Hearing world-renowned classical musicians perform live is a rare experience for most college students. But Wednesday evening, acclaimed Russian-born pianist Boris Berman will fill the intimate Morse Recital Hall at Sprague Memorial Hall with a program of piano sonatas by Haydn and Prokofiev.
Berman is the Artistic Director of the Horowitz Piano Series — a recital series that invites notable faculty pianists and many of the world’s greatest artists to perform at Yale. He is eager to honor the legacy of pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who Berman considers “the greatest pianist of the 20th century.” Student tickets for Wednesday’s recital will be free.
“Teaching is a very important and cherished part of my activity,” said Berman, of his 35-year tenure as a distinguished professor of piano at the Yale School of Music.
On Oct. 17, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker announced President Peter Salovey’s acceptance of Blocker’s recommendation to appoint Berman as the Sylvia and Leonard Marx Professor in the Practice of Piano. Salovey will place this nomination on the Yale Corporation’s December agenda for final confirmation.
In an email to School of Music faculty, staff and students on Berman’s appointment, Blocker noted that Berman has made “significant contributions to music” in numerous capacities.
On any given day, Berman could be anywhere in the world — performing solo recitals, collaborating in chamber music concerts, teaching master classes at distinguished conservatories or lecturing on subjects discussed in his publications on piano technique and music interpretation. In the 2018–2019 concert season alone, Berman will perform and teach in Austria, China, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Tomorrow’s program will open with Haydn’s “London” Piano Sonatas: No. 50 in C major, No. 51 in D major and No. 52 in E-flat major. Berman describes these final three sonatas written by the eminent 18th-century Viennese composer as “probably his greatest.” While Berman said that Haydn is often perceived as a “somewhat academic composer,” he hopes that the audience will see the “shades of emotion his music conveys.”
Berman said that Sprague Hall is “just the right size for a piano recital.” He added that the venue gives audience members the unique opportunity to hear prominent artists in an intimate setting, rather than from the second balcony of a massive concert hall.
Following the intermission, Berman will perform Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 9 in C major and Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major. To many, Prokofiev stands as a prominent Russian-Soviet composer well-known for his scores accompanying major ballets. Yet through years of working on Prokofiev’s music, Berman’s relationship with the composer’s works is much more personal.
In the 1990s, Berman accomplished what he refers to as a “mammoth project” — recording the composer’s complete works for solo piano. He also wrote a book titled “Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer” published by Yale University Press. Berman edited and revised an authoritative edition of Prokofiev’s piano sonata scores.
Associate Professor of Piano and Deputy Dean Melvin Chen ’91 spoke highly of Berman, under whom he studied as an undergraduate student at Yale.
“Berman’s vast knowledge of the Prokofiev sonatas, gained both through research and years of performing them, make his live performances of these pieces a must see event,” Chen said.
Berman described Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 as a “masterpiece” that is “completely different.”
Written in 1942 in the midst of World War II, this piece encapsulates what Berman described as the “prevailing emotional atmosphere” during the Russian national tragedy of the Nazi invasion. He characterized Prokofiev’s work as “intensely personal” for Russian audiences at the time and “full of great tragedy and relentless energy.” He hopes the audience will share these emotions during his performance.
Berman calls Sonata No. 9 a nostalgic work with a “looking back quality.” While the styles of 18th-century Haydn and 20th-century Prokofiev seem to differ, Berman sees connections between the two composers’ music.
“I think they are linked,” he said.
Some contemporaries of the young Prokofiev observed that his roots stem not from his immediate predecessors, but from earlier, more classical-style composers such as Haydn. Berman claims there is “much truth” in this perceptive yet little-explored observation.
Though he has taught at the School of Music for 35 years, Berman said that he still discovers new events on campus. He said that “it would be good if more students discovered [the Horowitz Piano Series].”
“Having the opportunity to study with [Berman], who is a top performer and professor, is really a great privilege,” said pianist Nenad Ivovic MUS ’19, who has studied with Berman for the past couple years. “His intellectual approach to teaching is something that makes his teaching so unique.”
When asked how he manages his professional, pedagogical and personal lives, Berman laughed. “It’s a very demanding schedule,” Berman said admittedly.
“I really don’t have much time for socializing, but I love what I do,” Berman said. “I love every aspect of it and would not like to trade anything for it.”
Berman will perform the same program in just over three weeks in Malaga and Cordoba, Spain.
Allison Park | email@example.com .