Gary Graffman

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Child prodigy, Leventritt Competition winner, student of Vladimir Horowitz and Rudolf Serkin, pianist Gary Graffman had all the talent and credentials for lasting success on the concert stage. His meteoric…
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Artist Biography by

Child prodigy, Leventritt Competition winner, student of Vladimir Horowitz and Rudolf Serkin, pianist Gary Graffman had all the talent and credentials for lasting success on the concert stage. His meteoric rise in the 1950s carried him through more than two decades of fame and critical acclaim, but an injury in 1979 limited his career to teaching and performance of left-hand repertory. Graffman was best known for his performances of concertos by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev, and for solo works by the latter pair as well as Chopin, Liszt, and others. In the 1970s Graffman delved heavily into chamber music, notably in performances of sonatas for violin and piano by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schumann, with violinist Henryk Szeryng. After his injury, Graffman played not only the well-known concertos for left hand by Ravel and Prokofiev, but many contemporary works written specifically for him. Graffman's numerous recordings are available from Sony, RCA, Decca, and other major labels.

Gary Graffman was born in New York City on October 14, 1928. He played the piano from age three, and at seven began studies with Isabelle Vengerova at the Curtis Institute. Graffman gave his recital debut three years later at New York's Town Hall.

In 1946 Graffman graduated from Curtis, where he was awarded the Rachmaninov Prize. He gave his official debut as soloist the following year with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Graffman's Leventritt victory in 1949 led to further success, but he continued studies with Rudolf Serkin at the Marlboro Music Festival and, in the early '50s, with Vladimir Horowitz privately.

Graffman's earliest recordings soon appeared, but it was his recordings from the 1960s that are perhaps the most memorable. His 1964 Rachmaninov Second and Paganini Rhapsody, with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, and 1966 Prokofiev Third Concerto, with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, are still regarded as classics.

Though his career cooled somewhat in the 1970s, Graffman remained very active, including in the chamber music realm. The injury to the ring finger of his right hand in 1979 eventually caused him to abandon two-hand repertory. From 1980, he taught at the Curtis Institute.

Graffman began commissioning music for left hand and premiered several notable works: the 1993 Ned Rorem Piano Concerto No. 4 and the 2001 Daron Hagen concerto Seven Last Words. Graffman still teaches piano at Curtis Institute, having also served as director (1986-2006) and president (1995-2006).