Pianist Yefim Bronfman Loves Mozart, Hates Airports

Classical music is stuck in the past.

Plenty of living composers and musicians argue this statement's falsehood adamantly. However, it's true that the bulk of art music played by symphonies, chamber groups and operas hails from hundreds of years ago.

Case in point: This weekend the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is wrapping up its celebration of Mozart's 257th birthday with a second batch of all-Mozart concerts. There's no pretense that this is anything other than what it is: a celebration of some really old music (Mozart was 20 when the Declaration of Independence was signed).

We all know we are supposed to "appreciate" this super old music. But appreciation doesn't drive ticket sales or evoke emotion. So what's so special about Mozart? What keeps him relevant?

Earlier this week I spoke with Yefim Bronfman, the pianist who will be joining the DSO tonight through Sunday, about Mozart and how he approaches playing this very old, very familiar repertoire.

"Mozart always [gives me] food for thought," he remarked. "You know every time I play it I see new things in it, which for me proves that it's great music."

He continued, "Sometimes you'll play a piece that you like and then you come back to it - of course it's possible it's me, it's my personality - but if I don't see anything new in it, I'm kind of bored with it."

"But with Mozart," he continued, "this [boredom] has not happened yet because it always has this intellectual stimulation. It's always inviting you to think and to go a step further. That is Mozart to me."

Bronfman started playing the piano as a child growing up in the Soviet Union and, he tells me, Mozart was a big part of that. He took lessons from his mother, a pianist. His father, a violinist, taught Yefim's sister to play violin. "You know I was 7 year old," he said. "I was born into a family of musicians where everybody played and I thought that the whole world was playing."

The whole world has certainly been listening. Since 1975, Bronfman has been touring internationally as a critically acclaimed concert pianist. He's played in Dallas many times, although this weekend marks his first collaboration with DSO maestro Jaap van Zweden.

When I asked him about life as a touring musician, his response jumped immediately to the practical. "I stand in security lines and I wait and I miss my connections and I miss my flights." He thinks of airplanes as studies, using the time to study musical scores, read, or (he laughs) "take a nap."

Once he arrives in a city, the work has really just begun.

This week Bronfman has spent his time "in the hole" as he puts it, practicing for tonight's performance and for next week's and the week after. In preparing the Mozart for tonight he says, "I approach it exactly like I approach every else: with a great deal of seriousness and making sure that every note is taken care of stylistically."

Bronfman's motivation for this kind of dedication to his craft is not complex. "I like music," he says. "There's no question about it."

You can hear Mr. Bronfman's performances of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 this weekend at the Meyerson Symphony Center, tonight through Sunday.

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