Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?
My mother brought home from the public library a recording by Vladimir Horowitz. Already, I was studying music and learning to play the piano; but it was those sounds that ignited my musical interest.
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
Early on, it was recordings of Horowitz (I only wanted to play pieces he played, for example), and earlier pianists, Hofmann, Petri. Later, I went another direction. My teacher at Juilliard was Jacob Lateiner, an extraordinary virtuoso with nearly Talmudic insights! He offered intensely detailed scrutiny of music and high ideals. He was the most important example to me, and he was my friend. At the same time, my awareness of John Cage’s music and my work with it were important. That makes for some combination of compulsive preparation and considerable letting-go in performance.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The greatest challenges are simple things, I believe. For virtuosos — or any kind of experts — it’s difficult to resist showing how much you can do, or know, or feel.
Which performances or recordings are you most proud of?
I’m pleased with a new recording of piano music by Meredith Monk that I made with Ursula Oppens. Along with solo pieces, there are 4 new transcriptions of Meredith’s music that I made from pieces that were first written for voices or other instruments.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Many. I play rather frequently in New York at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR). It’s a nightclub where very different kinds of music mingle or collide. One night, I played Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time right before a set by the French star Sylvain Chauveau.
Favourite pieces to perform?
I like performing chamber music. The necessary spontaneity and moment-by-moment awareness when playing with other people make the real pleasure of performing most clear.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Probably that would be the first time I played in Los Angeles, with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl – but the day before the performance there was an earthquake!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Close listening and curiosity – that’s paying attention!
What are you working on at the moment?
There’s a new piano concerto written for me by William Duckworth. I’m doing a re-editing project based on recordings by Glenn Gould.
What is your present state of mind?
Anxious anticipation. In London at Kings Place on May 19th, I’m offering an improvisation with a backing track I prepared. (As well as composed pieces by Glass, Nico Muhly, and Alvin Curran.) Last season, at the urging of Ran Blake, I did an improv in a public concert. Now I’m hooked.
Bruce Brubaker appears at London’s King’s Place on Sunday 19th May in a concert entitled Plugged and Unplugged: Post-Minimalist Piano Music. Further information and tickets here
Bruce Brubaker is an American artist, musician, concert pianist, and writer born in Iowa. Brubaker trained at the Juilliard School, where he received the school’s highest award, the Edward Steuermann Prize, upon graduation. At Juilliard, where he taught from 1995 to 2004, he has appeared in public conversations with Philip Glass, Milton Babbitt, and Meredith Monk.
Full biography here