Meet the Artist – Boris Berman, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My mother wanted me to start studying piano. There was no professional musician in my family, and nobody was thinking about a professional career for me. But things went well, I was admitted to the Gnesins Special Musical School in Moscow and music as a profession started looking up as my future.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Of course, my teachers, first Zoia Grigorieva, and then the great Lev Oborin. However, many people with whom I was in contact during my professional life, most of them my chamber music partners, left a mark.

Among early influences, I can mention 3 artists whose recordings were revelations for me during my young years in Moscow: Walter Gieseking, Dieter Fischer-Dieskau, and Elisabeth Schwartzkopf. Their music making was so different from what I heard in Russia, different approach to the piano sound, to singing. I learned so much listening to these recordings.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

All my life I was resisting being pigeon-holed as a “specialist”. I always enjoyed doing different things in spite of all difficulties. On different stages of my life, the challenges were to balance my interest in piano and harpsichord; in early music, modern music, and mainstream repertoire; in performing and teaching.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I very seldom listen to my own recordings, and when I do I am usually not satisfied. My most recent recording of Debussy Preludes, Estampes and other pieces is, perhaps, the closest to what I tried to achieve.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

At different stages of my life, I felt close to music of different styles and periods. Now I feel to be most attuned to 2 very different composers, Debussy and Brahms.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It is the combination between what I feel like playing and what the promoters request.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have played in many great halls, some of them have a special aura, in addition to great acoustics. Among them, Carnegie Hall in New York, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many great musicians, but I am particularly drawn to music making of Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia. Alexei Lubimov, my friend of many years, is another musician whom I am always interested to hear.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I consider a successful performance to be one in which I feel that I touched people’s hearts. It may sound cheesy but at the end of the day this is the most important thing.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The performer must strive to understand the composer’s intentions and to bring them to the audience in the most engaging way.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

This year I am reaching my 70th birthday. In 10 years I hope to continue doing what I enjoy the most: playing the music I like and teaching as good students as those I have now at Yale School of Music.

The artistry of Boris Berman is well known to the audiences of nearly fifty countries on six continents. His highly acclaimed performances have included appearances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, The Philharmonia (London), the Toronto Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Houston Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and the Royal Scottish Orchestra. A frequent performer on major recital series, he has also appeared in important festivals, such as Marlboro, Bergen, Ravinia, Nohant, and Israel Festival, to name a few.

Born in Moscow in 1948, Boris Berman studied at Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the distinguished pianist Lev Oborin and graduated with distinction as both pianist and harpsichordist. He performed extensively throughout the Soviet Union as a recitalist and appeared as guest soloist with numerous orchestras, including the Moscow Philharmonic and the Moscow Chamber orchestras.

In 1973, Boris Berman left a flourishing career in the Soviet Union to immigrate to Israel. He quickly established himself as one of the most sought-after keyboard performers, as well as one of this country’s more influential musical personalities. Presently, he resides in USA.

Read Boris Berman’s full biography here