Top US pianist thrills fans with challenging Beethoven work
Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata is considered the composer’s most technically challenging work, but it was no problem for Murray Perahia, who played it at a recent recital in Beijing.
He also played pieces by Joseph Haydn, Mozart and Johannes Brahms to keep a balance in the first half of the recital.
“When it comes to considering the program for a recital, I usually start with one piece and the other pieces relate to it to bring harmony to the recital,” says the 69-year-old Perahia at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing two days before his recital.
“Beethoven is very important to my life. At the beginning, I didn’t quite understand Beethoven. But as I gradually understood him, I realized that his music was powerful inside. Over the years, I have grown passionately close to Beethoven,” says Perahia, referring to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, the centerpiece of the recital.
“Brahms owns the sketches of the Hammerklavier sonata. He was profoundly influenced by Beethoven,” he says, talking about his other choices for the recital program.
“Mozart’s Piano Sonata No 8 is dramatic and powerful, which probably has something to do with his mother’s death at that time. Haydn’s Variations in F minor was written two years after Mozart’s death, paying tribute to Mozart.”
Perahia has been an occasional but always sought-after visitor to China for more than a decade. He once gave a master class in Shanghai in 2011 and was impressed by a young boy, who played Schumann.
“I am very excited about the Chinese young pianists. If you go to a Western conservatory, the majority of the students are oriental and a majority of the orientals are Chinese. I think they work very hard,” he says.
He doesn’t tour much these days.
The pianist plays every day, usually two hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, or vice versa. He likes going to theater with his wife and watching movies.
Born into a Jewish family in the Bronx, in New York, and now based in London, Perahia started learning the piano at 4. He began his career in 1972 by winning the Leeds International Piano Competition, and has been hailed as one of the great musicians of our time, and an imaginative and intelligent pianist.
He says he didn’t like practicing until he was 15. “Nobody likes practicing. It’s too heavy. But I did love playing the piano. I like improvising on the piano and listening to recordings,” says Perahia.
As a recording artist, he has won three Grammys, eight Gramophone Awards, and a host of other prestigious international prizes and accolades.
“I am not a religious person but in music, I am. There is spirituality. It’s not just the notes. It has to come from the soul,” he says.
For the pianist, every note matters. That’s why he spends lots of time studying and analyzing scores.
“It’s what is called ‘cohesiveness’. It struck me that it is the way composers taught. It seems to me it is very important to study the way they taught in order to understand what they were writing,” he says.
In 1991, Perahia suffered a devastating injury to his thumb, which temporarily forced him to stop playing. It was during that time he found solace studying Bach’s music. After recovering, he released a series of awardwinning recordings of Bach’s works.
Earlier this month, the pianist released a recording of Bach’s French Suites, which is his first album after signing with the German label Deutsche Grammophon.
“My hand is fully recovered. It has not given me trouble for a very long time.
“When I couldn’t play, I needed the nourishment (that Bach’s music provided). It gave me great peace.
“Bach is a very expressive composer. His compositions touch the soul very deeply. These days, I need Bach,” he says.
I realized that his music was powerful inside. Over the years, I have grown passionately close to Beethoven.” Murray Perahia, pianist
Murray Perahia plays in a concert. The pianist has given a recital recently in Beijing.