Yefim "Fima" Bronfman's 2007-08 season has been marked by several unusual firsts, including a stint serenading morning commuters in Grand Central Station in conjunction with the Food Bank for New York City. "Out of all the train stations I've played, Grand Central was definitely the best," jokes Bronfman, the brilliant Tashkent-born pianist. "So I can say that in the same week I played in Carnegie Hall and Grand Central Station!"
A week after his train station debut, Bronfman found himself in another unfamiliar situation, performing Brahms's Piano Concerto No. 1 with Orpheus — and, as is the norm with this stellar orchestra, without a conductor. He admits he was initially nervous about going conductorless for the October 23 concert, which marked the first of his seven Perspectives appearances at Carnegie Hall, but says, "You can't always play it safe, and you have to take chances."
The rest of Bronfman's Perspectives concerts, which run through May 4, feature more traditional orchestral collaborations as well as several world premieres and reunions with frequent chamber music partners. Although Bronfman had contemplated focusing on a single composer for his Perspectives, he ultimately chose to present programs with great variety, a decision that shows Carnegie Hall audiences a side of the pianist that they may not have seen from his recorded output. Although Bronfman, who has released all the Prokofiev piano concertos and sonatas on Sony Classical, is sometimes thought of as a Russian specialist, he prefers to share a wide range of repertoire with his audiences.
"I don't like being a specialist," he continues. "I just want to have as much music as possible under my fingers." His Perspectives solo recital on December 17, based on the theme of fantasy, indicates the breadth of his musical interests. The program opens with Beethoven's Sonata No. 13 in E-flat Major, "Quasi una fantasia," followed by Schumann's Fantasy in C major, Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, and Balakirev's Islamey.
Contemporary music is an increasingly significant component of concert life for Bronfman, who premiered Esa-Pekka Salonen's Piano Concerto in February with the New York Philharmonic. Bronfman's Perspectives also features a new chamber piece by the French composer Marc-André Dalbavie, a co-commission from Carnegie Hall and the Aspen Music Festival that Bronfman will perform with Gil Shaham and Lynn Harrell on May 4 as part of a program focusing on Russian and French music.
Bronfman heard a chamber work by Dalbavie that was performed in Emanuel Ax's Perspectives concerts in 2003-04 and instantly "loved it." He also encountered Dalbavie's music at the Aspen Festival and thought he was a "great composer." "I've met him and enjoyed talking to him and really wanted something from him." The May 4 program also includes Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A Minor, Shostakovich's Piano Quintet — for which Bronfman will be joined by the Emerson String Quartet — and Shostakovich's Seven Verses for Soprano, Violin, Cello, and Piano, Op. 127, featuring the soprano Olga Makarina.
There is plenty of Russian music throughout the rest of Bronfman's Perspectives as well. Bronfman will play two Prokofiev concertos: the Third with Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on February 5 and the Second with Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic on March 1 (which is also part of Gergiev's own Perspectives). The Third Piano Concerto will be performed with a work by the contemporary Dutch composer Otto Ketting and Brahms's Symphony No. 2, while the Second is partnered with Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony and Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune.
Mozart is also an integral part of Bronfman's musical life — he has recorded the violin sonatas with Isaac Stern — and on December 24 he will play the Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major with Jaime Laredo conducting the New York String Orchestra, the ensemble with which Bronfman made his New York debut in 1974. "On Christmas Eve I would want to play all Mozart or Bach," says Bronfman. The program also includes Mozart's Symphonies Nos. 1 and 35.
For the next concert, on January 27, the mood swings dramatically with Webern's Symphony, Op. 21, and Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24; Berg's Chamber Concerto for Piano, Violin, and 13 Winds (one of Bronfman's favorite works); and Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire. James Levine conducts The MET Chamber Ensemble with soloists soprano Anja Silja and violinist Gil Shaham.
It was particularly important for Bronfman, who began his career as a chamber musician, to include these sorts of small-group collaborations in his Perspectives. "My whole life is about not only playing by myself but collaborating with other people," he explains. "I like to play chamber pieces and work with other people who are great musicians and great composers."
"Otherwise," he says laughing, "the life of a pianist can be a bit lonely!"
Vivien Schweitzer is a freelance music writer and regular contributor to The New York Times.