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A chat with pianist Boris Berman

Boris Berman

Joining a quartet, even one that a musician has played with a number of times, can be a delicate dance. After all, the quartet is a finely-tuned machine, each player aware of every nuance of colleagues who have played together for years, even decades. Add another instrument and you’ve got the proverbial fifth wheel.

It’s a dance that pianist Boris Berman loves. “You realize they have performed it on many occasions and I have performed on various occasion,” Berman says of the coming together. “They have their vision and I have my vision. To find the way to creating one and not individual interpretations at the same time is a challenge. It’s a fascinating task. But it’s the challenge that makes it so enjoyable.”

Artis Quartet - Large

Berman, who regularly performs with existing quartets and has performed with the Artis Quartet many times, says no one protocol works when entering a new relationship with other musicians. “Some people are very easy to work with and some less,” he says. “You learn how to get what you want without any confrontation or friction. Actually the important thing is that we all love the piece we play. We all want it to sound as good as it possibly can.”

And the Dvořák Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, which he will perform with Artis on July 9, makes finding balance easier, Berman says. “This quintet is an unusually beautiful and natural piece. It has Slavonic flavor but at same time it’s a very romantic piece in the traditional Brahms way. Dvorak adored Brahms. Brahms was his mentor. Among the Dvořák works, this is my favorite. It’s so fresh and so natural.”

Berman grew up in Moscow in a non-musical family. His mother decided he should have some piano lessons. “My parents thought this was something worth pursuing,” he says. “For me, it’s just a part of my life. I cannot imagine being without playing a piano or teaching piano.”

Nor can Berman, a Yale professor for the last 32 years, imagine a summer without Norfolk, where he has performed most of those years. “I love the surroundings,” he says. “The ambiance is very beautiful. The shed is a wonderful play to play — the sound is so warm and beautiful. It’s always a pleasure.”