Born on April 19, 1947, in New York, NY; son of David (a garment-center businessman) and Flora Perahia; wife: Ninette; two children. Education: Graduated from High School for the Performing Arts, 1964; Mannes School of Music, New York, B.S., 1969. Addresses: Record company--Sony Music, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211. Management--IMG Artists, 825 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 489-8300, Website--Murray Perahia Official Website:

Concert pianist Murray Perahia has gained critical acclaim for his masterful but unpretentious technique. His musical interpretation, uniquely crafted to fit each piece he plays, is succinct and elegant. And the list of classical music lovers who rate Perahia as one of today's top pianists has grown steadily since his Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1966. The Grammy Award winner suffered a setback in 1995 after an operation on his right thumb but returned to performing and recording in 1998 with great success.

Just three years old when he was taken to his first concert at New York's Lewisohn Stadium, Perahia impressed his parents by recognizing Ludwig van Beethoven's Emperor concerto when he heard it again the next day. David and Flora Perahia lost no time in finding him a piano teacher in his own Bronx neighborhood; they also fed his musical appetite by taking him to concerts and operas whenever possible.

Perahia's first musical mentor entered his life when he was six. Jeannette Haien, a 22-year-old student of the legendary Arthur Schnabel, was a disciplined, dedicated teacher whose two-hour-plus sessions were a far cry from the usual twice-weekly run-throughs. Ear training, composition, dictation, and structure were drummed into her student, who often found himself analyzing the same sonata for months at a time. In time, the young pianist went on to study at New York's prestigious High School for the Performing Arts. Two grades ahead of other students his age, he apparently made few friends at school. Instead he opted for the sandlot ball games at the local Sephardic Jewish Center, where his native Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) was a familiar language and many teammates shared his heritage of ancestors who had wandered through Europe after their expulsion from Spain in 1492.

But sports never took precedence over music. Throughout his high school years, Perahia spent summers engaging in intensive chamber music training in Maine. Later, during the five years it took to earn a B.S. in conducting from the Mannes School of Music, Perahia summered at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, where he played in chamber groups alongside such artists as Rudolf Serkin and Pablo Casals. All these experiences taught him the lesson that marks the true artist--that teamwork to carry out the composer's wishes must come before individual stardom. Marlboro also brought Frank Salomon into the young pianist's life. An experienced agent as well as the festival director, Salomon coaxed Perahia into entering Britain's most prestigious competition, the triennial Leeds International Piano Festival, held in 1972.

Perahia considered his options carefully. The competition offered a cash prize of only $1,850, which to his mind was not enough to merit such a pressured challenge. A greater attraction was the chance to discuss his own performance with a 12-person panel of judges eminent enough to include celebrated French music teacher Nadia Boulanger. More tempting still was the winner's award of an introductory season of engagements with all major English orchestras. After hesitating, he succumbed to the truly irresistible lure--the prospect of playing with international orchestras like the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Israel Philharmonic. Hitherto unable to secure any European concert dates despite a 1968 appearance as a Carnegie Hall soloist, Perahia finally decided that Leeds was a must.

The competition got off to a rocky start. Perahia spent the first four days in the sick bay with what the doctor diagnosed as a virus; he himself characterized it as a bad case of nerves. Whatever the bug may have been, it did not stop him from triumphing over the other 87 young pianists who had entered the contest. Paradoxically, he did not feel ecstatic over his victory; he was instead quite overwhelmed by what lay ahead.

Amid the new whirl of engagements lay an unexpected plum: a contract with Columbia Records. The first pianist to be signed by the company in ten years, Perahia joined an illustrious list that included Vladimir Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin, Glenn Gould, and Andre Watts. He was a little awed by his placement among the century's greatest keyboard artists, but his misgivings were unfounded; his introductory recording, Robert Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze with the Fantasiestücke, easily marked him as their equal.

But the shower of rewards that came with the Leeds success did not compensate for its pressure. Though it was not the first contest he had entered--Perahia had won the Kosciusko Chopin Prize in 1965--the pianist decided that it would be his last. The passage of more than 20 years did not soften this resolve. In reference to such pressured contests, he told Henry Pleasants of Stereo Review in 1991: ``I find it a tragedy that managers consider them necessary.... They won't take a chance on talent unless it has been demonstrated ... in a prestigious competition.''

Nevertheless, awards based on other criteria have come his way. There was the first Avery Fisher Prize in 1975, which was bestowed after screening by 150 musical organizations and musicians and brought cash, recital dates, and solo engagements with the New York Philharmonic to both Perahia and the joint winner of the prize, cellist Lynn Harrell. There was also the 15th Annual International Record Critics Award in 1982, presented for his recording of the Mozart piano concertos no. 5, K. 175, and 25, K. 503 on CBS Masterworks.

As his career advanced, Perahia broadened his musical range. One of his prominent sidelines is conducting--once a serious career option. For sheer musical fun, he accompanies singers like German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Perahia also served as a musical director of Britain's Aldeburgh Festival, which led to the 1991 laserdisc and video recording The Aldeburgh Recital. (Recording in the empty concert hall under the lenses of several cameras, Perahia initially feared that the viewer might find the constant shifting of camera angles distracting from the music, but he has since conceded that he and the producer reached a mutually satisfactory compromise.)

Perahia's career was in full tilt in 1991 until he suffered an injury to his hand at home. What started as a minor paper cut on the right thumb soon became an infection. After seeing several doctors to investigate the exact cause of Perahia's pain and swelling, it was determined that he had a small bone spur. The pianist had surgery to remove the spur in London in 1995 and began a slow but steady recovery. "[I]t was a terrible time for me," Perahia told Herbert Kupferberg of American Record Guide. "I need music--not just to play it, but to listen to it, study it, be around it. A day without it is a miserable day." Perahia's full return to performing and recording in 1998 was marked by the success of Bach: English Suites Nos. 1, 3 and 6, a recording for which he won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra). Perahia's subsequent releases include Songs Without Words in 1999, Bach: Goldberg Variations in 2000, and Bach: Keyboard Concertos Volume 1, Nos. 1, 2 and 4 in 2001.

by Gillian Wolf

Murray Perahia's Career

Performed with Budapest, Guarneri, and Galimir quartets; made recital debut, Carnegie Hall, 1966; debuted as soloist with conductor Alexander Schneider, 1968; assistant to Rudolf Serkin, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, 1968-69; instructor at Mannes School of Music, 1970; soloist with New York Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony, both during 1975-76 season; had hand surgery, 1995; made career comeback, 1998; released Bach: English Suites Nos. 1, 3 and 6, 1998, Songs Without Words, 1999, Bach: Goldberg Variations, 2000, and Bach: Keyboard Concertos Volume 1, Nos. 1, 2 and 4, 2001. Former musical director of Britain's Aldeburgh Festival; has appeared with Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Erich Leinsdorf, André Previn, Sir George Solti, and other major conductors.

Murray Perahia's Awards

Kosciusko Chopin Prize, 1965; winner of Leeds International Piano Festival competition, 1972; Avery Fisher Prize, 1975; 15th Annual International Record Critics Award, 1982; Grammy Award, Best Chamber Music Performance for Bartok: Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, 1988; Gramophone magazine award for Chopin: Four Ballades, 1995; Grammy Award, Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra) for Bach: English Suites Nos. 1, 3 and 6, 1998.

Famous Works

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

Also the Handel and Scarlatti recordings....