In a compelling personal interview, Georgle Li waxed poetic about Russell Sherman’s artistry:
“I really admire and love his playing. It’s so colorful, yet so unique that it’s totally inspiring. There is so much character, so much drama, and he does things totally unexpected that it takes your breath away.”
George whet my appetite to find a sample of Sherman’s playing, and it landed me squarely at You Tube where I ingested a wondrous reading of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30, Op. 109, movements 1 and 2.
Naturally, the name Russell Sherman rang a bell. With less than 6 degrees of separation in the musical universe, I was bound to find a link to one of my past piano teachers, their mentors or students.
From the short Wiki bio:
“Russell Sherman is currently artist-in-residence at New England Conservatory, where over thirty years ago he met and instructed Wha Kyung Byun, a woman who later became a well-known piano instructor herself as well as his wife. (And George Li’s teacher)
“Sherman’s efforts as an educator have produced a number of pianists of note, among them, Christopher O’Riley, Tian Ying, Keren Hanan, HaeSun Paik, Minsoo Sohn, Christopher Taylor, Hugh Hinton, Soojin Ahn, Randall Hodgkinson, Rina Dokshitsky, Sergey Schepkin, Kathleen Supové, Ning An, and Craig Smith.
“Sherman’s book of short essays on piano playing related concerns, Piano Pieces, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1996.
“Among Sherman’s observations in Piano Pieces:
“Music dispels the fear of mortality and the need for rigid and permanent identities. Music rejects the nine-to-five schedule, the hunger for cash, the encroachments and limits of crass appetite.”
I made the connection to George Li’s poetic allusions about music-making when he drew upon Bruce Lee’s Eastern-based philosophy.
Likewise, Russell Sherman had imparted more words of wisdom in a Boston Globe interview, on the occasion of his 80th birthday:
“I have always considered the piano a window to the world….Somehow in playing the piano and making music you have an insight into so many different cultures and ways of thinking about the most important things in life. The repertoire is so enormous, and so representative of really the best things that have been accomplished. I have always had the feeling as a pianist that I don’t have to go to the mountain. The mountain is coming to me.’’
A bio at the New England Conservatory’s website filled in more details about the pianist’s background:
“As a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at NEC, pianist Russell Sherman offers his insights to students through masterclasses, performance seminars, studio classes, and coachings.
“Sherman’s studies with Edward Steuermann place him in the grand Busoni/Liszt tradition, and Franz Liszt is one of the core repertoire composers with whom he is associated as a teacher and as a concert and recording artist. In 2008 Sherman released a DVD of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes that captured a live performance from New York’s Angel Orensanz Center for the Arts.
“Sherman is the first American to record both Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas and the five piano concertos. His GM release The Beethoven Piano Concertos: Live at Monadnock features the all-star Monadnock Festival Orchestra.
“Russell Sherman made his debut at Town Hall at age 15 and has been acclaimed as a soloist with many major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the BSO, the Chicago Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has presented recitals throughout the U.S., Europe, South America, and the former Soviet Union.
“Sherman’s 1996 book of short essays on piano playing and allied activities, Piano Pieces, is perennially in print in the U.S. and has been published in Korean translation.”
B.A., Columbia College (N.Y.). Piano with Edward Steuermann; composition with Erich Itor Kahn. Recordings on Advent, Sine Qua Non, Vanguard, Pro Arte, Albany, GM.
I recalled “Edward Steuermann” having popped up in my New York piano teacher’s bio. Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich had studied with him at Juilliard following her years at the Oberlin Conservatory. And her husband, Irwin Freundlich had been a pupil of James Friskin and Edward Steuermann at the Institute of Musical Art which had merged with the Juilliard Graduate School in 1926 to become the current Juilliard School of Music.
Sherman, a next-generation pianist, had probably crossed paths with Lillian and Irwin at Juilliard when he was on the faculty in the 80s. (Lillian had mentioned his playing in glowing terms when I took lessons at her Riverside Drive townhouse)
New York City, being a hub of culture, would probably have found Sherman, and both Freundlichs in a triadic musical relationship.
In the same spirit, George Li, Russell Sherman and Wha Kyung Byun enjoyed a kindred trio in the present, making the circle of keyboard life its own testament to immortality.
A Boston Globe article by Jeremy Eichler, replete with Sherman’s inspired quotes, is worth a read:
RELATED: My interview with George Li