Unlikely pairing of Prokofiev, Haydn highlights Boris Berman piano recital

A man sitting at a grand piano.
Boris Berman will give a recital on Oct. 24 as part of the Horowitz Piano Series. (Photo by Bob Handelman)

Hailed for his musical originality and innovation, Russian composer and pianist Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was considered so avant-garde in his early days that he hardly seemed influenced by the composers who came before him, says Yale pianist Boris Berman.

But on Wednesday, Oct. 24, Berman will pair the music of the famed composer with works by classical Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) in a recital demonstrating the connection between the two. The concert — the third in the Yale School of Music’s Horowitz Piano Series — takes place at 7:30 p.m. in Morse Recital Hall of Sprague Memorial Hall, 470 College St.

Many audiences are surprised to see Haydn and Prokofiev on the same [piano] program,” Berman says. “In the early 20th century, when Prokofiev burst onto the musical scene in Russia and created quite a stir, people wondered where this wild young musician came from, since they couldn’t see any connection to the music of his predecessors. However, some of the more perceptive musicians knew to look for his roots in the more distant past, in the music of Haydn. It’s an interesting and correct observation, bringing into focus Prokofiev’s formal clarity, wit, and a generally ‘healthy’ emotional climate of his music.”

For his recital, Berman will perform the last three sonatas Haydn wrote in England, part of a series known as the “London Sonatas,” along with Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 9 and Piano Sonata No. 7.

I’m very happy about the program,” says Berman, who will record the Haydn sonatas in a few months.

Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on Prokofiev, Berman has recorded all of the composer’s solo piano works in the 1990s and is the author of the 2008 book “Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas: A Guide for the Listener and the Performer,” which was published by Yale University Press. In 2011, Shanghai Publishing House published a new bilingual edition of the scores of the composer’s piano sonatas, revised and edited by Berman. The Yale pianist is also the author of “Notes from the Pianist’s Bench,” also published by Yale Press, in which he draws on his own experience to explore piano technique and music interpretation.

Berman serves as musical director of the Horowitz Piano Series, which began in 1994. The recital series honors the legacy of legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who left his papers, and a beloved piano, to Yale upon his death in 1989. Berman says that Yale’s Horowitz Piano Series is one of just a few of its kind in the country.

The series is well respected throughout the world,” Berman says. Each year, every member of the School of Music’s piano faculty, including visiting faculty, gives a recital, and guest artists are also invited to perform. Over the years, the series’ performers have included Emmanuel Ax, Yefim Bornfman, Angela Hewitt, and Richard Goode, among other renowned classical pianists.

Very often we diversity our programs; for example, a recital might become a two-piano concert or we might add a singer to the program,” Berman notes. “But at its core, it is a piano music recital. We try to present a very diverse repertoire, ranging from the most important cornerstones in piano music to the most recently written pieces.”

After Berman’s recital on Oct. 24, the series continues with Yale faculty members Wei-Yi Yang on Nov. 7 and Melvin Chen on Nov. 28. Visiting piano faculty member Peter Serkin will give a recital on Jan. 16, followed by guest artist Roberto Prosseda on Feb. 14. Yale School of Music Dean Robert Blocker will be the final performer in the series on March 6. (The season began guest artists Ran Dank and Soyeon Kate Lee performing works for solo piano and piano four-hands, and a solo recital by faculty member Hung-Kuan Chen.)

Tickets for Berman's recital are $15; $7 for Yale faculty and staff members; and free for Yale students. To reserve tickets, or for more information about the series, visit the Yale School of Music website.

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