Murray Perahia is a pianist synonymous with exemplary musicianship informed by scholarly understanding and graced by heartfelt expressiveness. His name is widely associated with the music of Mozart because of his recordings of the complete piano concerti, which he conducted from the keyboard, but his extensive discography encompasses the entire piano repertoire, from Bach, Beethoven, Brahms to Chopin, Schubert, Schumann and beyond, and his recordings have have won countless awards.
He is beloved of audiences around the world. Perahia was the first major concert pianist I heard in recital, when I was growing up in Chicago. That entire performance was unforgettable to me because every note was played with such understanding and expression.
Above his lyrical reading of Chopin’s Nocturne in F Major Op 15, No 1, and below, his audio recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in A Major, K 488:
It would not be hyperbole to say that the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin is a genius. He gave his first concerto performance at age 10, and his recording of the two Chopin concertos when only twelve years old is still widely distributed and admired. In the video clip above, he is just 13 years old, playing a demanding program of works by Chopin with effortless ease and exemplary musicianship. You can hear various mazurkas and nocturnes, the celebrated Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op 31 and the great Fantaisie in F minor, Op 49.
Now in his fifties, Kissin is the rare prodigy that has grown into a mature pianist and is widely regarded as one of the all-time greats. His performances have an incredible visceral excitement that is unusual in the classical world. I remember one performance I had the privilege to attend which ended with seven extraordinary encores, the audience jumping to their feet, clapping wildly and cheering themselves hoarse all the way. This second video excerpt below gives an idea of the intensity that makes Kissin such an astounding and electrifying performer. He plays Prokofiev’s “La Suggestion Diabolique.”
Korean pianist Yeol-Eum Son came to the attention of piano lovers worldwide when she won silver medals at two of the most rigorous and prestigious piano competitions in the world: the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2009, and the Tschaikowsky International Competition in 2011. She now has an important international career as a soloist and chamber musician with recordings and even a newspaper column and book.
Her graceful personality, effortless technique and gorgeous tone, together with her incredible musicianship make her a delight to hear. Her repertoire spans all the standard classical piano repertoire and also includes the most challenging contemporary works for piano. She make all of it seem effortless and musically satisfying.
Above she presents a colorful and affecting reading of one of the great virtuoso favorites, Liszt’s “La Campanella” (The Bells) . (In the opening exchange, she is soliciting the audience’s request for her encore.) In the second video below, she performs a spectacular Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No 1 in G minor Op 25 with Jonathan Heyward and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
The Russian-born pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) is a true legend, and his name is forever synonymous with the consummate piano virtuoso. He electrified his audiences with his stupendous technique and his remarkable ability to draw out the tonal color of the piano. At his best he was without peer, but he was also a nervous performer, and some of his performances are indeed messy. He withdrew from the stage on numerous occasions, though ultimately he enjoyed a twilight performing career into his eighties, when his playing was noted more for color, charm, and finesse than for the incredible bravura of his younger years.
After one of his longest absences from the concert stage, Horowitz made a historic return in 1965 with a monumental recital in Carnegie Hall. The video excerpt above is his performance of two little Scarlatti sonatas that he played as encores at that concert. His emotional intensity, technical ease, and sense of pianistic color, as well as his sheer delight in performing are all apparent. He made this underappreciated music spring to life with grace and color. This particular concert is etched into my musical memory because my sixth grade teacher gave me the recording of this concert and it was one of a handful of treasured vinyl recordings that I had growing up (mind you, this was long before the days of the internet!)
Below a recording of 75-year old Horowitz playing one of his signature pieces–the complex and passionate Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto–with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra:
The legendary Argentine pianist Martha Argerich recently celebrated her 75th birthday. A phenomenal natural talent, she won two major international competitions at age 16, then returned at age 24 in 1965 as the gold-medal winner of the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. Since then, she has never been off the international stage, thrilling audiences with her bravura technique and intuitive, electrifying musicality as a solo and chamber musician.
Enjoy the young, blazing, Martha Argerich performing Chopin’s Scherzo in c# minor, Op 37 (above) and the glorious Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto in C Major Op 26 with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra (below).
Is there a reason to take the years of time and effort to learn to play a musical instrument, other than the pure pleasure of enjoying music? If you care about brain development, there definitely is!
Making music is a remarkable “whole-brain” activity that incorporates fine muscle control with visual and auditory processing, as well as analytical thinking and emotional involvement. And if you perform, the stakes are even higher, with memory, concentration under pressure, and communication with the audience all being important factors.
Watch the fun video below and see what happens to your brain on music!