By the mid-1980s, David Buechner’s star was clearly on the rise.
The Juilliard-trained concert pianist had won prizes in major competitions across Europe and his debut at the 92nd Street Y in New York City received a glowing review in the New York Times.
But his musical success could not cure the growing depression and gender dysphoria he was experiencing. The risk to his career was high, but Buechner, now in his mid-30s, made the decision to begin his transition from male to female and hope for the best.
“It was a choice long deferred from fear of professional ramifications and discrimination. In September of 1998, with the help of trusted friend Jens Nygaard, conductor of New York’s Jupiter Symphony, I made a ‘second debut’ as Sara Davis Buechner with three sold-out performances of the two Chopin piano concertos. A positive profile in the New York Times Magazine also seemed to assist with the necessity of a public transition. However, it soon became apparent that a new career would have to be built, largely without that support that I had built and enjoyed as David Buechner,” explained Sara Davis Buechner, now 61, in an essay on her website.
Buechner will recount these important milestones in her personal and professional journey on Friday, June 25 and make her Florida concert debut on Saturday, June 26, as part of the “Generation” Venetian Arts Society (GENVAS) 21st Century ULTRA Art Salon at ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale.
It was not a smooth ride, Buechner recalled in a recent Zoom call from her Philadelphia apartment:
“I still remember the day it hit me [that I was transgender] and suddenly, I had this calm core. My parents were going crazy, my manager fired me, and yet I was calm. It never occurred that I should take my old self and bury it and be somebody different. At the time in my life, it was so much about finally being authentic and being me,” she said.
As Buechner predicted, her career did suffer, despite the perceived reputation of the classical music community as a liberal haven.
“Conductors who once routinely engaged me stopped returning calls, prestigious teaching offers were withdrawn and concert opportunities vanished. Changing managers did not help. I recall one particularly low point as the time [when] I received a check from a Florida recital presenter several weeks before my appearance — having booked David Buechner, they paid Sara not to come,” she said.
“The classical music business likes to pretend that it is gender- and color-blind regarding the concert stage and that the high-minded pursuit of Mozartian Truth is all that is professionally considered in the evaluation of performing musicians. My own experience tells me otherwise,” Buechner added.
A 2003 offer to join the piano faculty of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver gave fresh impetus to Buechner’s career. In the ensuing 13 years, she became a fixture on the Canadian music scene, performing regularly with the major orchestras, on national radio broadcasts and in recital. In 2016, she joined the prestigious keyboard department at Temple University in Philadelphia.
She acknowledges that public understanding and acceptance of transgender people has evolved incredibly over the past 25 years:
“As a proud representative of the T in LGBTQ, I am happy to speak from the stage, with or without music, to help inspire our younger generations to aspire to a fairer and more sincere artistic reality,” Buechner concluded.
Sara Davis Buechner will be the featured artist in the GENVAS “Conversation with the Artist” on Friday, June 25 and will perform in recital on Saturday, June 26 at 7 p.m. Both events will be held at ArtServe, 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. For more information and tickets, go to GENVAS.org.