Anniversary of Prokofiev’s birth to be celebrated in concert with ballet music and imagery

To celebrate the 125th birthday of the famed Russian composer and pianist Sergei Prokofiev, Yale School of Music faculty member Boris Berman wanted to do something special on campus.

The poster for “Prokofiev at 125.”

Berman, a pianist who is also originally from Russia, invited six of his piano students to perform a concert featuring pieces from the composer’s ballets. To further enhance the musical experience of audience members, he collected photos and videos of some of the original productions of the ballets, which will be projected on a live screen during the concert. The event, titled “Prokofiev at 125,” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, in Morse Recital Hall of Sprague Memorial Hall, 470 College St.

“It was quite a struggle to unearth some of these materials,” says Berman. “Some of them are archival, and some have never been seen by the public. I was given permission to show some of them after a considerable effort of persuasion. What I tried to do is to find as many materials as possible related to the original production of the ballets so that our audience can experience this music as closely as possible to how people experienced it during their premiere performances. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been done, and it has definitely never been done at Yale. Given the amount of preparation it took, it will probably never be done again, and that’s why I thought people will not want to miss it.”

Pianists Thomas Hicks M.M. ’17, Benjamin Krasner M.M. ’18, Sophiko Simsive M.M. ’18, Nansong Huang M.M. ’18, Sun-A Park M.M.A. ’17, and Vyacheslar Gryaznov A.D. ’18 will perform excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballets “The Prodigal Son,” “Cinderella,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “On the Dnieper.” While Prokofiev wrote the arrangements for most of these ballet pieces, Gryaznov made his own transcription of “On the Dnierper” especially for this concert. Gryaznov came to Yale from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory.

“The cast of performers reflects a highly international body of School of Music students,” says Berman, noting that the pianists also hail from China, the Republic of Georgia, the United States, the United Kingdom (Guernsey), and South Korea. Nations around the world are also celebrating the 125th anniversary of Prokofiev’s birth, and a monument in his honor was recently unveiled next to his former home in Russia.

Berman says that Prokofiev is one of his favorite composers. He has recorded all of his solo piano works, and wrote the book “Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer,” published by Yale University Press. He also edited a collection of the music scores for Prokofiev’s piano sonatas, which was published in China. Berman frequently teaches workshops on the composer; his next workshop — featuring master classes, a performance, and lecture — will be offered at Tel Aviv University in January.

“Prokofiev was my window into 20th-century music,” says Berman. “I have played a lot of Prokofiev since I was a teenager. He has a unique blend of being traditional and being novel, which is very attractive in his music. It has been universally acknowledged that his genius blossomed with his ballets.”

Berman’s piano studio in Leigh Hall features a sketch of Prokofiev drawn by one of the composer’s two sons, whom the Yale pianist met while working on his book. He continues to have contact with a branch of Prokofiev’s family in Paris and another one in London.

Berman says he is especially excited about the upcoming performance, which is sponsored by WSHU 91.1 FM.

“I’m very proud of my students,” says Berman. “They are wonderful. They are all from different backgrounds and have different personalities, and they come from the best schools in the world to study with us. They range in age from 16 to 37. It is fascinating to work with each of them.”

“Prokofiev at 125 is offered as a bonus concert of the Horowitz Piano Series, which Berman directs. Tickets to the concert are $10; $5 for students, and are available by calling 203-432-4158 or on the School of Music website.

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Donna Yoo: donna.yoo@yale.edu,