Murray Perahia

Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Biography

Over the course of a career that began almost forty-five years ago, Murray Perahia has become one of the most sought-after and cherished pianists of our time. The American artist’s interpretations of great repertoire landmarks by everyone from Bach and Beethoven to Chopin and Liszt offer timeless lessons in sensibility, sophistication and expressive intensity. While his approach invariably draws attention to the music not the musician, he stands in the tradition of the great keyboard virtuosi as an artist armed with consummate technical skills, boundless imagination and near-mystical eloquence. Perahia’s pianism, recognised as exceptional since his student days, has matured over more than four decades to deliver unique insights into music’s spiritual qualities, its power to communicate where words end.

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“I love to play the piano,” he says. “I love the instrument. I think it has a series of secrets that we have to find out from it.” Perahia’s lifelong pursuit of the piano’s mysteries has been richly documented on record. The pianist’s extensive discography continues to grow thanks to an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon, announced in September 2016 and marked a month later by the release of J.S. Bach’s French Suites. His first recording of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” and “Moonlight” sonatas is set for release on the yellow label in February 2018. Perahia intends to record other works that are close to his heart as part of his evolving relationship with Deutsche Grammophon.

“The recording process provides the chance to return to compositions, to uncover fresh ways of thinking and feeling about them, and to explore the masterworks of the keyboard repertoire at every stage in one’s development,” he observes. “There is something very special for me about revisiting music by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin and Brahms. Their inexhaustible art remains a constant source of inspiration to me.”

Murray Perahia’s status as one of today’s finest artists is clearly reflected in his schedule for the 2017-18 season, launched with a major European tour of Beethoven’s piano concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, an ensemble of which he has been Principal Guest Conductor since 2000. In January 2018 he will join forces with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for a series of performances in Tel Aviv and Haifa in which he will direct the orchestra from the keyboard in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 and conduct Schumann’s Symphony No.2. Perahia’s season continues with a series of recitals in China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and the United States, and in such prestigious venues as Stockholm’s Konserthuset, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, London’s Barbican Centre and the Philharmonie de Paris.

Highlights of recent seasons include his first tour to Australia in 2013, including appearances at the Sydney Opera House and in Melbourne; lectures, discussions and recitals as 2015 Humanitas Visiting Professor in Chamber Music at the University of Cambridge; the Schumann Concerto with the Boston Symphony and Bernard Haitink; Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 with the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst; and performances of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” in 2016 at venues in Europe, the Far East and the US. Perahia’s affinity for Beethoven has also seen him become co-editor of the composer’s complete piano sonatas for Henle’s new Urtext Edition, an ambitious ongoing project launched in 2002.

His recording catalogue includes Grammy Award-winning albums of Chopin’s Études Opp.10 & 25, Bach’s English Suites Nos. 1, 3, and 6, and Bartók’s Sonata for two pianos and percussion. He has won nine Gramophone Awards, including the 2017 Instrumental Award for his Deutsche Grammophon debut disc, received numerous Grammy nominations, and been recognised with many other prestigious recording prizes. His awards checklist includes honorary fellowships of London’s Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music, the Royal Philharmonic Society’s 1997 Instrumentalist award, honorary doctorates from the University of Oxford, Royal College of Music, University of Leeds, Weizmann Institute, Juilliard School and Duke University, and the Claudio Arrau Memorial Medal of the Robert Schumann Society. In 2004 he was appointed an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his outstanding service to music.

Murray Perahia was born in New York on 19 April 1947. He started playing piano at the age of four and received formative lessons from the pianist and author Jeannette Haien. He later enrolled at Mannes College, majoring in conducting and composition; he also cultivated his skills as a pianist with lessons at a summer chamber music camp from Artur Balsam, an outstanding chamber musician and accompanist. His musical experience deepened when he performed with Rudolf Serkin and with members of the Budapest String Quartet at the Marlboro Music Festival, where he also met Pablo Casals for the first time. He subsequently played with Casals in private in Puerto Rico and studied for a year with the veteran Polish-American pianist Mieczysław Horszowski.

The famously self-critical young musician made his debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in March 1972 and achieved his career breakthrough soon after when he won that year’s Leeds International Piano Competition. He gave his first concert at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1973 as part of his Leeds Competition prize. Perahia forged a regular recital partnership with the tenor Peter Pears, and served as the Aldeburgh Festival’s co-artistic director from 1981 to 1989.

This coming season, Mr. Perahia will continue to tour Europe, conducting and playing the complete Beethoven concerti with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He will also give solo recitals throughout Europe and tour Asia with performances in Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Saitama, Tokyo, and Mito. Following this, he will give a series of recitals across the United States, including in Athens, GA, Atlanta, Scottsdale and Ann Arbor, as well as performances at the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester.

Mr. Perahia has a wide and varied discography. In October 2016, he released a highly anticipated recording of Bach French Suites, his first album on the Deutsche Grammophon label. Sony Classical issued a special boxed set edition of all his recordings including several DVDs entitled The First 40 Years. The recording of the Brahms Handel Variations, which won the Gramophone Award in 2011, was described as “one of the most rewarding Brahms recitals currently available.” Some of his previous solo recordings feature a 5-CD boxed set of his Chopin recordings, 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 several Gramophone Awards including the inaugural Piano Award in 2012.

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 Academy of Music, and he holds honorary doctorates from the Juilliard School, Oxford University, the Royal College of Music, 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.

Reviews

Murray Perahia’s delicate touch paired beautifully with the Academy of St Martin in the Field’s aerated tone, bringing wit and poise to an all-Beethoven chamber programme … This was a true collaboration – and music-making of the highest order.

Flora Willson

The Guardian

“Perahia’s extraordinary pianism is a sacrament of purification and a kind of return to an age of pianistic innocence.”

Los Angeles Times

“The qualities that make Perahia one of today’s leading artists of the keyboard lie in his ability to shine a penetrating and personal light on such music, in such a way that there is nothing at all “standard” about it. In other words, the commanding insights he brings to this repertory are more than enough to breathe freshness and distinction into works we’ve heard many times before, but seldom played at this inspired level.”

Chicago Tribune

More Reviews

“Perahia’s extraordinary pianism is a sacrament of purification and a kind of return to an age of pianistic innocence.”

Los Angeles Times

“The qualities that make Perahia one of today’s leading artists of the keyboard lie in his ability to shine a penetrating and personal light on such music, in such a way that there is nothing at all “standard” about it. In other words, the commanding insights he brings to this repertory are more than enough to breathe freshness and distinction into works we’ve heard many times before, but seldom played at this inspired level. ”

Chicago Tribune

“Murray Perahia displayed a breathtaking drive and imagination playing the music of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin.”

Los Angeles Times

“Perahia, poet of the keyboard, comes back with thunder.”

Allan Kozinn, New York Times, March 27, 2007