After an early dinner off Union Square, I walked three blocks east to Washington Irving High School on Irving Place where Yefim Bronfman, one of the world's great pianists, played a People's Symphony Concert. Fima, as he's universally known, regularly sells out major concert halls around the world; here, he's playing for $12 a head, as do all of the other artists on this unbelievably generous series, founded in 1900 "to bring the best music to students and workers at minimum prices."
Gazing around the gently faded auditorium, I didn't see very many of either - it was more like the social room in a retirement home - but you won't find a more appreciative (or demanding) crowd in NYC. Give some props to Frank Salomon and the People's Symphony crew: there isn't anything like this anywhere else in the world. I mean, if I was visiting London or Berlin and I saw that Fima was playing a HIGH SCHOOL, I would drop everything and get my butt over there.
If you go, be advised: the People's Symphony is definitely a no-frills affair. Programs are printed on a single 8x11 sheet of paper, left on a table to pick up as you enter the auditorium. Downstairs is all open seating, and while the balcony is supposedly reserved, I saw more than one fight break out among the bluehairs as none of the seats are properly marked. (There's a single seating chart, on the table next to the programs.) The seats themselves are all hardwood, creaking as they fold up and down.
I would have been there regardless of what Fima decided to play, but for the record, he started out with Haydn's Sonata No. 50 in C Major (1795): basically a finger-warming exercise, but an enjoyable one. He then turned to Brahms 3rd Sonata in F minor, written when he was only 20 and already exhibiting Brahms remarkable talent for melody. Written in five movements, there were numerous Beethoven references laced throughout, but the rhapsodic texture was all Brahms.
After the intermission, Fima returned with the main course of the evening: Prokofiev's Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major. Written during the height of the war in 1944, this is dense, insistent music, as violent and distrubing as anything Prokofiev ever wrote. Fima played it all with fire and precision: this music runs deep in his Russian veins. After the final crescendo of the third movement (Vivace), with its flurry of overhand trills, he literally flew off the piano bench. I could feel the tremor all the way upstairs.
The auditorium erupted with bravos: a extremely rare occurrence among this notoriously tough crowd. Fima rewarded us with two encores: Chopin's Etudes in F major and C Sharp minor, both of which he threw off like they were nothing. His fingers were a total blur; my jaw was on the floor throughout.
No matter the surrounding, Fima is clearly someone who only knows how to give one kind of performance: mind-blowing. The man is a total beast - see him soon.
More pics on the photo page.