the USA, Europe, and Australia, including two performances with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. During this decade he also began his teaching career, at the Mannes College of Music.
Jacob Lateiner was renowned for his interpretations both of L.v. Beethoven and of 20th-century music. He was a member of the cohort of young American pianists - or YAPs, as they were known to the classical-music trade - that included Eugene Istomin, Gary Graffman, Claude Frank and Leon Fleisher. He was known in particular for his technical virtuosity, the beauty and flexibility of his tone and a deep musical understanding that was rooted in his fealty to the composer’s original intent. (Lateiner was an avid collector of music manuscripts and first editions, over which he pored studiously before performing the work in question.)
As a soloist, Jacob Lateiner appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, among them the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and Philadelphia Orchestra, and with many of the world's leading conductors, including Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky, Erich Leinsdorf, Zubin Mehta, Georg Solti, Eugene Ormandy and George Szell. He was a champion of contemporary American music, and commissioned, premiered and recorded Elliot Carter's Piano Concerto, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Music. The premiere took place at Symphony Hall, Boston, on January 6, 1967, with Lateiner as soloist accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Erich Leinsdorf conducting. He also premiered the Third Piano Sonata of Roger Sessions in 1968 (composed in 1965).
As a chamber musician, Jacob Lateiner's name is associated with those of Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, In the 1960’s, he became part of the Heifetz-Piatigorsky Chamber Music Concerts series, including making five recordings with the ensemble (one of which, L.v. Beethoven’s Trio No. 1, won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Recording in 1965, shared with that of the Amadeus String Quartet).
In 1966, Jacob Lateiner began his long association with the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, where he was one of the leading piano teachers until his retirement, just a year before his death. He also was on the piano faculty of the Mannes College The New School for Music from 1963 to 1970. His notable students include Danae Kara, Michael Endres, Bruce Brubaker, Lowell Liebermann, Robert Taub, Laura Karpman, Francesco Tristano Schlimé, David Cates, Sonia Rubinsky, and Tjako van Schie. His career was marked by an interest in historical performance research. In 1992, he published an article on 'An Interpreter's Approach to Mozart' in the journal Early Music. He also collected early editions of classical music.
During the 1950’s, Jacob Lateiner made four LP’s for the Westminster label: discs of L.v. Beethoven Piano Sonatas and Johannes Brahms Variations, and the L.v. Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Among his recordings, a series he made for RCA Victor in the 1960’s is especially esteemed by critics and collectors. They include L.v. Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 1, No. 1, with Heifetz and Piatigorsky; the premiere recording of Elliot Carter's Piano Concerto, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Erich Leinsdorf; J. Brahms’ C Minor Piano Quartet, with Heifetz, Piatigorsky and the violist Sanford Schonbach; and two solo discs of L.v. Beethoven piano works. A two-disc set of his live performances, "The Lost Art of Jacob Lateiner," has been published by Parnassus Records.
Although Jacob Lateiner’s performing career continued well into the 1990’s, he made no commercial recordings after the 1967 Carter Concerto. He died on Sunday, December 12, 2010 in a New York City hospital. At his his death, he was all but forgotten as a pianist. As a teacher, however, he remained prominent, giving master-classes throughout Europe and in Israel, Japan, and China in addition to his activities at Juilliard. His brother, the violinist Isidore Lateiner, died in 2005. In 2000, Jacob Lateiner was the subject of a festschrift, “Pianist, Scholar, Con: Essays in Honor of Jacob Lateiner,” edited by the pianist Bruce Brubaker - a former pupil of his - and Jane Gottlieb.