Pianist  Murray  Perahia
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Just about all of the guests I have interviewed over the years have made commercial recordings.  Some
especially the more obscure composershave just a few items, while others have large discographies.  Murray Perahia is one who has made many discs, and I always enjoyed playing them on the air, especially when new ones arrived at the station.

This reproduced-experience, of course, enhances the memories of live concerts.  It also gives new friends the opportunity of hearing divergent opinions of familiar repertoire, as well as expanding a wider range of pieces and composers.  Our age of packaged electronics has downsides, but there are these positive aspects, and I hope people gain from them whenever possible.

Details of the life and career of Murray Perahia appear in two biographies which are in boxes at the end of this conversation.  They are somewhat similar, but each has details not noted in the other. 

In March of 1997, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with the pianist at his hotel in Chicago on a day he was not performing.  Here is that conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You play both solo recitals and concertos with orchestra.  How do you divide your time between those two?

Murray Perahia:    I end up playing more solo recitals, actually.

BD:    Is that by choice, or just by happenstance?

MP:    A bit of both.  [Laughs]  It works out that way.  For me, I need to do recitals because I find it very challenging to go into wide areas of repertoire, and change, in a sense.  I’m doing much more Bach this year, more Handel, new Schumann sonatas — different things.  In the concerto repertoire, I’ll learn maybe one concerto a year, at the most.  Mainly I’m playing pieces that I’ve worked on before; that’s the difference.

BD:    When you come back to a piece that you have known for a long time, is it like coming back to an old friend, or do you get a clean score and start over?

MP:    Clean score and start over.

perahia BD:    Do you always discover new things?

MP:    Always!  And always I wonder how could I have played it like that, or how did I not see this.

BD:    I assume it’s not the music that’s changed?  [Both laugh]

MP:    Music hasn’t changed, no!

BD:    When you play a different concerto, does that help you when you come back to the old concerto?

MP:    Yes.  I find gaining repertoire helps because you gain a wider understanding of music.  Knowing more music always helps growing as a musician.  I study a lot.  I study theory and counterpoint, and I’m working with musical ideas.  I’ll always learn something new when I go back to a piece, and always see something new, either from a contrapuntal point of view or a structural point of view.  Also life helps; experience helps.  You’re not the same person you were a year ago.

BD:    Is there ever a time that you come back to your original conception?

MP:    I keep thinking that I have a very different conception of the work, and then I hear an old recording and it’s exactly the same!  [Both laugh]  It’s very frustrating, but not always.

BD:    I wouldn’t think that would be frustrating; I’d think that would be illuminating or exhilarating!

MP:    No.  I think I’ve changed and I think, “Oh, yes, this bright new path.”  No, I’ve trod it before!

BD:    In each set of concerts, you rehearse everything.

MP:    Yes.

BD:    Do you leave anything for a spark of imagination at the performance, or do you play it exactly the same as in the rehearsal?

MP:    I can’t ever play a piece exactly the same, ever.  So it’s always changing, really.  Even though I have set ideas, things I want to try to show in the music are not actually on the surface of it.  I can show it with a diminuendo; I can show it with a crescendo.  It wouldn’t make that much difference.  But the point is, let’s say I’m showing a dissonant chord resolving in a phrase.  I’ll decide at the last minute how it’s going to go.

BD:    In a recording situation, of course, you’ve got to make all of the takes match and fit in.

MP:    Well, that’s the difficulty — and I don’t!  [Both laugh]  So we have to choose the best one!  Very often I can’t splice into other takes because they don’t match for this very reason.  So it becomes tricky.

BD:    Is there such a thing as a perfect performance?

MP:    Thank God, no!  [Both laugh]  At least I’ve never had one.  I don’t think so.  Because a piece has so many facets and there’s so many interesting things about it, I don’t think that one
performance could really satisfy itanyone’s performance, even though, for instance, there are marvelous recordings, wonderful performances on record.  What’s wonderful about them is not even so much the realization of a great piecethough that might be wonderful — it’s the experience of great music making in, let’s say, solo recordings of Cortot, Thibaud, Casals on Bach, or Rachmaninoff’s work.  It’s the inspiration of the moment that catches one, not so much even the idea that this is a great performance worked out greatly.  It’s a wonderful feeling, while you’re going through it, so it’s wonderful music making!  That, I think, is what one tries to capture.

BD:    But if there’s no perfect performance, I assume you always strive toward that.

MP:    Yes.  Useless and futile goal!

BD:    [Laughs]  Is it exhilarating when you get close?

MP:    When you think you get close, yes, and then when you hear the tape, not so exhilarating!

BD:    Which is right, the performance or the tape?

MP:    That’s a good question.  I think one shouldn’t place too much attention on the tape because performance has its own truth.  But then again, you’re obliged sometimes to listen to your own recordings, and you have to hear mistakes you made.

BD:    Do you play differently for the microphone than you do for a live audience?

MP:    I think yes.  There’s an excitement that goes into a live concert that’s very hard to capture in a recording.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it goes.  It’s not to say that it’s impossible, but I do find that it’s different to play for an audience.

BD:    Are you aware of them sitting on your right?

MP:    Yes, you are.  You’re aware of singing the song to somebody, and that makes a different experience than just playing it in a room for the microphone.

BD:    You call it a song.  Is it more of a song in Mozart, who was a great melodist and a great songwriter, as opposed to someone who didn’t write songs for the voice?

perahia MP:    I think music is always singing, whatever it is.  Whether it’s Bach or Beethoven, all the voices are singing.  It’s not only one voice.  Of course, one voice is prominent, but all the voices help sing
the middle voice, the bottom voice, all of them are joining in, hopefully, singing.  That way you avoid these kind of percussive performances that I think destroy the life of the music.

BD:    Would it be a good idea, perhaps, for pianists to take a few vocal lessons?

MP:    I think it’s a very good idea, yes.  I’ve never done it, but I did sing a lot as a boy.  I was singing all the time in choirs and things.

BD:    Did that teach you about breath support and everything?

MP:    I don’t know.  Probably.  My voice was not so good, but I did sing a lot.  My first introduction to music was opera.  I always went to the Metropolitan Opera in New York and heard Italian opera, which was very important in my life.

BD:    That shaped your idea of music as a whole?

MP:    I think so.  It didn’t stay my love.  My love of music went on to the German classics
Bach, Mozart and Beethoven — but I think singing informs a lot of what I do.  I hope it does.

BD:    Did you ever accompany a singer?

MP:    Yes, yes, I have.  I’ve accompanied Peter Pears a lot, and I did a recording with Fischer-Dieskau of the Winterreise by Schubert.

BD:    Is that particularly satisfying, just the voice and the piano together?

MP:    Very much, yes.  You touch, in a way, something of the spirit that you don’t touch otherwise.  Even when you accompany an instrumentalist, though it’s not as direct as a voice.  There’s something, I find, very moving when I’m playing with a singer that I feel in tune with.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    From the vast array of literature for the piano, how do you decide which pieces you are going to work on, and spend your time to learn and present?

perahia MP:    I think there’s an attraction that certain pieces give you; certain composers, for instance.  Last year, or two years ago, I discovered Handel’s music.  I had never heard it in concert; certainly very few people play the keyboard music.  I started by listening to the oratorios, and then hearing one or two of the operas.

BD:    Back to the vocal again!

MP:    Vocal, yes.  I love this music!  So I looked at the piano works.  I just bought a copy of the piano music and went through it.  I found three or four suites that I think are masterworks, and I ended up playing them.  Schumann is a composer that’s always appealed to me, and I’m now working on the F-Sharp Minor Sonata, the First Sonata.  I’m playing it in a week for the first time.

BD:    This is what I’m trying to get at.  What is it that appeals to you?

MP:    It’s hard to say.  A lot of this attraction will be subconscious.  I couldn’t say it’s a particular thing in a piece.  Some of it, of course, is intellectual, things I’m working on.  How a piece is unified, that interests me.  How every note of a piece is inevitable.  So composers that are organic, in a sense, are the ones that I’d be attracted to at the moment.  It depends on the enthusiasms of the moment, really.  I can’t say what they are.

BD:    And yet your concert dates are booked several years in advance, so you have to know in advance what you’re going to play at a certain time in a certain hall.

MP:    That’s right!  What I’m playing now is two years old, or one year old because things get booked about a year or two years ahead.  But I’m still involved in Handel, and I’m working on Bach as well now, doing the English Suites.  So while I’m not going to be playing them until July, I’m working on them and I’m full of them, practicing them and thinking about them all the time.

BD:    It doesn’t cause a bit of schizophrenia to be playing something at a concert and working on something completely different to be performed six months from now?

MP:    [Laughs]  Well, that’s my life!

BD:    Do you like being a wandering minstrel?

MP:    Yes, I do like it.

BD:    When you come to a new city and you get a new piano, how long is it before you make that piano your own?

MP:    It’s problematic, actually.  It depends on the piano, it depends on the hall, and on me — all those three things.  Sometimes it takes a long time.  It could be two or three hours before I get used to the piano and to the hall.  It is a problem when you don’t carry your own instrument, which I never really did.

BD:    Do you find that at least in the major cities, the pianos are good and kept up and regulated?

MP:    Yes, yes.  But tastes change, and I have to get used to a new hall and a new piano that I haven’t played.  It does take a certain amount of time.

BD:    Do you have certain specifics for the tuner or the regulator to work on the piano before you even touch it?

MP:    No, I sit down to the piano and usually try to adjust, and try to get my own sound, somehow.

BD:    Do you know from the touch and the adjustment who was the last pianist to play it?

MP:    No!  [Laughs]  No, I don’t.

BD:    You’re able to bring out your own soul?

MP:    It comes subconsciously, yes, one’s own sound.  I’m always amazed at how different conductors get their own sound.  They all use standardized gestures, and each conductor gets a completely different sound!  I find that an amazing thing, because they’re all the same players.  Now how does that happen?  It’s not in the rhythm, because the beat will pretty much be the same, won’t it?  I’ve never understood that; it’s a phenomenon!  Every conductor has a different sound.

BD:    Does every pianist have a different sound?

MP:    Oh, yes!  Yes.

BD:    Is that good or bad?

perahia MP:    I think it’s wonderful, because it’s the personality.  Every voice is different!  You would hate for every voice to be the same; there would be a sort of perfect sound, a glorious sound, but music is more than this sound.  It’s something you express with the soul, so everybody’s different.

BD:    There’ve been comments made that competitions turn out lots of players who have the same kind of general sound.

MP:    Yes.  I think maybe the idea of competition is harmful in a way, although it’s necessary because people have to get heard. 

BD:    [Asking to clarify a word which was possibly misunderstood]  Heard, or hurt?

MP:    Heard is what I meant.  I don’t think they have to get hurt, but they do get hurt in these competitions.  Some good happens sometimes, because pianists that don’t have concerts can get concerts suddenly.  I was in that situation in ’72 at the Leeds Competition, and I’ve seen many other pianists now in that situation.  So it does help some pianists, but if one entertains this idea of competition as a musician, it’s dangerous.  You forfeit your own individuality because you’re trying to be better than somebody else.  I think that’s a dangerous concept.  I think just to be one’s self is a test enough.

BD:    Is that the advice you have for young pianists
be yourself?

MP:    Oh, yes!  Discover what music is about — which is a very long process.  It doesn’t come overnight.  That means to study the things that the composers study.  When Beethoven had a student
like Czerny, who tells us this, and Riess — they all had to study C.P.E. Bach’s essay on how to play keyboard instruments.  This is a very difficult essay to understand; it’s all about figured bass, basically.  There’s chapters on fingering and chapters on performance, but basically it’s about figured bass.  It’s about voice leading, and I think musicians should work on that still today.  They should try to be — composers is too big a word — but try to understand music from the inside, rather than from the outside.

BD:    When you sit down to play a piece, how much is Beethoven and how much is Murray Perahia?

MP:    I can’t pretend to really have a clue to Beethoven, but I try to understand the things that he would work on in his composition class.  For instance, there’s the Beethoven studies
his work with Albrechtsbergerwhere we have all his figured bass exercises and all his fugue exercises.  It’s important to try to learn them, to try to know what it was that he was thinking about.  We have the same for Handel, we have the same for Mozart, we have the same for Mendelssohn.  We have their studies.  I think it’s very useful to try to get into their head, in a way.

BD:    It’s not all self-revealing in the music itself?

MP:    A lot of it is instinctual, but the more one has a real understanding of it intellectually, the safer ground one is on.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is there a secret to playing Mozart?

MP:    Well, I haven’t discovered it!  [Laughs]  Knowing the operas help a lot because it’s dramatic music.  Every note counts, so one has to know a lot about notes.  One has to sing all the time at the piano.

BD:    [Half joking]  Not like Glenn Gould, though????

MP:    No, not with the piano!  [Both laugh]  Singing through the piano.

BD:    Do you ever find yourself humming along in the practice room?

MP:    Very rarely.  Very rarely.  It’s a bad habit because then one doesn’t listen to what one’s doing.

BD:    It isn’t the music just sort of taking over?

MP:    I find if I’m doing it, it’s a bad habit, so I try to do it as little as possible.

BD:    Like tapping your foot?

MP:    Yes, yes.

BD:    Is it satisfying to know that you’ve played all of the Mozart concerti?

perahia MP:    Yes.  I learned a lot from that experience.  Going through twenty-seven concertos and seeing his development and evolution taught me a lot.  Still, I feel I’m a beginner in front of Mozart.  [Laughs]  So it doesn’t matter!  But it has helped, yes.

BD:    Having played twenty-seven concerti, you don’t have to tell me which ones, but are there some that stand out, and are there perhaps some that you really don’t care to go back to?

MP:    Oh, no.  There are favorites, but there are none that I’d say I don’t want to go back to.  One can always learn, even from the young Mozart.  For instance, the First Concerto, K. 175 is a wonderful piece.  Certain of the ones right after that were teaching pieces, but then once you start with 271, that’s a great work.  And then the 414, 413, even 415; those are the beginning of the great Mozart.  After that, the 450 set is a wonderful series, and the late ones are great.  One can have favorite movements and even favorite pieces, but I hesitate to name them.

BD:    You touched on a word that I want to pounce on, and that’s
great.  What is it that makes some music great?

MP:    As I said before, it’s partly something which is organic.  I think that’s very important because you know that every part of us human beings is with DNA.  It’s the same with great music
— every note is related, one to the other, so it’s not random.  The composer will not just say, “I’ll go do something like this, and I’ll do something like that.”  No.  Even though it contrasts very much, you find there are connections; there’s this inner logic in great music.  Great music touches great feelings.  It goes beyond the mundane, beyond the ordinary, and even gets into metaphysics.

BD:    Is the music that you play for everyone?

MP:    I hope so.  I think that great music
like Beethoven and Mozartis meant to touch everyone, yes.  They certainly thought it would, and I think it does, really, if one opens one’s heart and one’s mind to it.  I think it can touch.  It’s the same, like Homer or Shakespeare or any great poetry.  It should touch on all levels — children as well.  Children can to see The Magic Flute and feel exhilaration, and then you can see it forty or fifty years later and feel equal exhilaration!  You’re seeing a different piece, in a way.

BD:    So it still speaks to us, even at a removal of a hundred and fifty or two hundred years?

MP:    Yes!

BD:    Once again without mentioning names, is there music being written these days that is on that level?

MP:    That’s a question which is very difficult to answer!  Maybe Beethoven’s music wasn’t recognized in his lifetime, although I doubt that; he was very successful.  Maybe the generation that’s listening to it is not the generation to ask.  But music changed very much with atonality.  There’s no denying that.  The things that composers tried to do before that was tonally based.  It was all with tonality, and an understanding of tonality guaranteed more power to a composer.  How much deeper he could go would be how deep his understanding of tonality was.  Once you leave that, you have different criteria.  And it’s hard to be expert, or understand both.  I find it very difficult.

BD:    Do you play any new music?

MP:    I used to play much more.  I played a lot of Britten.

BD:    But he was really a tonal composer.

MP:    Well yes, he was.  If you’re asking if I play atonal music, the answer would have to be no.

BD:    Does it please you that there are composers coming back to tonality?

MP:    Yes.  It’s a wonderful challenge, and it will be very interesting, the deeper they can get into tonality, so that it doesn’t remain minimalist.  I think that’s a danger.  Music can be very interesting on many, many different levels, and I’m not sure minimalism is the way forward.  But I think that certainly it’s exciting to try to go back into tonal music.

BD:    What advice do you have for someone who wants to write music for the piano these days?

MP:    Oh, I don’t know!  [Laughs]  I don’t have any advice.

BD:    [Genuinely surprised]  Not at all???

MP:    No.  No, I’m not really interested in the piano as such.  I would be interested in the composer delving into the mysteries of tonality, and trying to solve these problems that Beethoven tried to solve, in his own way.

BD:    In other words, work at the music?

MP:    Work at the music.

BD:    And then if it comes to the piano, fine, but it might go for the flute and double bass?

MP:    Right, fine.

BD:    Well, we’re kind of dancing around it a little bit, so let me ask the question straight out.  What is the purpose of music?

MP:    Oh, I think to move the soul, to reach it on a deeper level than conversation.  You know, it can get very deep.  I was reading the other day that somebody said about Chopin’s playing that you hear it and you don’t remain the same person; you become a better person.  I believe that.  I believe that must have been an incredible experience, to come with such an almost holy person, someone that was so in touch with so many elements in music.  It must be a humbling experience.  It makes you on another sphere, emotionally and spiritually.

BD:    Does it take you to this other sphere every time?

MP:    You can’t get to it all the time, but occasionally one does feel one gets somewhere.  Certainly, sometimes when you listen to performances that are moving, you do feel humbled and you do feel in closer touch with what the world is about.

BD:    Let me ask a balance question.  In the music that you play, where is the balance between the artistic achievement and an entertainment value?

MP:    There is entertainment.  Even in a Mozart piano concerto, there is a virtuoso element.  There are virtuoso passages; there is a thrill.  It’s very hard to separate it because the surface has to be entertaining.  I would say the surface has to be sensual, to a certain extent.  I think Mozart loved the sound of certain instruments — like he says himself about the basset horn.  There is a sensuality, to a certain extent, on the surface of the music.  And there’s no doubt about it, there is a virtuoso element and an entertainment level.  It has to appeal to many different levels.  It’s not just the spiritual, and it’s not just the intellectual, and it’s not just the emotional.

BD:    Do greater composers hit more of those levels?

MP:    Yes, I think so.  I think so.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You’re moving back into Bach and Handel.  Does it bother you at all that you’re playing it on a different kind of keyboard than they had?

perahia MP:    No, it doesn’t.  I, myself, strangely enough, have rented a harpsichord to study it.  I’ve now had it for about two months.  I live in London and was able to get a French harpsichord to work with the sound.  I wanted to explore the emotional possibilities, not to play it squarely.  I’m sure that they didn’t play squarely.  Expressive music has to be expressively played, so they must have played with rubato and articulation and all kinds of things.  So I do experiment in trying to see what it is that they do.  But in the end I have to play it on the piano, because that’s my instrument, and it’s also the vernacular.  I feel that because it’s the vernacular, certain musical things will be easier to understand.  I might be wrong and I might change my mind, but at the moment I think that the piano, with its use of dynamics, can bring out what I want.  It’s a regular instrument, not a special world you go into.  That makes it easier to get to grips with the important things that are going on.  

BD:    So you are able to learn these works, and then bring them to your instrument?

MP:    Yes, it’s something to do with my instrument.

BD:    I would think the harpsichord would take a more organ-type technique.

MP:    It’s a different technique altogether.

BD:    Aside from squashing your fingers a little bit?

MP:    That’s right.  You have to remain closer to the keys.  It’s less of the wrist and less of the arm.  Even with the fingers, it’s a different way of playing.  It’s altogether a different instrument, really.

BD:    Are we ever going to hear you play that in public?

MP:    I hope not, no!  [Laughs]  To really be a good harpsichordist takes a lot of time and a lot of dedication.  I’m really a pianist, not a harpsichordist.

BD:    What about the one in the middle, the fortepiano?

MP:    I was never convinced by the fortepiano.  Even when I hear it — and I know I’ll be rubbished for saying this — but it sounds to me like a bad piano!  [Laughs]

BD:    [As if on cue]  Oh, rubbish!  [Laughs]

MP:    It sounds to me like the dynamics aren’t enough.  It’s an instrument in transition.  I can see a harpsichord because it’s a completely different instrument; it’s plucked.  But fortepiano has not convinced me, although I could say that they must have played it with different balances, with different sonorities.  And there would be, probably, a different way of playing as well.  But I think it’s close enough to the piano that the translation is easier to make on the piano.

BD:    So the harpsichord really is a complete instrument?

MP:    I think so.

BD:    Is the piano yet a complete instrument?

MP:    Well, I think it is.  You could say there’ve been improvements.  Casals was very taken with a piano that had two manuals.  There was a piano that had two manuals.  I even think Busoni played it.  That must have been interesting; you could get really lots of sonorities.  Tovey had one, I think, or Tovey played it; I’m not sure.

BD:    Were there two sets of strings?

MP:    Two sets of strings.

BD:    One soundboard, or two?

MP:    No, one soundboard.  [Ponders a moment]  That sounds interesting.  Maybe there could be an improvement on the piano.  I think the piano is a wonderful instrument.

BD:    Have you played one of those that has the extra bass notes at the bottom?

MP:    The Bösendorfer, yes.  Yes, I have.

BD:    Did you like that?

MP:    Yes, I like that!  And certain music, like certain Bartók pieces, you can only play on that.  He wrote for them.

BD:    Do you miss them when they’re not there for your left hand?

MP:    [Laughs]  Well, you have to bluff your way, yes, and play different notes!

BD:    Rescore it slightly!

MP:    Rescore it slightly.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You also do some conducting.  Do you ever conduct when you’re not playing?

MP:    Very rarely.  I’m going to do a little bit when I do tours with the Academy.

BD:    Is it special for you to be at the keyboard and bring the orchestra with you?

MP:    Yes.  I like the idea of playing chamber music, of making chamber music when we play a performance together.  I do like this idea, and apparently that’s the way it was originally done.  There wasn’t a conductor in Mozart’s own performances; he did it himself.  So there is an element of being historically correct about it.

BD:    He was his everything.

MP:    Yes.

BD:    Composer, performer, conductor...

MP:    Everything!

BD:    Should we get back to that?

MP:    It would be great if we could do that, wouldn’t it!  [Both laugh]  I wouldn’t mind!  I wish I could write a piece!

perahia BD:    Is it frustrating for you, having conducted these pieces, to work with somebody else conducting?

MP:    No, no, I love it.  I love the element of making music together with somebody, especially if it’s a sympathetic conductor and somebody I feel I can make music with
— like the relationship I have with Solti, for instance.  [See my Interviews with Sir Georg Solti.]

BD:    So you hunt out the sympathetic conductors?

MP:    Yes.

BD:    Are the conductors hunting out sympathetic pianists?

MP:    I don’t know!  [Laughs]  You have to ask them!

BD:    You’re about to hit the big five-oh.  Are you pleased with your career at this point?

MP:    A retrospective?  I can’t really.  I’m in the middle of it, somehow.

BD:    So you’re just ignoring the landmarks?

MP:    I am trying to ignore them.

BD:    I
s playing the piano fun?

MP:    It can be lots of fun!  The whole life of being in music is great fun!  Seeing one’s self grow, understanding more, and trying to understand the great masters; it’s all a wonderful experience, yes.

BD:    I hope that the touring and the playing all over the world isn’t too tiring on you.  Vocalists, of course, have to rest the voice.  Do pianists have to be sure to get enough rest?

MP:    Yes.  I never do it, but they do have to rest and not play too much.  I try not to play too much because if you’re constantly playing, you have no time to grow.  There’s a lot that’s internal in this profession.  I find a lot of growing that is almost without playing the piano.

BD:    So it’s not a physical thing; it’s a mental thing?

MP:    It’s a mental thing.  It’s not only a physical thing, no.  A lot of time has to be spent on a piece, even away from the piece once one has studied it, so that it can grow in one’s mind and in one’s feelings.  You want every note to come from inside.  You want it to be a real experience, and that takes time.  You can’t just constantly deliver and constantly be performing.  I don’t think that’s useful.

BD:    Do you leave enough time for your personal life?

MP:    Yes, yes I do.  I’m very careful about that.

BD:    How many performances a year do you give?

MP:    I don’t count, but I would say about sixty.  Sixty or seventy.  It’s not that much; not as much as I used to.

BD:    I was going to say, that sounds almost like a singer.  Singers try to restrict it to between sixty and eighty performances a year.

MP:    Yes, that’s it.  That’s about what I try to do.

BD:    That makes each performance special?

MP:    It does, and it makes you work towards each performance more.

Murray Perahia
Born: April 19, 1947 - New York City, NY, USA

The distinguished American concert pianist and conductor, Murray Perahia, was born of Sephardic Jewish origin, and began playing the piano at four but he didn't start practising seriously until the age of 15. At the age of 17, he attended Mannes College, where he studied keyboard, conducting, and composition with his teacher and mentor Mieczyslaw Horszowski. During the summer, he also attended Marlboro, where he studied with Rudolf Serkin, and Pablo Casals, amongst others. In 1972, he won the 4th Leeds Piano Competition, helping to cement its reputation for advancing the careers of young pianistic talent. Dr. Fanny Waterman recalls anecdotally (in Wendy Thompson's book Piano Competition: The Story of the Leeds) that Mieczyslaw Horszowski had phoned her prior to the competition, announcing that he would enter the winner. Other American contestants had apparently withdrawn their applications upon hearing that Perahia would be competing.

In 1973 Murray Perahia worked with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears at the Aldeburgh Festival. He became co-artistic director in 1981, stepping down in 1989. Perahia famously held a close acquaintance with an elder Vladimir Horowitz, who had a defining influence on his pianism. His first major recording project was the complete piano concertos by W.A. Mozart, conducted from the keyboard with the English Chamber Orchestra. In the 1980's, he also recorded the complete Beethoven piano concertos, with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam.

In 1992, Murray Perahia's career was threatened by a bone abnormality in one of his hands that had to be operated on. A bone spur on his thumb was causing inflammation, and he had to spend several years away from the keyboard, enduring a series of operations. During that time, he reportedly listened to the music of J.S. Bach. After being given the all-clear, he produced in the late 1990's a series of award-winning recordings of Bach's keyboard works, most notably a cornerstone rendition of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988). This has caused him to be regarded as a latter-day Bach specialist. He has since made recordings of F. Chopin's etudes, and of F. Schubert's late piano sonatas. He is currently editing a new Urtext edition of Beethoven's piano sonatas. He is regarded as one of the most popular pianists on record today. His recordings are characterized by a consistent quality of sound, technique/interpretation and a careful attention to dynamic and stylistic details.

Besides his solo career, Murray Perahia is active in chamber music and appears regularly with the Guarneri and Budapest Quartets. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields orchestra, with which he records and performs.

In 1998, Murray Perahia was presented with the 1997 Instrumentalist award by the Royal Philharmonic Society. In 1999, he received an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of Leeds. Murray Perahia is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music. On March 8, 2004, Queen Elizabeth II of the UK made him an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire, in recognition of his outstanding service to music. Other Awards and Recognitions: Claudio Arrau Memorial Medal of The Robert Schumann Society (Awarded in 2000 during the 7th International Schumann Festival); Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance (David Corkhill, Evelyn Glennie, Murray Perahia & Georg Solti for Béla Bartók: Sonata for Two Pianos & Percussion, 1989); Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra) (Andreas Neubronner (producer & engineer) & Murray Perahia for Chopin: Études, Op. 10 & Op. 25, 2003; Murray Perahia for Bach: English Suites Nos. 1, 3 And 6, 1999).

In the more than 35 years he has been performing on the concert stage, American pianist Murray Perahia has become one of the most sought-after and cherished pianists of our time, performing in all of the major international music centers and with every leading orchestra. He is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, with whom he has toured as conductor and pianist throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and South East Asia.

perahia Born in New York, Mr. Perahia started playing piano at the age of four, and later attended Mannes College where he majored in conducting and composition. His summers were spent at the Marlboro Festival, where he collaborated with such musicians as Rudolf Serkin, Pablo Casals, and the members of the Budapest String Quartet. He also studied at the time with Mieczyslaw Horszowski. In subsequent years, he developed a close friendship with Vladimir Horowitz, whose perspective and personality were an abiding inspiration. In 1972 Mr. Perahia won the Leeds International Piano Competition, and in 1973 he gave his first concert at the Aldeburgh Festival, where he worked closely with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, accompanying the latter in many lieder recitals. Mr. Perahia was co-artistic director of the Festival from 1981 to 1989.

During the 2010-11 season, Mr. Perahia performs recitals across North America, including in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York's Carnegie Hall. Recent highlights include a European tour with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; concerto appearances with the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich and the Chicago Symphony under the baton of Bernard Haitink; and recital tours across Europe, North America and Asia.

Mr. Perahia has a wide and varied discography. In March 2010, Sony Classical released a 5-CD boxed set of his Chopin recordings, including both concerti, the Etudes op. 12 and op. 25, the Ballades, the Préludes op. 28, and various shorter works. Some of his previous solo recordings feature Bach's Partitas Nos. 1, 5, and 6 and Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, opp 14, 26, and 28. He is the recipient of two Grammy awards, for his recordings of Chopin's complete Etudes and Bach's English Suites Nos. 1, 3, and 6, and numerous Grammy nominations. Mr. Perahia has also won several Gramophone Awards.

Recently, Mr. Perahia embarked on an ambitious project to edit the complete Beethoven Sonatas for the Henle Urtext Edition. He also produced and edited numerous hours of recordings of recently discovered master classes by the legendary pianist, Alfred Cortot, which resulted in the highly acclaimed Sony CD release, "Alfred Cortot: The Master Classes."

Mr. Perahia is an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, and he holds honorary doctorates from Leeds University and Duke University. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary KBE by Her Majesty The Queen, in recognition of his outstanding service to music.

© 1997 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded in Chicago on March 13, 1997.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB on December 2, 2000.  This transcription was made and posted on this website late in 2010.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.