From how many more angles can one possibly approach a widely admired and world famous performer, who has answered interviewers' questions on numerous occasions? Only my highest esteem for Yefim Bronfman's stellar pianism and personable demeanor has encouraged me to try to shine yet another light on him. By connecting the dots between known facts, and adding some of his fresh comments, I hope to expand the portrait of one of our century's major classical pianists.
It is Bronfman's endearing trait of not taking himself too seriously, which, according to him, has surprised many people. He likes to enjoy himself, or, as he puts it, "have a good time."
His much-publicized appearance as a judge on the Food Network's Iron Chef in August 2009 might be the most prominent example of this, with playing sidekick to violinist Gil Shaham in a recent YouTube clip titled "Run, Gil, Run" competing for second place. Bronfman assured me that he and his good friend Shaham just improvised without any preparation; they know each other well from joint performances and recordings of Beethoven.
Beyond his excursions into the world of food and wine, and his willingness to do things for and with his friends, it is his generosity when responding to encore demands which truly impresses. This year's Avery Fisher Hall performance, when roaring applause made him give an unusual solo encore of the most beautifully rendered Schumann Arabesque, right after he had performed Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, serves as a stellar example.
No wonder audiences return time and again for his reliable and compelling artistry, which doesn't require extravagant showmanship or cool attire. His charisma, sincere musicality, and professional integrity create the most powerful, grandiose, and intimate moments with great sensitivity.
Talking about Bronfman's almost complete lack of "artiste's ego," Stuart Isacoff commented in a February 2008 issue of the Wall Street Journal on how Mr. Bronfman "… was a bit stunned, that Carnegie Hall chose to anoint him with his own 'Perspectives Series,' wondering if he really deserved that distinction." Previous pianists who where given this honor include Daniel Barenboim, Richard Goode, Martha Argerich, and Maurizio Pollini. Bronfman's own comment? "When I see all the fuss about me, I don't understand why. [Performing] is always an ongoing experiment, never finished. And it's always about the music; that's where the focus belongs."
How does he feel about his fans waiting in long lines for his autograph? "I don't really get it," he says modestly. But this does not stop him from complying with his admirers' wishes. On the contrary — he welcomes them with a friendly smile and doors to his backstage green room wide open.