RUSSELL SHERMAN: Pianist, Teacher, Renaissance Man
Boston's own deserves to be more famous than "famously unfamous."






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"Eloquence and grace, vitality and charm, faithfulness and vision: the game of life, the life of music."

No better words than his own, the last line of of his remarkable book "Piano Pieces," define Russell Sherman, pianist and music teacher extraordinaire, who in 2005 celebrated 75 years of a distinguished life in music, 60 of which as a professional musician.

He has been called: VIRTUOSO, MASTER, GENIUS, MUSICAL BARD, MUSICAL ALCHEMIST, THE ETERNAL PETER PAN, PHILOSOPHER OF THE KEYBOARD, THINKING MAN'S VIRTUOSO, ONE OF THE GIANTS, RENAISSANCE MAN

- indeed, anointed ONE OF THE GREAT PIANISTS OF OUR AGE!

And the many pieces that sing praises of the man and his performances, written over the years by acknowledged connoisseurs of music, can better in number the pages of his own slim but substantive (and thoroughly enjoyable) book. Indeed, to the knowledgeable, a Russell Sherman performance is an event; and a Sherman recording once released is bound to land in the "Classical Hall of Fame" and the "Best Recording of the Year (or Month)" lists of the creme de la creme of musical critics.

So, why in 2005 as the musical world celebrated his 75th year * is Russell Sherman still so "famously unfamous?"

Certainly not because his repertoire is so esoteric as to attract only would-be cultists; a glance at his still growing discography will reveal that there is much there that is quite mainstream. What's more, he is a staunch proponent of that most accessible of classical composers, Franz Liszt. It was his watershed performance of Liszt's "Transcendental Etudes" at Boston's Jordan Hall in 1973 (and his subsequent hallmark recording thereof) that led, though belatedly, to his first brush with celebrity - a rush of recitals and concerts with some of the world's great orchestras.

Born in New York, Russell Sherman was a child prodigy whose talent was cultivated by his parents (a gentle, businessman-father and a music-loving Rumanian Gypsy mother), entrusting his musical education beginning at age 11 to famed master-teacher, Eduard Steuermann - Viennese composer, pianist, former student of Busoni and Schoenberg. The tutelage lasted 15 years. He made his professional debut at age 15 at New York's Town Hall. While at college, he gave recitals at Carnegie Hall, tasting his first 15 minutes of fame when he performed Brahms' Piano Concerto in D minor with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. The elements that could launch a promising pianist on the fast track to celebrity were all there - nature, nurture, and opportunity - yet he did not beat a hurried path to it, most likely by choice, given a temperament that was not naturally attuned to the commerce of celebrity.

By choosing university (Columbia) over conservatory (e.g., Juilliard) and by shunning piano competitions, he eschewed the most direct line to celebrity, preferring instead to nourish "the soul" (through the study of the liberal arts) while he learned all about music and "mastered the piano" (and with it the light and dark sides of "the universe") under the guiding influence of his beloved teacher, Steuermann. Thus, when in his young professional life he came to the proverbial fork in the road, he was not forced to forsake one (teaching) for the other (concertizing). Having the wherewithal and the courage to choose both, he did. And so it was that Russell Sherman came to balance his time between teaching and performing, and happily has flourished in both worlds - though minus the glitz (which is probably how he likes it), and with but a slim gleam of fame. "Music," he wrote in his book, "is a cake which grows as you eat it, which has seven layers and seven more for each layer." In a very real sense, he's got his multi-layered cake, and eats it too.

Today, he remains passionately devoted to teaching, even after having shaped (without producing clones of himself) several generations of world-class pianists, some more famous than himself (e.g., Marc-Andre Hamelin and Christopher Riley). He is Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts where he has been a Faculty Member since 1967, invited there to fill the post of Piano Department Chairman by Conservatory President - composer and friend Gunther Schuller. Earlier sojourns at Pomona College in California and at the University of Arizona allowed him years of total immersion in art, literature, philosophy and science during which he refined the unique character and the poetic imagination that would inform both his teaching and the music-making of his mature years.

He remains passionately committed to performing as well, devoted with a passion to both contemporary and classical genres. On stage, he is known to be a fearless risk-taker. His recitals and concerts are awaited with eager anticipation because they are, well, "Shermanesque" - meaning: there is a quality of freshness to his performances, which even as they remain faithful to the score, are adventures that aspire not to reach predictable perfection, but to bring the music to life, enticing the audience to meander with every beat through the labyrinths of the musical landscape, and to react to what Beethoven said are "next to love, the best things in life" - surprises!


CLICK on your choice of media player BELOW to sample some of these surprises and to savor the sounds and images of his music-making:


from Beethoven: Sonata # 4 in E-flat, Op.7
Disc 1 Track 1
Allegro molto con brio

from Beethoven: Sonata # 17 "Tempest" in D, Op. 10
Disc 2 Track 5
Largo Allegro
from Beethoven:
Sonata # 31 in A-flat, Op. 110

Disc 1 Track 9
Adagio ma non troppo
from Mozart:
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor KV466

Track 4
Allegro assai
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Note: The listener, whether of a live Sherman performance or of a recording (often by his preference also of a live performance where "fantasy and spontaneity" and the "charms of transcendence and deliverance," unlike in a
studio, are assured of a chance to prevail), will be pleasantly surprised to learn that the teacher-performer often writes his own program notes and will come away from reading them delighted and enlightened. As anyone who reads his book "Piano Pieces" soon discovers, Russell Sherman, Renaissance man, is master not only of music but also of the written word. Click HERE for a sampling of his insights on MUSIC.
- ©GCajipe /FanFaire



*
with recitals on (March 3) and masterclasses (On March 3, 4 and 5) at Oberlin Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio; recitals at Jordan Hall in Boston, Masschusetts on March 28 and at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in New York City on April 2, 2005.


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