Given his stellar artistry, it’s hardly surprising that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra chose Yefim Bronfman as the featured soloist for its gala Symphony Ball concert Sept. 24. “If an artist builds a reputation over the years, there will always be an audience for him," he said. “I’ve been around for a while, and I can see the results when I perform someplace. There are more people than last time. That’s the one thing that has not changed. If you have a name, you will sell.”
For this special performance, which is part of a two-week residency with additional concerts on Sept. 22-23 and 27, Bronfman will join the CSO and Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major, K. 482.
“The appeal is that it’s Mozart, first of all,” he said. “Second, this concerto really belongs to the golden period of Mozart’s piano concerto writing, I would say. They are all amazing, but the last 10 are particularly special. And this No. 22 is somewhere in the middle there. It’s a masterpiece and something Maestro Muti and I wanted to play together. It’s a magnificent work.”
Even though the pianist is not associated with Mozart as much as he is with other composers such as Prokofiev or Brahms, the celebrated Classical-era master has always been part of Bronfman’s repertoire. Bronfman calls Mozart the “foundation of our existence,” along with J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, composers he believes continue to define what classical music was and shape everything that has followed in the field.
“He’s a great conductor. He draws a beautiful sound from the orchestra, and he has ideas about music, how it should be played, which are very convincing.” — Yefim Bronfman on Riccardo Muti.
Asked about his collaborations with Muti, Bronfman was able to list off the top of his head the four sets of concerts he has performed with the conductor, the CSO's artistic leader since 2010. “It is very special to play with him, so I remember things like this.” These joint performances include Bronfman’s appearances with the Chicago Symphony in February 2017, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, and an August 2017 concert with the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festival.
“He’s a great conductor,” Bronfman said of Muti. “He’s a great musician. He draws a beautiful sound from the orchestra, and he has ideas about music, how it should be played, which are very convincing. And he’s an amazing colleague. He’s there right there, and he does it with great care and attention — all these qualities we always want to have and he has.”
At 64, Bronfman is at a point in his career where he could perform just with famed, proven conductors like Muti, but he also likes to discover new talent and encounter fresh musical ideas. He recalls a chance encounter with Kurt Sanderling, a well-known German conductor, at the Zurich airport. He asked the maestro (who died in 2011 at age 98) where he was coming from, thinking that Sanderling had probably just led some big-name ensemble. But no, he had just conducted an orchestra in a town in Switzerland. He recalls Sanderling saying that he was willing to work with an ensemble of any size that “wants to play,” meaning really put in the effort and commitment necessary for quality music-making.
And that’s how Bronfman feels about conductors. “If there is a conductor who wants to play and work,” he said. “I’m all for it.”