Courtesy of Ettore Causa

World-renowned classical pianist Boris Berman will perform works by Mozart, Debussy, Schoenberg and Prokofiev in Morse Recital Hall on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

The concert is part of the Horowitz Piano Series, a series of piano recitals honoring pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who left his papers with Yale before he died. Berman serves as the artistic director of the series and has performed on every series since its inception in 2000.

Berman, a professor in the Practice of Piano and the head of the Piano Department, joined the School of Music faculty in 1984. Lauded as the “pianist’s pianist” by the Boston Globe, Berman, who was born in Moscow, performs regularly around the world — in six continents and over 50 countries so far. 

“[Berman] is one of the greatest living pianists in the world,” said Elisabeth Tsai MUS ’23, a student of Berman. “He has had a profound impact on every single pianist in my generation. He’s the gold standard of Prokofiev and Scriabin, and his recordings are the firsts we all go to.”

Berman is also an active recording artist. He is the first pianist to record Prokofiev’s complete solo works and is currently working on a recording project he is calling the “dawn of modernism.” The project will focus on pieces written in the 1910s and 1920s to show how “different composers gave inspiration to following generations,” he said.

Despite his storied performance and recording career, Berman said he still gets “terribly, terribly nervous” before every performance.

“Every performance, you put yourself on the line and you know your previous good concerts do not guarantee that [the upcoming] one will be good,” he said. “It’s very risky. But this ability to communicate with the audience, to present to them the music I care very much about — very often I do on stage something different from what I planned to do, and this moment of improvisation in public is very dear to me. When it happens, it is a fantastic pleasure.”

According to Berman, each concert requires the artist to choose from various guidelines in programming. He said that these include monographic programming — choosing programming on the “basis of similarity,” exploring the influence younger composers experience from their predecessors, crafting pieces on the “principle of contrast” and examining different music written in different countries at the same time.

Berman said that his program on Wednesday draws from all of these principles.

The program will open with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B flat major, K. 333 and close with Prokofiev’s Fifth Sonata, a neoclassical work. Berman said he believes this “bookending” allows exploration into how the classical principles Mozart used were “modified by Prokofiev.” 

For the rest of the concert’s programming, Berman will turn to his “dawn of modernism” recording idea with three pieces all written in the 1910s or 1920s: Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Piano from 1923, Debussy’s “Six épigraphes antiques” from 1914 and Prokofiev’s “Visions fugitives” from 1917.

Berman described Debussy’s “Six épigraphes antiques” as “bizarre” and full of “half tints and delicate shades of expression.” Schoenberg’s five pieces — the fifth of which is Schoenberg’s first 12-tone composition — contrast sharply with Debussy.

Berman said that he finds this contrast in its character. It is “quirkier,” much less “sensual,” and “rational but not dry” — and also in the juxtaposition between Debussy’s “Gaelic sensibility” versus Schoenberg’s Germanic tradition.

Prokofiev’s “Visions fugitives,” a set of small pieces written between 1915 and 1917, creates further contrast, both within the pieces and against Debussy and Schoenberg. Some of the pieces continue the Russian tradition, while others amount to “intentional rebelling” against it.

“Anytime he performs, you just feel all his experience and history coming through as a listener — there’s just such an enormous depth to everything that he does,” said Anthony Ratinov ’20 MUS ’23 who studied with Berman. “He’s absolutely incredible on stage, and it’s very inspiring to be able to see your teacher do all these things that he talks about himself so well.”

Both Tsai and Ratinov described the impact of Berman’s work, both on their personal development and on the School of Music. 

They described his selflessness with his time and his care for his students as “inspirational” and essential to the culture he has created as a leader on the faculty.

“He’s such a well-respected musician and teacher that any time he walks into any room you can feel how much everyone really admires and respects him,” said Ratinov. “He’s succeeded in creating a really supportive atmosphere [at the School of Music].”

Two of Berman’s former students, Melvin Chen ’91 and Wei Yi Yang MUS ’04, now serve as piano professors at the School of Music with Berman. Berman’s legacy now “spans generations,” Tsai added.

When Berman first joined the School of Music faculty, the overall applicant pool for the piano department was between 18 and 25 people, he said. Now, acceptance to the School of Music, the only music school attached to an Ivy League institution, Berman said, is “very competitive,” with an applicant pool of roughly 250 pianists, and the faculty is “able to take the best pianists.”

He cited the department’s focus on collaboration between faculty members and students as integral to his approach to creating community within the School of Music. He said that he believes diversity in opinion is what “makes the environment so fertile” because “there is no absolute truth in music,” and students need to be exposed to different approaches.

Berman has also published two books including “Notes from the Pianist’s Bench” and “Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer.” 

“He’s just the perfect model of great artistry and intellectual artistry,” Tsai said.

Tickets for the concerts start at $17. Yale faculty and staff can purchase tickets for $12, and students can buy them for $8.

Tobias Liu covers the School of Music and the undergraduate music scene. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College from Johns Creek, Georgia majoring in Economics and Molecular Biology.