Peter Serkin

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Peter Serkin


• 1947 2020


The son of one of the recording era's most rigorous interpreters of piano music from the Classical age, Peter Serkin offered equal rigor as a pianist and musical voyageur, but in rather different directions. With a measure of integrity scarcely less than that demonstrated by his father, Rudolf, Peter Serkin sought to serve the music of his own time while not neglecting masterworks of the past.

Serkin was born in New York on July 24, 1947. His early interest in music was scarcely surprising. Serkin's first lessons came from his father, but later, in 1958, the young pianist was enrolled at the Curtis Institute to study with Lee Luvisi. Advanced lessons with Mieczyslaw Horszowski (who was still an active performer when he died at age 100) played an important part in the formation of Serkin's musical persona, as did instruction from flutist Marcel Moyse. By his early teens, the pianist had already become a veteran performer. His performances of the Mozart Double Piano Concerto with George Szell, Szell's superbly prepared Cleveland Orchestra, and his father as keyboard partner are well-remembered. Once Serkin began to perform on his own, however, the repertory he performed took a pronounced turn toward the new and unusual. Time spent in India seemed to have both galvanized Serkin's dedication to a career and further expanded his notions of how music might be formed. The founding of the contemporary music group Tashi brought him together with violinist Ida Kavafian, cellist Fred Sherry, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman for study and performance of new works. In 2008, the group reunited to perform and record music by Messiaen in commemoration of the centenary of the composer's birth. Other top Serkin collaborators included Yo-Yo Ma, András Schiff, and the Budapest String Quartet.

Serkin's performances and recordings embraced the music of several centuries. He recorded Bach and Mozart, while a solo disc for Koch International Classics holds works by Webern, Wolpe, Messiaen, Knussen, Wuorinen, Lieberson, and Takemitsu. Lieberson's Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2 were both premiered by Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1983 and 1998, respectively. During his career, Serkin performed with many of the world's most celebrated orchestras and in numerous festival venues, and served on the faculties of the Curtis Institute, the Juilliard School of Music, the Bard College Conservatory of Music, the Yale School of Music, and the Tanglewood Music Center; Simone Dinnerstein and Cecile Licad were among his students. Serkin remained active as a concert and recording artist, continuing to appear on the roster of the RCA Red Seal label as well as issuing albums on smaller labels such as Bridge and Naxos nearly until his death in 2020 from pancreatic cancer. He experimented with the use of historical piano and in the mid-'80s recorded Beethoven's last six sonatas on a Graf fortepiano; these recordings were reissued by Musical Concepts in 2007. In 2017, Serkin recorded the Piano Concerto, Op. 42, of Arnold Schoenberg with the Chicago Symphony, under Seiji Ozawa, for RCA Red Seal.