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A conversation with Yefim Bronfman.

Before coming to work for Schmitt Music, I was on the staff of The Friends of Chamber Music in Kansas City, which presents a renowned piano recital series. I first met Yefin Bronfman when he played on that series during the 2003-2004 season. Not only did I have the pleasure of hearing his superb music-making, but I was also able to spend time getting to know him a bit--as did the students who participated in a post-concert pizza party with him. Our paths have crossed several times since then, most recently in a telephone interview on November 7, 2006. Down-to-earth, friendly and funny, he is truly a delight. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did!

JS: Hello, Fima! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this telephone interview. You're going to be the conference artist for the MTNA conference in Toronto in March. Is this the first time you've played for a music teachers' convention?

YB: Yes.

JS: Do you know your program yet?

YB: [Gave details of works he will play.]

JS: Wow! That will be a terrific program! May I print it?

YB: You'd better not, in case I decide to change it between now and then!

JS: OK. The readers of this article are just going to have trust me that it will be a jaw-dropping program--worth coming to the conference to hear/

I'm going to try to avoid asking you too many of the same questions that have been asked many times before, but I can't resist asking about your early years of study

YB: No, no! There are no stupid questions!

JS: How old were you when you began to play piano?

YB: 7.

JS: What drew you to the piano in particular?

YB: My parents. My father was a violinist, my mother, a pianist. My sister already played the violin so that left piano for me!

JS: Well, it was obviously a good fit! At what point did you know that you wanted to embrace the piano as your profession?

YB: [laughing] I still don't know! It's hard for me to think of playing the piano as being a "profession." It depends upon what you mean by that--the connotation of "profession" is that you're not always having a good time. It's more like a full-time hobby. I enjoy playing and traveling.

JS: How many concerts (solo, chamber music, concertos) do you typically play in a year?

YB: About 100, on average. I find I am playing too much. I would like to cut back.

JS: In addition to your solo and orchestral engagements, you also perform a lot of chamber music. Where do you feel that chamber music fits into the learning experience of a young pianist?

YB: I'm not into preaching. I can only speak about my own experiences. At the beginning of my career, I played with Shlomo Mintz and other renowned musicians. I owe my career to chamber music because I first gained attention through these collaborative performances, which led to solo engagements.

I first participated in chamber music at the Marlborough Chamber Music Festival when I was 18 years old. It was fun playing with other people! Everybody is different, though. Some people like to play chamber music, some don't. The piano's repertoire is the biggest and greatest of all the instruments--everyone finds his own favorite repertoire. For me personally, the Brahms piano quartets are just as important as the concerti, especially if you can play with great musicians. I've been fortunate to have been able to play with great musicians.

JS: What kept you motivated through the years of perfecting your art?

YB: Balance is important--make sure you have time to read, go to museums, go out with friends, enjoy other cities and nature. One of the great challenges of our lives is to achieve balance. Take care not to fall into the trap of doing nothing but practicing! Being a musician is so much more than playing the right notes at the right time--it comes from living fully.

JS: Yes. All those experiences are brought to bear on the music. If you have no life experience, you have nothing to play about! Speaking of balance and experiencing life beyond the practice room, do you have any hobbies?

YB: No, not what you would call formal hobbies, like golf or something like that. I do all the things I mentioned before. I try to keep up with life.

JS: How does the concert experience fit into the life of a piano student?

YB: When I was a student, I went to concerts three to four times a week. I attended rehearsals as well as concerts--symphony, opera, chamber music whatever I could get into. Of course, I lived in New York so there was a lot going on.

I encourage young people to go to concerts. Sometimes I come to towns with big conservatories and I wonder, "Where are they? Would they rather be in front of their computers?" I hate preaching, but I can't understand not attending concerts. Students need to see what they are striving to be.

JS: Experiencing live music is so important! Live music is to recordings as living flowers are to dried arrangements.

YB: Yes. Recordings are good--make sense--for capturing the artists that are gone--Toscanini, Richter--but live music is the real thing. There is communication between artist and audience.

JS: Speaking of recordings, do you have a favorite among your own recordings?

YB: That's a tough one. To answer that, I'd have to listen to them! Recording is difficult, unpredictable. There's so much post-production work that goes on that you sometimes don't recognize the end result.

JS: I have both of your duo recordings [Rachmaninoff and Brahms] with Emanuel Ax. They're terrific!

YB: Thank you. The two-piano repertoire is fantastic!

JS: Would you mind re-telling me how you and Manny came to be duo partners?

YB: I don't remember exactly what I told you before! We are neighbors; we live in the same building. We started playing together and people seemed to like it, so we went on tour. The first tour, we played four or five concerts, then did a second tour.

JS: Your recording of the first movement of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 was used in the film Fantasia 2000. How did that come about?

YB: Well, Peter Gelb [at that time President of Sony Classical] suggested to Roy Disney that he come hear me. He liked what he heard, so we ended up recording the Shostakovich with Levine and the Chicago Symphony. It was fun to meet people in the film industry! They were talented and intelligent. It was a new horizon for me. There was a tour involved with the film.

JS: How long was the tour?

YB: It lasted several weeks. We did seven concerts in Tokyo, London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles. Everything sold out!

JS: I realize you maintain an extremely demanding performance schedule, but do you do any teaching?

YB: Well, I'm currently artist-in-residence at Mannes [College of Music]. I teach 9-12 hours per semester.

JS: Your students are fortunate to have you! You yourself studied with several illustrious teachers. Do you have any particularly memorable things to share about your studies?

YB: I was very lucky to have wonderful teachers, such as [Leon] Fleisher and [Arie] Vardi. Each taught me something new and different. It is important for a student to have the right teacher for that individual. Talented young pianists need a good, solid foundation and a teacher who also serves as a mentor to encourage and to give good advice on matters outside of music.

JS: Do you have any advice for teachers?

YB: [laughing] I have so little experience! If anything, teachers reading this should be giving me advice!

JS: Well, in that case, do you have any advice for students?

YB: It's hard to generalize. Each student has different needs, different questions to solve. The best advice I have to offer, if I may, is: be patient! Don't go for fast results. There are no quick fixes. You have to address one issue at a time. Be patient. That's really all I have to say

JS: Before we wrap this up, do you have any final comments?

YB: I've run out of words!

JS: Thank you so much for your time. You've been very generous. We look forward to hearing you in Toronto!

Julia Scherer, M.M., of Schmitt Music, Kansas City's exclusive Steinway dealer, has been a teacher for 20 years. Scherer's own teachers de William Westney, Steven Glaser and Robert Roux.
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Author:Scherer, Julia
Publication:American Music Teacher
Article Type:Interview
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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