Gary Graffman
Artist biography

Gary Graffman

Curtis Institute faculty member and the teacher of Lang Lang and Yuja Wang, Gary Graffman has been a major figure in the music world since his debut with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1947 at the age of eighteen.


Gary Graffman

The celebrated pianist Gary Graffman has been a major figure in the music world since winning the prestigious Leventritt Award in 1949. For the next three decades he toured almost continuously, playing the most demanding works in the piano literature both in recital and with the world’s great orchestras. He also made a series of highly acclaimed recordings for Columbia (CBS) and RCA, including concertos by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven with the orchestras of New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and Boston, and with such conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Eugene Ormandy and George Szell.

In 1979, however, Mr. Graffman’s performing career was curtailed by an injury to his right hand. His performances are now limited to the small but brilliant repertoire of concertos written for the left hand alone, most of them commissioned early in the century by Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I. In addition to the famous Ravel Concerto, these include major works by Prokofiev, Britten, Richard Strauss, Franz Schmidt and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Mr. Graffman played the North American premiere of the latter concerto, written in 1924, with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic in 1985 and has recorded the Strauss “Parergon” for Deutsche Grammophon with the Vienna Philharmonic led by André Previn.

The reduction in Mr. Graffman’s concert activity has provided him with a remarkable opportunity to expand his horizons beyond the stage. Most notable has been his leadership of the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He first joined its piano faculty in 1980 and became Director of the all-scholarship conservatory in 1986, following such illustrious predecessors as Josef Hofmann, Efrem Zimbalist and Rudolf Serkin. He was appointed President of The Curtis Institute in 1995, a position he served until May 2006.

Gary Graffman is the author of the highly praised memoir, “I Really Should Be Practicing,” published by Doubleday in 1981 and issued in paperback by Avon the following year. In 2011, a Chinese translation was released in Taiwan. He has also written popular articles on non-musical subjects and found time to pursue a scholarly interest in Asian Art (which he collects) and photography. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Pennsylvania and The Juilliard School, among others. He has received honors from the City of New York with its Handel Medallion, the City of Philadelphia on its Walk of Fame, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award, recognizing him for his varied accomplishments, including his “leadership of Curtis.”

Gary Graffman was born in New York, of Russian parents, and began to play the piano at age three. His father, a violinist, gave him a small fiddle, but when the instrument proved too cumbersome, he began piano lessons, though a return to the violin was planned. The young Graffman’s affinity for the piano soon became evident, however, and at seven the Curtis Institute accepted him to study with the renowned Isabelle Vengerova—exactly 50 years before he would become the school’s director, a position he held through May 2006. After graduation from Curtis, he worked intensively for several years with Vladimir Horowitz and, during the summers, at the Marlboro Music Festival with Rudolf Serkin.

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