20 (PLUS) QUESTIONS WITH: Pianist Yefim “Fima” Bronfman

10.12.09
Yefim Bronfman
Playbill Arts

By Albert Imperato

Fresh off of a busy summer - which included opening nights for the Tanglewood, Ravinia and Saratoga festivals - Yefim “Fima” Bronfman dives into the new season with performances across the globe.

Bronfman has wowed critics and audiences worldwide with his solo recitals, prestigious orchestral engagements, and expanding catalogue of recordings, being especially admired for his performances of modern Russian repertory.

Bronfman’s commitment to chamber music has led to collaborations with quartets such as the Emerson and Guarneri, and artists including Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma, and Pinchas Zukerman. His wide-ranging discography includes Bartók’s three piano concertos with Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which won a Grammy in 1997. Recent releases feature Salonen’s works; Beethoven concertos with Gil Shaham, Truls Mork, and the Tonhalle Orchestra; Tchaikovsky’s first concerto with Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony; and a recital disc – Perspectives – complementing Bronfman’s 2007-08 Carnegie Hall “Perspectives” series.

Having trained at the Juilliard School, Marlboro, and the Curtis Institute, with Rudolf Firkusny, Leon Fleisher, and Rudolf Serkin, Bronfman was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize in 1991.

1. A few works of classical music that you adore:

Verdi Requiem: first time I heard it I was ten years old in a cathedral in Latvia – I heard it with my parents and was completely bowled over by it. I also love Beethoven’s Opus 95 String Quartet and Schubert’s Cello Quintet.

2. Classical music recordings that you treasure:

Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting Schubert’s Great C major Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic. Emotionally speaking, it is kind of a definitive performance – everything you want to hear in this piece can be heard in this performance. Furtwängler is one of the few who grasps more dimensions of the music in one performance than anyone else. Schnabel playing all the Beethoven Sonatas – these are definitive performances with more dimensions revealed than by anyone else. Also, the Budapest String Quartet playing the complete Beethoven quartets – they really make music!

3. Favorite non-classical musicians and/or recordings:

Oscar Peterson is great. Art Tatum goes against all the laws of piano playing but it just sounds great – he shows that a great pianist doesn’t need a teacher to tell him how to play! Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz – they are also unorthodox players. But that’s what makes them great.

4. Music that makes you cry – any genre:

I can remember certain performances, such as Richter playing Schubert’s B flat major Sonata – particularly the second movement. When he plays Rachmaninov’s two Tableux it’s spectacular. Enigma, a film about Richter, is something you should see.

5. Definitely underrated work(s) or composer(s):

Prokofiev I think. In a way, Haydn is underrated – his students overshadowed him, but nobody wrote better symphonies. He wrote a lot of music, but people after him wrote symphonies because he wrote such fantastic ones. His string quartets influenced Beethoven as well.

6. Possibly overrated work(s) or composer(s):

If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass on this one.

7. Live music performance(s) you attended – any genre – that you’ll never forget:

I heard Verdi’s Requiem in Israel with Zubin Mehta – amazing. And Mahler 2 with Bernstein in rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic: people at the general rehearsal said it was far better than any performance!

8. A few relatively recent films you love:

I loved Borat and look forward to his next films. I love the Coen Brothers films, including No Country For Old Men. Almodovar’s Bad Education and Talk to Her; Woody Allen’s Match Point. I loved Lost in Translation with Bill Murray – it was amazing, and I left the theater in Chicago feeling jetlagged after seeing it!

9. A few films you consider classics:

Casablanca; Woody Allen’s Manhattan; Fargo is a classic. Some of the old Russian films including the Eisenstein films – especially Battleship Potemkin, and Alexander Nevsky.

10. A book (or two) that is important to you (and why):

Homer’s Odyssey. I love the letters of Van Gogh to his brother: they are beautiful and poetic, like reading poetry – there’s nothing like them. I love Thomas Mann – even Buddenbrooks.

11. Thing(s) about yourself that you’re most proud of:

I’m proud that people are booking me to play concerts!

12. Thing(s) about yourself that you’re embarrassed by:

Loving to drink wine and smoke cigars.

13. Three things you can’t live without:

Wine, cigars and jacuzzis.

14. “When I want to get away from it all I…”

Like to be in nature. I prefer it to cities. I also like to be in beautiful cities, preferably ones on the ocean.

15. “People are surprised to find out that I…”

Like to have a good time.”

16. “My favorite cities are…”

Hong Kong, Vancouver, and New York and London.

17. “I have a secret crush on…”

I better keep my secret crush a secret!

18. “My most obvious guilty pleasure is…”

Cigars.

19. “I’d really love to meet…”

Milan Kundera. I like his books very much and I think he’d be a fascinating person to meet, especially having come from the Eastern bloc myself. His books triggered a lot of emotion in me when he described the life of people from this part of the world. I felt very connected.

20. “I never understood why…”

People want to get an autograph for a performing artist after a concert. I don’t see the point!

BONUS QUESTION:

21. Question you wish someone would ask you (and the answer to that question):

Q: When is your next holiday and what will you do?

A: Soon, and I don’t have any plans.

For Bronfman news and complete performance schedule visit www.yefimbronfman.com