Pianist Gary Graffman has been given the Emanuel S. Kardon award by Philadelphia's Kardon Institute for Arts Therapy, and is scheduled to play briefly at the award ceremony today.

Graffman, 80, who lives in New York, retired as director of the Curtis Institute of Music in 2006. He arrived at Curtis as a student at 7, graduated when he was 17, returned to become a teacher in 1980, and was named director in 1986.

Since about age 10, Graffman has been an active soloist and chamber music artist, but his career was disrupted in 1979 when physical problems developed in his right hand. After that time, Graffman turned to a left-hand repertoire - the Ravel

Concerto

and works by Prokofiev, Britten, Strauss, Korngold and Franz Schmidt.

"His ability to overcome that disability is why he's being honored," said Paul E. Macks, executive director of the Kardon, a 32-year-old nonprofit that provides arts therapy for children and adults.

Graffman, an Inquirer critic wrote after a 2007 recital, "taught his audience something of the transformative power of adversity. His thumb and first finger have become lyrical wonders, and despite having to search the dynamic range with only five fingers, he showed how expressively he commanded the entire keyboard."

At a 2006 musical farewell at the Kimmel Center, Graffman was feted with performances by an impressive list of musicians that included Christoph Eschenbach, Claude Frank, Leon Fleisher, and former student Lang Lang.

Previous winners of the Kardon award include several board members of the Kardon Institute; Alan Harler, music director of the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia; and Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program.

Contact culture writer Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com.