Top US pi­anist thrills fans with chal­leng­ing Beethoven work

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By CHEN­NAN chen­nan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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

FELIX BROEDE / DEUTSCHE GRAM­MOPHON

Mur­ray Per­ahia plays in a con­cert. The pi­anist has given a recital re­cently in Bei­jing.

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