DATE April 11, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Murray Perahia discusses his musical career
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is one of the great pianists of our time, Murray Perahia. In the
London Times, he was described as the piano's most lyrical--as one of the
piano's most lyrical contemporary poets. His career was launched in 1972,
after winning the Leeds International Piano Competition. He's since performed
with leading orchestras around the world, and has made many acclaimed
recordings. But for about three years, he was unable to play because of a
hand injury. During this frustrating hiatus, he studied the music of Bach.
Last year, he recorded Bach's "Goldberg Variations;" now he has a new
recording of "Bach Keyboard Concertos." He's not only a featured soloist, he
conducts the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Let's start with music from this new CD. The is the "Keyboard Concerto No. 1
in D Minor."
(Soundbite of "Keyboard Concerto No.1 in D Minor")
GROSS: That's Murray Perahia at the piano, also conducting the Academy of St.
Martin-in-the-Fields, from his new CD of Bach keyboard concertos.
Murray Perahia, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. MURRAY PERAHIA (Conductor and Pianist): Thank you very much.
GROSS: Now we actually started this interview a few weeks ago, and--but you
were in terrible back pain. You had a very unusual back attack.
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes.
GROSS: And you just couldn't go on.
Mr. PERAHIA: That's right, I won't forget that, because it's also the first
time in my life I ever suffered from such a thing, but I think what it was,
was that I was practicing on a piano in my room which had casters on, and
therefore the pedals were very high, and it required a lot of effort. And so
somehow, after a few--oh, maybe seven hours of practicing, I found myself in a
lot of pain, and I couldn't move.
GROSS: Now this was at the very beginning of a concert tour. And what
happened that night? Didn't you have a performance that night?
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes. The next day. And, luckily, I made it. I was able to
see somebody that gave me massage and somebody that gave me acupuncture. And
I also saw a doctor. So it relieved the pain and miraculously enough, even
though they all said I would be better, and I didn't believe them, I was
better by the following night.
GROSS: Do you ever play when you're in pain?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, you know, when I'm playing I forget about everything so
that I might be in pain right before it, and the pain might be excruciating
right after, but at the moment I'm playing I don't feel any pain.
GROSS: And that's because...
Mr. PERAHIA: Who knows?
GROSS: It's probably a combination of being totally lost in the music and
Mr. PERAHIA: It must be. I remember injuring one of my fingers a long, long
time ago when I was about 17 and I had to play a Shostakovich quintet. And I
told my teacher that `I don't think I can do the performance because I injured
my finger.' He said, `You won't feel a thing,' without any medicine or
anything. And it was absolutely true. I didn't feel a thing.
GROSS: Now Murray Perahia, on your new CD, you have a dual role. You're both
soloist and conductor. Why would you want to conduct and perform as a
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, I find it's a lot of fun. I love the contact with the
orchestra. I love the one-to-one relationship I have with them, especially of
an orchestra of the quality of the St. Martin-in-the-Fields where I have a
very warm, personal relationship with many of the players. It's just like a
chamber music experience for me. It's a wonderful sense of fun and
GROSS: So you're conducting from the piano?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, conducting is too strong a word for what I do in the Bach
concertos, which is mainly leading because there's hardly a moment that I have
to lift my hands to do any real conducting. But it would more apply to, say,
if I was doing Mozart concertos where I need, I feel, to shape the phrases.
GROSS: So what are you doing to conduct?
Mr. PERAHIA: I'm leading the rehearsals...
Mr. PERAHIA: ...telling the direction of the phrase...
Mr. PERAHIA: ...talking where I feel the harmonic emphasis is and trying to
shape the piece to a kind of vision so that it, I feel, holds organically
together. That's what I'm doing.
GROSS: Now what are you thinking, if anything, when you're performing and
you're deep into a piece. Are you...
Mr. PERAHIA: I'm always involved in the line. It's very hard to explain what
the line is of a piece, especially to a non-musician, but it's the sort of
thing that keeps the thing up. You know, we as musicians have to fight
gravity, and gravity is down. And we have to keep the thing flowing and the
thing up. And I'm always involved in that aspect of things, whether it be
through rhythm or whether it be through dynamic inflection or whether it be
through sense of direction going towards a certain place and then coming away
from a certain place, anything to keep it from being grounded.
GROSS: Now forgive a real amateur's question about this. When you're
thinking about rhythm, are you ever, ever counting?
Mr. PERAHIA: Occasionally, but it's more abstract. I will think, for
instance, about long phrases and that involves rhythm. In other words, four
bars are in one breath, lets say. And it's an instinctive thing that's almost
a part of the body. It's not something that you're consciously aware of once
you've decided it.
GROSS: Now you talk about breath, but you're playing with your hands. It's
not a wind instrument. Do you still think in terms of breath?
Mr. PERAHIA: Very much.
GROSS: Because you're breathing.
Mr. PERAHIA: Very much. Because I'm singing, even if I'm not opening my
voice. I'm singing through the piano, and this involves breath and involves
even breath control, all kinds of things that are sort of imaginary, but
they're very important.
GROSS: Did you have to learn how to keep breathing in a relaxed way while
Mr. PERAHIA: I think about relaxation occasionally, most often not when I'm
performing but when I'm practicing, and to try to be aware of when I'm tensing
too much so that the music is actually being compressed and not being allowed
its full throttle. But somehow in the performances, it's not something
uppermost in my mind.
GROSS: What is uppermost in your mind? The line...
Mr. PERAHIA: The line.
GROSS: ...that you were talking about. Yeah.
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes.
GROSS: Now your new CD is of "Bach Keyboard Concertos." What is the
importance of these concertos in his body of work?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, in his body of work, I think there were probably more of a
sense of relaxation for him because he used to have coffee concerts. And
these were played at these coffee concerts, which would be on Sunday, to
probably about 150, 200 people that would come into this thing. And I
recently saw an advertisement for one of these coffee concerts where he said
he was going to play on an instrument that had never been heard before. This
was 1730. And most likely that instrument would not have been a harpsichord,
but a very early forte piano, which they were building in those days. So it
is conceivable that Bach had played an early, let's say, version of the
GROSS: You've been recording a lot of Bach lately. Do you understand your
affinity with his music?
Mr. PERAHIA: Understand it completely, I don't. But I think that Bach is
the essence of music, that Bach, through his logic and through his
comprehensiveness, made every note follow the next so inevitably, and at the
same time with so much surprise, that he influenced the rest of music. Nobody
could compose really the same way once they had been exposed to Bach's music.
GROSS: Can you talk about what you hear emotionally and what the challenges
are, technically, in Bach's music?
Mr. PERAHIA: You know, Bach taught his students, and what was very important
for him from the very beginning was the chorale. And the chorale is the sort
of backbone of the Lutheran service. And this chorale, believe it or not,
permeates all the secular works, all the keyboard works. There are underlying
chords which provide the sort of main places where one beats to in these
pieces that underline all the ornamentation and all the flashy sort of finger
work that is above them. And so somehow the main key to Bach is to understand
the underlying, let's say, choral progression, which is like a chorale, and
its emotion. They're all different. There's not one piece of Bach that's
like another piece of Bach. And they all have a somewhat different, what he
would call, `affect,' A-F-F-E-C-T, which is the emotional tone, the emotional
In many sense he has put words to these things through the cantatas, and they
all have to do with one's relationship to God, or one's relationship to a
higher being. There's all aspects of the emotion: sadness, joy, sorrow,
pain, everything you can imagine, and all its different levels, as well. But
these have to be sought after. You have to find the right affect of the
piece, and usually it'll stay for the whole movement. And, at the same time,
the technique will be how to incorporate the sounds so that they sound
inevitable and growing out of these chords that I say are at the root of the
GROSS: Pianist Murray Perahia is my guest. Let's take a short break here and
then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is pianist Murray Perahia, and his new CD is a recording of
"Bach's Keyboard Concertos" numbers one, two and four.
You recently recorded the "Goldberg Variations." For listeners who don't know
the story of how Bach created it, could you give us the short version of that
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, the story is related by Forkel, who was the first
biographer of Bach and had access and was a good friend, in fact, to his sons,
especially Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. And he would be telling this story that
Bach was commissioned by a count, Count Keyserlingk, to write a piece for him
that would wile away the hours that he couldn't sleep at night. And this
would be played to him by one of Bach's proteges, namely Goldberg.
I don't know how much of the story is true. People nowadays tend to doubt it
because if Count Keyserlingk would actually commission Bach, there would have
been a dedication on the front piece of the copy, or some kind of
acknowledgement. On the other hand, Count Keyserlingk was a close friend of
Bach, and it might have been, let's say, an informal arrangement.
One thing we do know was that Goldberg was an incredible harpsichordist and he
was very young. He was about 14 years old when he would have been playing
this. He died at the age of 21, and was known for being able to sight-read
anything and play everything with a nimbleness and a fleetness and also an
understanding that belied his years. So I think there's a lot of credibility
to the story because I think that rather than provide a sleeping pill, as some
people would have said this music was, which it certainly isn't, there's
nothing sleep-inducing about the "Goldberg Variations," I think it would give
him comfort, spiritual comfort, solace during let's say a troubled night
because the music speaks of joy, of radiance and certainly, towards the end,
of some kind of spiritual salvation, if you want.
GROSS: Can you choose one of the variations and discuss what's going on,
technically and emotionally?
Mr. PERAHIA: If I would choose one variation, it would probably be the 25th,
which is in the minor, and it's the longest variation. And in a way it's the
most harrowing variation because it has all these chromatic notes. And it
talks a language that, up to that point in the piece, Bach didn't talk. Up to
that point, one was amazed or awed by the wizardry of the canons and all of
the incredible virtuosity. But suddenly at this point the music becomes much,
much slower. And what I feel happens is a depiction of the crucifixion,
something very, very disturbing and completely disturbing the whole
equilibrium of the piece. I think it takes the next few variations to
overcome this disturbance.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear that 25th Variation in Bach's "Goldberg
Variations," performed by Murray Perahia.
(Soundbite of Goldberg's 25th Variation)
GROSS: That's Murray Perahia, from his recent recording of Bach's "Goldberg
Murray Perahia, you said that whether you are religious or not, if you perform
these pieces, you will find a spirituality inherent within them. Do you look
for spirituality in music? Is that one of the things that have made you live
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, I don't look for it and yet I find it all over the place.
It is there because one of the, I think, needs of the human being is this kind
of spirituality, simply put, as to belonging to something bigger than one's
self. It could take many forms, and there are many different avocations of
this sense. But you want, at your deepest moments, to believe A, that you're
not alone, that there's a meaning, that there's an organic meeting, and that
somehow everything fits, that everything is part of a bigger whole. I think
that's the sphere that music brings one. And it's not just playing notes, and
it's not just nice notes, and it's not just pretty notes; it's some deeper
sphere of one's emotional needs. And I think that deepest sphere is to feel a
part of something bigger.
GROSS: Now a lot of the pieces that you interpret were written by people who
were writing to perform this music in churches. Does that create any kind of
barrier for you, since you were raised Jewish?
Mr. PERAHIA: No. I don't think, by the way, the "Golberg Variations" was
meant for a church. It was meant for the privacy of one's home. Whether one
would have heard the whole piece, I don't know. That's a questionable aspect
to it that probably certain variations would have been played, rather than the
whole piece, at that time. It was Mendelssohn, actually, who introduced the
choral music to a much wider audience and, therefore, brought it into the
concert hall. Also, well, his family was Jewish. He had converted. I don't
think that the actual religion that, you know, one is given out of one's
beliefs, in a sense, materially alters the idea of spirituality really.
GROSS: This sense of spirituality that you find in music, did you experience
that when you were young and learning to play? Or does that come later?
Mr. PERAHIA: I think to realize what it was came later. To realize that it's
not just pretty notes, that it's something of a deep significance that
could determine spirituality. It's a very difficult area to define. That
came later. But I think I always loved music passionately from when I was
four years old.
GROSS: Murray Perahia will be back in the second half of the show. Here's
more from his recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations." This is Variation
No. 14. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of Goldberg's 14th Variation)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with pianist Murray Perahia.
He recently recorded Bach's English Suites and Goldberg Variations. On his
new CD, he performs Bach keyboard concertos. He immersed himself in Bach when
a hand injury prevented him from playing. I spoke with Perahia about that
There was a period of about five years when you had to stop performing. You
had an infection in your thumb that developed into a bone spur. Why was this
so difficult to treat?
Mr. PERAHIA: Good question. I don't know. Part of the reason was that
instead of taking care of the infection, I just took two days of the
antibiotics and then, since I was fine, stopped taking them. And I think that
that was a no-no.
GROSS: So I'm wondering what it was like for you to go through a period of
several years without being able to play, since so much of your life revolves
Mr. PERAHIA: It's not even performance, you know.
GROSS: Right, exactly; just playing, in general, yeah.
Mr. PERAHIA: Just playing in general because playing, for me, is, in a way,
more fulfilling than speaking. It's an aspect of expressing myself. And it
was, in a way, to have your tongue or something cut off and not be able to
speak, really--to speak the way you wanted to speak.
GROSS: So where there other ways that you had to relate to music when you
couldn't play? Was listening satisfying?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, that's what I did. I listened and I listened even away
from, let's say, the record player. I just listened in my mind through--to
the scores. I needed a lot of Bach. I don't know particularly why. I think
probably the spiritual solace we were talking about was very important to me.
Also, Bach is, for me, the essence of music. It's not to say he's the only
composer or my favorite composer. I love all the composers, but, as I said, I
don't think that Bach--that without Bach there would have been anybody;
Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven. And so I listened to a lot of Bach and I studied a
lot of scores.
GROSS: What did you get from having this hiatus in which you had the time to
just study scores?
Mr. PERAHIA: In a way, with hindsight, I would say it was a great blessing
because I was able, also, to study analysis, to study counterpoint and
harmony; all of these things that, if I was practicing, I wouldn't do. And
you get a perspective of what music is about that is more important than
actually playing the instrument. You get to the essence of what music is
GROSS: Could you maybe describe a little more what you mean about that?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, the laws of harmony and the laws of counterpoint are, for
me, essential laws in order to understand what shapes music. Why is this note
there? Why not another note? It's not only a composer's whim that puts it
there. They have to subscribe to a lot of laws of tonality; in other words,
of dissonant treatment; how you use a dissonant and when you introduce it and
how you resolve it; all these questions that are about the tensions that are
Now a chance to study this without technical preoccupations, without worrying
about your fourth finger or your fifth finger or whatever, it's a very
important opportunity because it gets you into the composer's shoes. And so,
in a way, I was very grateful to have that time off.
GROSS: Did you listen to any of your own CDs during that period?
Mr. PERAHIA: No. I find that too painful because I feel that, `Oh, I made
this mistake and I made that mistake.' I don't have the poise to listen to a
lot of my older records.
GROSS: Now does music function different for you as a listener than as a
Mr. PERAHIA: Inevitably, a little bit, it does, but my aim is that it
doesn't; in other words, so that I can be aware of the music and be aware of
what the music is doing at the moment that I'm playing. But that's very
difficult because you're involved in your technical limitations or your
technical whatever it is in order to play the piece. You're involved in
spontaneity; things that come from the moment because it's an emotional act,
first and foremost, and, therefore, it's hard to listen as objectively, let's
say, or as completely as when one is listening to a record. But my aim is to
be able to listen to the music and to really appreciate the music at every
moment that I'm playing it.
GROSS: Did you have to deal with depression during that period when you
Mr. PERAHIA: A bit, yes. It got to the point--I'm not an easily depressed
person. I'm not one that has depressions easily, but I found towards the end
of this trauma, in a way, that when the doctors were saying that they
couldn't see what the problem is or that, if they could, they didn't think
there was much hope of solving it, at that point I got pretty depressed, yes.
GROSS: Well, how was it solved?
Mr. PERAHIA: How was it solved?
GROSS: Yeah. How was your finger finally fixed?
Mr. PERAHIA: Oh, it was finally diagnosed in the States and then I had a
very good surgeon in England who operated it and it came back.
GROSS: When you started playing again, what music did you start with and why
did you choose that?
Mr. PERAHIA: I started with Mozart because, somehow, I was most familiar
with the Mozart, and I thought that would put less pressure on me. And so
when I had concerts to come back to, as in--February, I think, were my first
concerts--I was supposed to play the Beethoven Emperor Concerto. Instead, I
played some of the Mozart concertos.
GROSS: Did your fingers remember what to do? And I'm wondering what went out
when you started playing again; the joy of being able to play again or the
frustration of being rusty.
Mr. PERAHIA: No, actually, for some reason, I think probably because I
started very young playing the piano, the rustiness didn't last very long and
within a week or two weeks, quite amazingly, I was able to regain the
facility. It's when you start lessons very young you get a certain amount of
facility that stays with you your whole life. And therefore, I was lucky in
that way. So it wasn't the rustiness, but it was the great joy of playing
again and not taking something for granted that one took for granted one's
whole life. You always thought you could play and, suddenly, you saw that
you couldn't. And then when it came back, you were so grateful that it was
GROSS: Do you think your playing is any different now than it was before the
problem that you had?
Mr. PERAHIA: It probably is. I'm the least capable to judge because I'm so
close to it. It's like your children. You can't see them grow, but I do
think that the study that I went through; the analysis of the scores; studying
the counterpoint; doing the kind of work I did inevitably made the
interpretations deeper. There's no way that it couldn't have.
GROSS: Pianist Murray Perahia is my guest. Let's take a short break here,
and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is pianist Murray Perahia. His new CD is a recording of
Bach keyboard concertos.
You grew up in the Bronx, but I believe you weren't born in the United
States. Where were you born?
Mr. PERAHIA: No, no. I was born in the United States and I was--spent all
my life in New York, in fact, in the Bronx, until I was about 22, 23; then
started to travel a little bit with the Leed's Competition in--when I was 25;
then got an apartment in London and spent half the time in London, half the
time in the States, and gradually got to spend more and more time in England,
partly because of engagements and partly because I just felt so comfortable
with the musical scene there. And it was also easier to travel from their to
the European concerts I was doing--so eventually, settled down there and
actually, now, for the last 20, 23, 24 years there, I've lived there.
GROSS: You started playing piano, I believe, at the age of four.
Mr. PERAHIA: That's right.
GROSS: Was it your idea or your parents' idea to...
Mr. PERAHIA: No. It was always my idea. My parents, I think, gratefully,
did not know too much about music, though my father wanted me to pursue music.
It--he didn't know enough about it to really be a hindrance in that pursuit.
What I--what he did was he took me to the opera when I was very young; four
years old. And I loved it so much that I came back singing some of the arias
from it and so, therefore, he thought I should get a piano and work with a
neighborhood teacher. And she soon had me graduated to a bigger piano. And I
loved to improvise. I didn't like to practice so much. In fact, I don't
think I started seriously practicing until I was around 15, but I would be
improvising and sort of making arrangements of tunes that I had heard at the
opera, let's say, or other things; Spanish tunes. My father loved Spanish
music and so, therefore, I would arrange Spanish music for him. That was the
bulk of my musical activities at first. And then I started seriously with
the--a teacher. Jeanette Hayne was my principal teacher from around the age
of six till 17.
GROSS: Were you considered a prodigy, and did you have the pressures on you
that so many prodigies have?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, I think I was considered a prodigy, but my teacher made
sure that I didn't give concerts so that I didn't have those pressures. And
I didn't give a real concert till I was 17.
GROSS: Were you prone to stage fright?
Mr. PERAHIA: No. It's funny. At the beginning, I had absolutely no stage
fright. That came later.
GROSS: Oh, it did come later?
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah. I don't know why.
GROSS: When did you start getting it?
Mr. PERAHIA: I guess when the responsibilities became more. And I think in
my early 20s it became more difficult for me.
GROSS: And now?
Mr. PERAHIA: I still have it. I still have it. I think I can deal with it,
but it's not the easiest thing in the world, no.
GROSS: Now you say when you were 15 or 16 is when you started really taking
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes, ma'am.
GROSS: ...and when your training...
Mr. PERAHIA: Right.
GROSS: ...took a more serious turn, too. What happened then to make you
more serious about playing?
Mr. PERAHIA: That's a good question. I don't know, but I think what it was,
was that I went to music camp--this would have been Blue Hill. Later on I
went to Marlborough Music Festival--and would see all these wonderful
instrumentalists, and I just felt I had to be on their level, so I worked. It
was as easy as that.
GROSS: One of your mentors was Vladimir Horowitz. How did you meet him?
Mr. PERAHIA: I met him very early in my life at the age of about 18. I was
17 when I was in Marlborough, and Mr. Serkin told me that Mr. Horowitz
wanted to teach somebody and he thought that I should work with him. And so I
played to Mr. Horowitz at that age and he did want to work with me, but, as I
told him much later and as he himself surmised, I was too frightened,
actually, to study with him, so I didn't study with him at that age. But he
watched me all along; kept an eye on me. I went over to his house
And then much later in my life, towards the last four years of his life
actually--I think I was already 40--then I went to him for some coaching, I
guess, or talking about music. It was more informal than actual lessons, but
I did play for him quite a bit, and I had the enormous privilege of having him
play for me and hearing him play.
GROSS: What were you afraid of when you were a teen-ager and he offered to
work with you?
Mr. PERAHIA: I don't completely know. I think such a big personality, at
18, is a bit daunting. And there was another aspect to me at 18. I wanted to
find my own way. I wanted to know what was important for me musically. I
just felt the need to see what I needed. And I thought a personality like
Horowitz would be too difficult for me to deal with.
GROSS: Because you'd have to follow his...
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes.
GROSS: ...way and not be able to listen to your own?
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes, or I would be too daunted by it and feel too small in
comparison to it or--I don't know. It was an instinctual reaction rather
than a thought-out reaction.
GROSS: Now I read that he gave you the advice, `If you want to be more than
a virtuoso, first you have to be a virtuoso.' What did he mean by that?
Mr. PERAHIA: He saw that I hadn't played any of the virtuoso repertoire for
the piano; the Liszt, the Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, all the difficult virtuoso
pieces--that I had mainly done the classical repertoire; Mozart, Beethoven,
Haydn. And he said, `If you want to be a poet or a philosopher and play that
music, that's fine. But in order,' as he said, `to be more than a virtuoso,
first, you had to conquer all the difficulties of being a virtuoso,' which is
the piano--the possibilities of the piano and mastering them; the sounds that
a piano could give you. And he was absolutely right.
GROSS: Why had you avoided, until then, the more romantic composers?
Mr. PERAHIA: I wouldn't say romantic because I had played Schumann and
Chopin, but I would say virtuosic. Partly, it was a prejudice that I had
that the music wasn't worthy. And it's a false prejudice.
GROSS: What, that it was really flashy, showy?
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah. And that's, in a way, a false prejudice because Horowitz
is right. Until you can make that music sound convincing, then you don't
have the resources to approach the great music.
GROSS: So when you started playing Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, how did you
approach it? I mean, because if you were turned off by the more--kind of
flashy, showman aspects of it, did you...
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, I was able to...
GROSS: ...take a different route. Yeah.
Mr. PERAHIA: ...see--through Horowitz's coaching and through his inspiration,
I was able to see the excitement of color, of the emotionalism of that music
on its own level. And I could see that you couldn't just go through the
motions of playing, let's say, octaves or difficult bits correctly, that that
wouldn't have been enough; that this music had a spark of something that you
had to bring to life. And I was able to see it through his eyes.
GROSS: Why don't we listen to a 1990 recording of yours? Rachmaninoff's
Etude No. 5 in E flat minor. Do you want to say anything about this?
Mr. PERAHIA: No. This was one of the pieces that I worked on with Horowitz,
and I must say that in period, and probably still now, I have an affection for
the music, though I can see that it's not as developmentally interesting as
Beethoven. It doesn't have the--I don't know what the right word
is--imagination musically, but it's sincere, I think, worthy music on its own
GROSS: I think it's quite beautiful.
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah. Absolutely.
GROSS: Why don't we hear it?
(Soundbite of Murray Perahia playing Rachmaninoff's Etude No. 5 in E-flat
Minor for the piano)
GROSS: That's Murray Perahia at the piano, and that Rachmaninoff etude is
included on his CD, "Murray Perahia--25th Anniversary Edition," and his new CD
features him performing Bach piano concertos.
Do you still perform that Rachmaninoff piece?
Mr. PERAHIA: No, I haven't had occasion to, although for my own pleasure, I
go through a lot of Rachmaninoff, especially in the summer. I do the
preludes. I look at the concertos. No, I don't ignore him.
GROSS: And the summer has to do with your performance schedule, not with the
Mr. PERAHIA: No, that's right.
Mr. PERAHIA: It has to do with that I don't have concerts.
GROSS: My guest is Murray Perahia. We'll talk more in the second half of
the show. On his new CD, he performs Bach keyboard concertos. After a
break, this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Murray Perahia is my guest, and he has a new recording of Bach's
Getting back to Horowitz, you were apparently the last person to hear him
play. You were in his apartment the night before he died.
Mr. PERAHIA: I was.
GROSS: Do you remember what he was playing and what he was saying about it.
Mr. PERAHIA: Oh, very clearly. He played for me a Liszt arrangement, I
think, of a Bach chorale; "Weinen Klagen Zorghen Zagen."(ph) And then we
talked a lot about Mozart, who is a composer he loved, especially towards his
last few years. And I just remember that he was calm and that there was a
lot of wisdom I felt and that--he had a turbulent few months right before
that. I don't quite know why. He...
GROSS: What do you mean when you say `turbulent'?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, erratic. He wanted to concertize suddenly again, but he
wasn't practicing. He wanted very much to make this last recording, which he
did. And I don't know. I felt it was turbulent; a little chaotic; doing
things at the last minute; organizing, for instance, a recital. And he hadn't
really been working towards this recital, and it would have been about two
weeks after he had died. And suddenly, there was a calm in him that I felt
that night and that everything had gone back to, well, the Horowitz that I
knew. And so it seemed much more relaxed and I was very relieved about it.
And then suddenly he died.
GROSS: When you became close to him during the last few years of his life,
did hearing him play and hearing him talk about music affect you? Did it give
you ideas or change your direction, you know, outside of playing more of the
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes, it did. It did. And I saw what a genuine musician he
was; how motivated he was by the music; that this was not the showman that had
been depicted, let's say, on films or what one heard; that this was really a
man whose life was determined by music and who--music mattered a lot to him.
Everything in his life revolved around the music. And also, he read a lot,
too. He read a lot the letters of Mozart, the biographies--all the things
around the music as well. He was a very knowledgeable musician. And that was
a side that the public didn't know.
GROSS: Did you find it very--reassuring may or may not be the word I'm
thinking of here--to know that someone like Horowitz could, like, live a
long life and keep playing to the absolute very end?
Mr. PERAHIA: It was quite amazing actually. But you know, there's only one
GROSS: True. Right.
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah. It's unique--the man's energy. And it's more than
energy. `The demons and the angels,' he would say, `inside him were something
amazing to behold.'
GROSS: Were you able to see those demons and angels close up?
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah, I did.
GROSS: What were some of the demons?
Mr. PERAHIA: Well, they're harder to describe, but I think they're the
things that pushed him, in a way. And, for instance, I saw him once get very
angry at a recording session when he couldn't get a certain passage and start
speaking in Russian. I don't think he was saying nice things. A man--I
don't know. Turbulent would be the best word I could say.
GROSS: Do you feel that, for you, too, it's the demons as well as the angels
that drive you?
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. But for me, it's a different thing
as well. One of the things that I'm most occupied with is understanding. I
don't know whether that was the case for Horowitz. For me to understand
organically the music is the most important thing. Why is this note there and
why is it not another note? And this is something almost that doesn't have
to do with performance. It has to do with more abstract thought. That, for
some reason, really occupies me.
GROSS: So you think Horowitz is more intuitive...
Mr. PERAHIA: Yes.
GROSS: ...and you have a more intellectual, analytical approach.
Mr. PERAHIA: Perhaps, yes.
GROSS: Do you ever worry about memory loss and performance? And I don't mean
like Alzheimer's disease. I just mean like in the normal course of things, as
people get a little older...
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah.
GROSS: ...they remember a little less.
Mr. PERAHIA: Yeah, I do a little bit, but it's not a huge problem for me.
And I would also get back to this idea of the division between what's
analytical and what is inspiration or intuitive. I don't make such a division
myself, and I think the--it's a fine line. I think that all of music is
intuitive at some level. There might be more armor, in terms of intellectual
thought, but still, the choices are intuitive. They're based on some inner
compulsion that you can't completely analyze.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. PERAHIA: A pleasure.
GROSS: Murray Perahia has a new CD on which he performs Bach keyboard
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
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