[ Artist Spotlight ]

Boris Berman

Known to the audiences of nearly fifty countries on six continents, Professor Berman regularly appears with leading orchestras and in important festivals. An active recording artist and a Grammy® nominee, Mr. Berman was the first pianist to record the complete solo works of Prokofiev (Chandos), and his recital of Shostakovich piano works (Ottavo), received the Edison Classic Award in Holland, the Dutch equivalent of the Grammy®.  More

When you are away touring, do you bring anything special with you to remind you of home?

My phone — and it gets quite a workout! I never take for granted how easy it is to stay in touch with my family when I travel. That certainly was not the case at the beginning of my career, or even 10 years ago.

When you fly, what do you like to read? How do you pass the time?

Flying gives me time to finish whatever book I am reading, which has often been put to the side for a long time, or to watch some movie (or movies) that I’ve missed. Often, after watching a movie in the plane, I come home and tell my wife: “I saved you 3 hours; you don’t need to waste time on that one.”

What is a favorite non-musical past time?

I love to explore new places, and always try to steal away some time to explore whatever city I am in. I love visiting art museums. In case of the great museums, no matter how often you visit them there are always artworks you can discover — or rediscover — for yourself. On the other hand, many small, less famous museums are hidden treasures, it often pays to visit them too.

What is your favorite concert hall (aside from the Music Shed of course) to play in and why? And it doesn’t have to be for a musical reason.

Many halls have great acoustics, but there are some halls in which wonderful acoustics are complemented with a very special aura. Among these are The Boston Symphony Hall, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, and Bolshoi Hall of Moscow Conservatory, which holds a special place for me since my years as a student there. This special aura makes it an inspiration to play in these incredible spaces.

What does it feel like right before you walk onto the stage? What runs through your mind?

I am always nervous before performing. The nervousness is of a different kind before a chamber concert, a recital, or a performance with an orchestra. In every case, I try “to stay on message” and focus on the work I am to perform, “sinking” into its atmosphere.

Do you have any pre-concert traditions?

There are certain things I don’t do right before a concert — like socializing, eating, or drinking alcohol; and certain things I always do — like having an afternoon nap, meditating, and having a cup of tea. However, the times of performances and rehearsals force us often to be flexible and to adjust our day-of routine.


Everyone dislikes as least one thing about their profession. Aside from being away from loved ones and home, what is your least favorite part about being a musician?

The process of traveling is becoming increasingly unpleasant and undignified. This is perhaps one irritant that gets to me more as I get older. In addition, performing musicians need to make sure they are always in (technical) shape; for a pianist, this means constantly making arrangements to have access to a piano wherever you go, which can often be a nuisance.

Do you find that your training and skills as a musician are helpful in non-musical areas of your life? Would you share an example?

I think that being a musician trains one to know how to manage time, to be on time, and to be reliable. If a musician becomes known for missing rehearsals or, God forbid, concerts, or for showing up unprepared, nobody will want to have anything to do with him or her. We musicians carry this training to other areas of life, as well.

What is one of your favorite pieces of music and why?

That’s tough! The truth is that it keeps changing: I often become involved in a piece I am learning to such a degree that it never leaves me. Or I hear a piece at a concert that makes a strong impression, and I want to hear it again and again. Or when working with a student on a great work, it will stay in my mind for days.

Is there anything about the way classical music is presented to the world that you would like to see change or evolve?

There seems to be a trend now to present classical music as something much less formidable than people may think. The intention to reach a wider audience is laudable, but I am concerned that the implied message seems to be “See, it is not that difficult, it is not a big deal.” I would prefer to project a different idea: “It is complex, it is complicated, but it gives an enormous satisfaction to those who listen closely.”

Is there a particular piece of advice/insight that you share with your students about being a musician?

I often say to my students “You don’t go into the musical profession to become rich — there are many much more lucrative occupations. Being a musician is hard; it demands your full and total dedication. In return, it gives you an immense privilege of communing with the greatest achievements of human spirit, on a daily basis.”

Often we hear people say that they don’t listen to classical music or go to classical music concerts for fear of not “knowing anything about it” or “understanding it.” How would you respond to them?  

Music is a language; the more you hear it, the more you understand it. Just keep listening!