Pianist Yefim Bronfman — a veteran performer who is in considerable demand around the world — will make his first appearance at the Mondavi Center at 8 p.m. Saturday in a recital featuring works by Josef Haydn, Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin.
Bronfman’s schedule for the first six months of 2011 gives a good indication of just how busy he is. He has appeared (or will soon appear) with the Atlanta Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Munich Philharmonic, the St. Louis Symphony, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, the Cincinatti Symphony and the Abu Dhabi Festival.
In addition, he joined a short tour with the Berlin Staatskapelle, performing all three piano concertos by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók in Paris and Vienna, and a tour with the Israel Philharmonic, performing Bartók and Franz Lizst.
His schedule last fall was equally busy, including appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony.
Bronfman comes to Davis as part of a nine-city American recital tour. He told The Enterprise in a phone interview that he organized the music for the first half of the recital program — featuring the Haydn Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI/50, and the Schumann Humoreske in B-flat Major, Op. 20 — around the theme of humor.
“Haydn is always full of surprises,” Bronfman said. “One forgets how great Haydn is, because somehow Haydn is not highlighted on today’s concert stages the way he should be. People only play a fraction of the music that he wrote. And he wrote so many great piano sonatas.
“When I hear Haydn, I understand where Beethoven came from. Even with some modern composers, I can see the shadow of Haydn in their music. That’s why I chose this sonata to open the program. It’s humorous, it has a lot of sparkle. The last movement is almost like a joke, full of question marks and witty answers.
“The Schumann is titled ‘Humoresque,’ but why he gave it that title, I don’t know,” Bronfman continued. “It’s one of the saddest pieces he ever wrote. It’s also one of his longest pieces, close to half an hour. It contains a lot of ideas, and none of the ideas repeat themselves. It’s not what you’d expect of a classical Viennese composer (like Haydn) where material is developed and structured. With the Schumann, it’s always new material.
Originally, Bronfman’s program was supposed to include a new piece — also titled Humoresque — by composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (who was for many years the conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic). Bronfman released an entire album of music by Salonen on the Deutsche Grammofon label in 2009. But Salonen wasn’t able to complete the piece in time for Bronfman’s current recital tour. Bronfman said he looks forward to playing the new Salonen piece when the composer feels it’s finished.
Bronfman and Salonen are also in the midst of a project that involves performing the three Bartók piano concertos with an orchestra in London in concerts spread out over several months.
After intermission, Bronfman will play the Chopin Twelve Études, Op. 10.
“I always think of this piece as the most wonderful and poetic statement by a great composer, rather than focusing on the technical and physical challenges,” Bronfman said. “And after two structure pieces (by Haydn and Schumann), it’s nice to have something different — a set of shorter pieces, with a lot of artistic challenges.”
Bronfman (known as “Fima” to his friends) was born in Tashkent (then part of the Soviet Union, now the capital of Uzbekistan) in 1958, moved to Israel with his family in 1973, and moved again with his family to the United States in 1976.
He studied at the Juilliard School, Marlboro and the Curtis Institute, and had several legendary teachers: the late Rudolf Firkušný (who had been a student of composers Leoš Janáček and Josef Suk) , Leon Fleisher (who appeared at the Mondavi Center a few years ago), and the late Rudolf Serkin.
Bronfman made his New York Philharmonic debut in 1978, his Washington recital debut in 1981 at the Kennedy Center, and his New York recital debut in 1982. He became an American citizen in July 1989.
Bronfman’s discography is large and varied. He won a Grammy Award in 1997 for the three Bartók Piano Concertos with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He has recorded the complete Prokofiev piano sonatas, the five Prokofiev piano concertos, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3.
His most recent releases are a disc of compositions by Esa-Pekka Salonen, including the Piano Concerto composed for him, recorded with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra; a recital disc, “Perspectives,” which complemented his Carnegie Hall “Perspectives” series; and all Beethoven’s piano concertos and Triple Concerto, with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich under David Zinman.
What: Recital by pianist Yefim Bronfman
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis
Tickets: $35-$68 general, $17.50-$34 for students, available at http://www.mondaviarts.org or by calling (530) 754-2787