Murray Perahia, the most prolific classical pianist in recording history, began the piano as a prodigy at age three. Born in New York in 1947 to Sephardic parents, musical culture was part of his upbringing.
He attended the High School of Performing Arts and New York's Mannes College of Music, graduating from the latter in conducting and composition, his primary interests back then. But the great pianist Rudolf Serkin heard the young man play and invited him to appear at the Marlboro Festival for Chamber Music in Vermont. He performed there four years in a row with the likes of Serkin, Pablo Casals, and the Budapest String Quartet. He debuted in Carnegie Hall in 1968 at age 21 under the direction of Alexander Schneider, and four years later became the first American to win the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition. By that year's end, he had a recording contract with CBS (today Sony).
At first, his recording and live performance emphasis was chamber music. From 1981 through 1989, he became Co-Artistic Director for England's Aldeburgh Festival. Over the years, as his prestige as solo performer aspired to the rarefied heights occupied by a Horowitz (who became a close personal friend) or a Rubenstein, Murray Perahia has performed at every major international center, with every leading orchestra, and under all the great conductors of the 20th century: Bernstein, Abbado, Barenboim, Mehta, Maazel, Solti. Critics marvel at his lyrical and 'tempestuous' playing, and audiences flock to buy tickets when his touring schedules are announced.
At the core of Murray Perahia's work is Mozart. His complete recording of the Piano Concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra is considered definitive. Schumann and Brahams figure prominently in his career also, and his 2003 Grammy as Best Instrumental Performance was for Chopin's Etudes Op.10 and Op.25, which Gramophone Magazine declared the finest Etudes ever recorded. But his interpretations of Bach have been a great surprise to the classical music world. A freak accident in the 1990's led to a newer, intense interest in Bach. After cutting his thumb on a piece of paper, the cut became infected and needed surgery. While recovering, Murray Perahia studied Bach exhaustively. The result was two Grammys: in 1999 for Bach's English Suites 1, 3, and 6, and in 2001 for Bach's Goldberg Variations. For any pianist to take on the latter after Glenn Gould's nearly clean sweep, is to invite comparison. Murray Perahia's interpretation couldn't be more different than Gould's, and the BBC has declared him now 'the greatest Bach interpreter of our day.'
Currently, Mr. Perahia is Guest Principal Conductor of St. Martins in the Field. He is acclaimed for programming as a conductor, artistic director and performer. He will have Mozart played poignantly, almost vulnerably at a concert's beginning, for instance, to heighten the effect of a lyrical Schubert sonata, following. The world can continue to expect more concert and recording excitement for a long time to come, from this great musician. His work is, as one critic said, 'beyond praise.' Indeed!
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