Yefim BronfmanPianist

Where is Fima now?

  • February 25 BARTOK: Suite for Piano, Op. 14 SCHUMANN: Humoreske, Op. 20 DEBUSSY: Suite Bergamasque STRAVINSKY: Petrushka

    New York, NY

  • March 1 & 2 PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No. 2

    Ottawa, Ontario

  • March 4 Jörg Widmann: Trauermarsch for Piano and Orchestra (TSO Co-commission)

    Toronto, ON, Canada


  • Cleveland Orchestra returns to Bruckner and Widmann with renewed, clearer vision (review)
    Last Updated: 13 January 2017
    January 13, 2017
    By Zachary Lewis

    CLEVELAND, Ohio - Out of agony this week at Severance Hall comes a disproportionate degree of ecstasy.

    No matter that both works on the program were conceived at least partially in sadness. The Cleveland Orchestra and music director Franz Welser-Most still manage to make the experience of them uplifting.

    As well they might have been expected to do. Both Bruckner and Jorg Widmann are composers with whom the musicians are intimately familiar. Welser-Most has been an avid (some might say too avid) champion of Widmann, and the symphonies of Bruckner have emerged as hallmarks of his tenure.

    That intimacy certainly shone through the performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 Thursday night. After several years away from the score and a DVD recording, Welser-Most returned to the piece with seemingly clearer eyes, more determined than ever to reveal its structural and emotional wonders.

    Never has the conductor taken a smooth, luxurious approach to Bruckner. His preference, exemplified again Thursday, has always been to revel in the music's abruptness, to celebrate its contrasts and never to deprive listeners of a tumultuous, rough-and-tumble ride.

    Nowhere was this philosophy more evident, or more greatly appreciated, than in the symphony's Finale. As the cap to Bruckner's long musical journey, Welser-Most gave each force in the orchestra, especially the brass, carte blanche, even at the expense of balance, elegance, and other niceties. The result was a turbulent wrestling match, in which the tide shifted often and the struggle was relentless.

    No less effective was the Adagio. If ever there were a piece Welser-Most was born to conduct, this is it. In that one movement, Bruckner audibly grapples with all the eternal questions and ultimately transforms his melancholy over the imminent death of Wagner into a grand affirmation of life and faith.

    The performance Thursday lacked for nothing. The lyrical opening was as tender and achingly beautiful as could be, the long, gradual rise to resolution wholly organic and irresistible. On top of that came a devastating climax.

    The takeaway from the first movement, meanwhile, was Bruckner's structural genius. After taking a few bars to settle, Welser-Most and the orchestra set about erecting a solid tower in which every component, from the foundation to the peak, was audibly, inextricably, and poignantly linked. They did so, too, without applying gloss or making any attempt to patch over the bumps.

    Structure was also one of several admirable traits of Widmann's "Trauermarsch" ("Funeral March"), an absorbing, single-movement piano concerto performed by pianist Yefim Bronfman. Even as the 25-minute score, a joint commission from 2014, ranged in innumerable, chaotic directions, a simple stepping motif persisted, lumbering steadily beneath it all.

    Color and texture were its other finest qualities. Brilliant as he was negotiating a dense and wandering thicket at the keyboard, Bronfman was only the most prominent element in a dazzling chromatic patchwork.

    Bolstered by a host of unusual percussion instruments, the orchestra joined and dovetailed the piano on a stately trek interrupted by everything from bouts of frenetic screaming to alien melodies. A few profoundly low notes on the rarely-heard contrabass clarinet endowed the conclusion with a chilling air of finality.

    Musical ecstasy comes in many forms, and this, surely, was one of them.

  • Powerful insights of Soviet-era composers
    Last Updated: 5 December 2016

    The time could not be better to put everything else aside and listen like we mean it to Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, revised and completed in the early 1920s, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor, composed 10 years later. The Shostakovich was withheld for 25 years because of Soviet tyranny; creating work that displeased Stalin was a death sentence. Last week’s Philadelphia Orchestra concerts consisted entirely of these two works under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

    Tumultuous, romantic
    Yefim Bronfman, one of the great pianists of our time, performed the Prokofiev. It’s a tumultuous, often passionately romantic excursion into the modern style. The brightness of first movement’s main theme pierces through the orchestra’s dark sonorities and leads into an extended cadenza that takes up nearly half the movement. In this soliloquy, Bronfman displayed a jaw-dropping virtuosity, an ability to stitch together phrases and effects into a saga of profound meaning. Nor was Bronfman the only focal point; strings and a soaring flute added richness to the total sound. At one point, Bronfman shook his head as though to say, “Nothing can be more beautiful!”

    The second movement, a fast-paced Scherzo-Vivace, led to a lilting Intermezzo, sounding like the Prokofiev most of us are familiar with (Lieutenant Kijé, Romeo and Juliet). This movement broke into some whimsical riffs, with Nézet-Séguin leading cheerfully, but the quest for meaning returned in the final Allegro tempestuoso. The string players attacked their instruments with such vigor I expected to see clouds of rosin on the horizon. Yet, in another cadenza, a heavenly melody ascended from the keys, and it seemed as if the overtones escaped from the piano’s frame and were making music of their own (this was a very beautiful effect, and part of the charm of live music). From this delicacy, the orchestra rose again like a large beast, as though Nézet-Séguin could sweep his baton from one side of the stage to the other and release an unimaginable roar. Indeed, the final moments were a near-hysterical tsunami of sound. What a conclusion!

    During one of their curtain calls, Bronfman held up Nézet-Séguin’s arm, grabbing it by the wrist, as though announcing the winner of the middleweight championship. Which, in a sense, he was.

    A revelation
    And yet, the next part of the program was the greater revelation. Nézet-Séguin addressed the audience before the performance encouraging an open mind and consideration of what the composer was subjected to in the USSR of the 1930s. Shostakovich was warned: no more Western-inspired music! Siberia beckoned, or worse. But here was a fiercely driven composer who once famously said, “If they chop my hands off, I will still compose music, even if I have to hold the pen in my teeth.”

    Shostakovich composed Symphonies No. 5 through 12 before he returned to the Fourth. I am dying to know where he kept the score and how often he peeked at it, his deviant treasure cloistered from prying KGB eyes. (I guess I’ll be reading Laurel E. Fay’s biography sometime soon). And, like Beethoven’s late quartets, one wonders whether even now the world is ready for this music. According to Nézet-Séguin, when the composer returned to his manuscript after 25 years, he did not change a note.

    This is not the Shostakovich of The Gadfly or even the Fifth Symphony, but something edgy and raw, rising out of an artist’s sense of oppression. I was not familiar with this symphony, but found myself spellbound for every one of its 60 relentless minutes. You could carve the hour into five-minute segments and find within each wedge a new universe of ideas and expression.

    The symphony is in three movements, but there are many sea changes within them. A violin etches a melody against cellos then a deafening dissonance fanned by brass, worthy of the Finnish composer Aho’s cacophonous symphonic touch, soon followed by a meltingly lovely bassoon solo. Most remarkable — and I am grateful to the conductor for pointing this out before the performance — is a fast, high-pitched fugue starting with the violins, dropping down into the basses and the rest of the orchestra, with very little reference to the original Baroque form. Nézet-Séguin conducted vigorously, partnering with the musicians to create an unexpected fugue, one of those five-minute miracles.

    In the last 10 minutes are some of the highest and lowest notes you’ll ever hear, vying for attention, then colliding in a perfect consummation. Quite an achievement.

  • BSO stages fruitful dialogue between past and present
    Last Updated: 7 October 2016

    By David Weininger
    OCTOBER 07, 2016

    Thursday’s Boston Symphony Orchestra concert began with two notes: G-flat and F, played by pianist Yefim Bronfman at the opening of “Trauermarsch” (“Funeral March”), a 2014 piano concerto by German composer Jörg Widmann. Those notes are a half-step apart, as close as two pitches can get in traditional Western music, and that interval reappeared throughout the piece as a guiding thread.

    About an hour later, those same two notes were heard near the beginning of another funeral march, this one the second movement of Brahms’s “German Requiem.” Now they were the start of a heavy, sighing melody that evoked a weary trek through life.

    That link between the two pieces on the Andris Nelsons-led program was a subtle one, and likely went unnoticed by many listeners at Symphony Hall. But it spoke to how intelligently the program had been crafted. There were connections at levels both general (two funerary works) and ultra-specific (those half-step motifs). Perhaps most important, the concert brought together two composers whose works stage a complex yet fruitful dialogue between past and present.

    Take “Trauermarsch,” the first piece by Widmann to be played by the BSO. It is unmistakably music of our own time: its dissonance and wildly varied timbres — a gong submerged in water, a death rattle in the strings — tell you as much. Yet echoes of late Romanticism abound, and the influence of Mahler and Berg is clear in its instrumental coloring and winding melodies.

    “Trauermarsch” is actually several marches forged into an unbroken 25-minute stretch. It begins as something haunted and lugubrious and around the middle reaches a brief, galloping frenzy. There is a chaotic encounter between piano and orchestra that it is difficult to imagine someone actually marching to. The collapse of the music’s pent-up energy leaves a few scattered echoes of the original march rhythm at the end.

    Bronfman, for whom the piece was written, was outstanding, as compelling in the quieter, Nocturne-like passages as in those demanding the utmost physical exertion to be heard above the orchestral rancor. Nelsons’s direction not only was alert to moment-to-moment details but urged this highly sectionalized piece onward toward its bleak finish.

  • Review A serious Beethoven in John Adams' latest 'Absolute Jest'
    Last Updated: 30 September 2016

    By Mark Swed
    Los Angeles Times
    30 September 2016

    We never need to go far for a little — or a lot — of Beethoven in our concert halls. The Los Angeles Philharmonic (with help from the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela) wasn’t kidding when it began its season last year with Gustavo Dudamel conducting all nine Beethoven symphonies by calling the festival “Immortal Beethoven.”

    Last weekend, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra opened its season with Beethoven’s Seventh. Next week, Esa-Pekka Salonen begins a West Coast tour with his London orchestra, the Philharmonia, playing Beethoven’s “Eroica” in Costa Mesa, Northridge and Santa Barbara. That only scratches the Beethovenian surface.

    Thursday night, the L.A. Phil did it again, opening another season with a Beethoven program at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the orchestra living up to its venturesome reputation by including John Adams in its definition of Beethoven.

    The first L.A. Phil performance of Adams’ “Absolute Jest” was the considerable novelty of Dudamel’s Thursday program, to be repeated Friday and Sunday (also broadcast live Friday night on KUSC-FM and archived on the station’s website for a week). A concerto of sorts for string quartet and orchestra, “Absolute Jest” takes its material from Beethoven’s late string quartets (along with a few lifts from symphonies).

    When the San Francisco Symphony premiered it 2012, I noted at the time that the concerto, written for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, was a great entertainment as long as you didn’t think too hard about it. Some of those who did think too hard wound up being offended by a musical jester toying with Beethoven’s most profound utterances.

    But Adams also happened to think too hard. He reworked the score a year later, adding a new beginning. The problem had been too much Beethoven and not enough Adams. Now there is enough Adams, and “Absolute Jest” implies something that’s less a jest and more serious commentary on Beethovenian absolutism.

    Still, the context needs to be carefully thought through. A beautiful new San Francisco Symphony recording that pairs “Absolute Jest” with Adams’ early, antic “Grand Pianola Music,” for instance, bolsters Adams’ trickster alter ego. Dudamel, on the other had, placed “Absolute Jest” between a magnificent performance of the “Coriolan” Overture (emphasizing Beethoven as revolutionary) and an exceptionally eloquent one of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, with Yefim Bronfman as the incandescent soloist.

    The question now became: Must we deform the past in order to preserve it? David Rieff asks the question, without undo optimism, in “In Praise of Forgetting,” a disturbing new book on historical (and human) mortality. Adams answers with the assertive assurance that, in music anyway, deformation is formation. There is little unusual, he writes in his program note, about composers conversing with history. Composers beg, borrow, steal and cover. They always have.

    As “Absolute Jest” now stands, Adams borrows from himself as a marvelous way into the concerto, which once more featured the St. Lawrence, cautiously amplified. That opening sound world uses the kind of dotted rhythms that Beethoven liked in his scherzo movements but are here heard as if in a dream, an atmosphere of soft string chords, cowbells and strange-tuned piano and harp. In an enticing instant, space and consciousness are transformed, with old and new in surreal coexistence.

    Once the excitable St. Lawrence enters, those dotted Beethoven rhythms from the scherzos of his late quartets and symphonies become manic. It’s like a video game, driving fast through ever changing, ever unexpected landscapes, with sudden turns and all manner of passing scenery. But you always know the country is Beethovenland. Near the end, Adams brings in monumental brass, but he leaves us as he found us, drifting off into microtonal harp and piano reverie.

    Dudamel and the St. Lawrence players shared gamesters’ fast reflexes, sports car enthusiasts feeling for the road and a love of flashy colors.

    In both the “Coriolan” and Fourth Piano Concerto, Dudamel put compelling emphasis on powerful, punchy orchestral weight. But he also could be delicate. When Bronfman opened the concerto with a floating tone, the orchestra came in hovering over the same cloud. Bronfman’s formidable technique made the first movement cadenza a piano show in itself. But it was the dialogue between adamant orchestra and questing piano in the slow movement where everything came together. Beethoven asks unanswerable questions, and both pianist and conductor were like actors in a Socratic dialogue, starting something that, we can now see, Adams has continued for our own time.

    Dudamel began the evening meaningfully with a touching addition, the wistful waltz movement from Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento, played — gorgeously — in memory of longtime L.A. Phil bassist Frederick Tinsley, who died suddenly on Sept. 19 and to whom the concert was dedicated.

  • Superstar pianist Yefim Bronfman brings his musical magic to Wharton
    Last Updated: 16 September 2016

    By Ken Glickman
    Lansing State Journal
    16 September 2016

    Years ago, solo piano recitals in a classical concert series was common and expected.

    The touring piano artists of the day were many: Vladimir Horowitz, Murray Perahia, Rudolf Serkin, Glenn Gould, Alfred Brendel and many others.

    Now there are just a handful of soloists whose names are familiar to concert audiences. In the past ten years, the Wharton Center series has only presented one piano recital, Lang Lang (September 2015).

    For that reason, the appearance of piano virtuoso Yefim (he goes by Fima) Bronfman on the Great Hall stage this Sunday is unique. Although Bronfman’s name is not familiar to many people, he has enjoyed an illustrious career in concert halls throughout the world

    Piano recitals are inherently dramatic and exciting. The Wharton Center stage is totally blank, save the presence of a shiny black Steinway grand piano in the middle. On walks the soloist, usually in black tails. No mics, no amplification, no hype. But a pianist with the Bronfman’s prodigious skills can fill up the cavernous auditorium with startling volume and beautiful grace and lyricism.

    Wharton’s Executive Director, Mike Brand, says, “He’s a big superstar. He’s been out there with all the major orchestras.”

    Bronfman is a very busy man on the concert scene. This year alone, he’s playing all five Beethoven concertos with the Dresden Staatskapelle, and then going on to solo with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic as well as the orchestras of Boston, Cleveland, Montreal, Toronto, London, Vienna, Edinburgh, San Francisco and Seattle. And that doesn’t include chamber music or solo recitals.

    Wharton’s Brand says, “He’s been on the symphony (orchestras) circuit and has a limited recital career, but he is playing this recital in Carnegie Hall in the spring, so I’m glad he’ll be here to do that for us.”

    Brand adds, “Over the past several years we’ve brought all the major solo artists in for concerts: Lang Lang, Renee Fleming, Perlman, Galway, Joshua Bell. I thought it would be time for Bronfman.”

    At age 58, Bronfman is not slowing down.

    He’s a large hulking man who has a surprisingly delicate touch on the keyboard. But watch out. He can also explode with torrents of sound.

    The world began to notice Bronfman when he emigrated to Israel from his native Russia in 1973 at age 15. Isaac Stern said, “When a talent like this young man plays, you simply have nothing to add.”

    Bronfman studied music at Tel Aviv University but later came to the US to study at the Julliard School and the Curtis Institute.

    In 1991, Stern went on to join the adult Bronfman in a series of joint recitals in Russia, Bronfman’s first public performance there since his emigration.

    Bronfman has recorded many CDs and received a Grammy in 1997.

  • Bronfman stokes a Russian storm in Prokofiev’s “War” sonatas
    Last Updated: 8 May 2016

    By George Grella
    New York Classical Review
    8 May 2016

    Prokofiev’s piano sonatas are an outstanding body of work, music that tests the limits of sonata form, dusting off and polishing up old ideas for a modern age. They are structurally and thematically inventive, full of energy, intellect, and complex emotions.

    The pinnacle of the ten sonatas is the group of “War” sonatas, No. 6, 7, and 8. Prokofiev began these in 1939, and they were finished in 1940, 1942, and 1944, respectively. The title is circumstantial but fitting—despite the first being completed before war reached Russia, they are closely related by mood and expression, and even share some structural ideas.

    Yefim Bronfman played the three sonatas Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, an installment in a series of Prokofiev recitals he is giving there this season. Bronfman is one of the great interpreters of the sonatas, a peer in this music and natural successor in the line that descends from Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter. His astonishing playing Saturday night affirmed that.

    The sonatas are notoriously difficult pieces for a pianist. Played well, their challenge to the listener is their intensity, the disorienting alternation between extreme, even violent, angularity, and a pastoral introversion.

    Bronfman has the emotional musical temperament that can range from wistful to explosive, and a technique that can handle the fingering and the speeds—in fact Saturday he frequently pressed tempos to tension-inducing heights.

    While on the surface, Sonata No. 6 matches tradition sonata form, Prokofiev stretches every structural idea to the limit. The opening bars, with a staggered rhythm in the right hand over crashing octaves in the left, the base moving by a tritone, are like a violent drunk trampling his way down the street.
    The siren call for a pianist in this music is a kind of demented exaggeration, and Bronfman, despite the physical power of his playing, actually maintained an exact sense of rhythm and phrasing. With this, he brought out the expressive strangeness of the secondary theme and the transitional material. The return of the opening theme was not just loud and exciting, but conditioned by a transformative understanding of the intervening music. It was a sonata-allegro movement played with respect for the form, and brilliantly realized in this performance

    This is music about conflict, and World War II is there, certainly. But abstracted through the music, something else comes through—that quality unique to Prokofiev of setting pastoral against mechanical music. The conflict is between man and machine, and the explosively grim intensity at the end of the first two sonatas seems to say that the machines will win.

    Conflict comes in unexpected places, like the Allegretto of Sonata No. 6, where it is colored by Prokofiev’s sarcasm. Bronfman’s touch here was light. Humanity shines fully in slow movements, like the waltz of No. 6, where Bronfman’s playing was soulful, with ideal phrasing.

    The pianist’s range and depth of thought and feeling throughout the concert equalled that of the composer. There was something thrillingly sadistic about how much control he had over the notes, and how he channeled so much force through that. His fierce attack on the last notes of Sonata No. 6 literally threw himself back from the stool.

    His performance of Sonata No. 7 was so astonishing that it produced involuntary cries from the audience at the last, pounding chords of the Precipitato movement. What must it be like to create abstract order when the world is burning around you? That is the sound of this sonata, and again Bronfman’s range was incredible—he played like a machine and like a penitent, capable of both love and murder.

    The music has wild swings of stillness and violence, and Bronfman slowly accumulated a critical mass of unstable material. In the Precipitato, his left hand built a truly awe-inspiring amount of weight and tension, playing with a subtle swing and slowly ramping up the dynamic level and sense of violence. It was like the inevitable, steady approach of a pile driver, manned by Gene Krupa.

    Sonata No. 8, which came after intermission, finds some measure of stability. Victory is on the way, as heard in the third movement, which has qualities both of an 18th century sonata and a triumphal march from a news reel. Bronfman blasted through this with spectacular vitality, but before that, the Andante Sognando was just as spectacularly plangent, a reflection back on disaster from a point of safety.

    Bronfman played one encore, Schumann’s Op. 18 Arabeske. It was exceedingly gentle, understated, and expressively legato, and settled the mind and heart poignantly.

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