Rudolf Buchbinder’s website includes an unusual and enlightening “Retrospective” section that offers wide-ranging glimpses and personal anecdotes about the Austrian pianist’s extraordinary international career. In 2018, he celebrated the 60th anniversary of his first major performance: a concerto appearance in Vienna’s renowned Musikverein when he was just 11 years old. “My big luck was that I had from the beginning the right teachers, and my talent was discovered,” he said.
Now 72, Buchbinder has made two appearances in Orchestra Hall, including 2013-14 when he performed with all of this country’s so-called Big Five orchestras. He will return June 9 for a recital as part of the Symphony Center Presents Piano Series. Featured will be three well-known works: Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 (Waldstein) and Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960.
All of these famed composers are closely associated with Vienna, where Buchbinder has lived virtually his entire life. “I’m very thankful for that,” he said, “because in some ways — it’s very strange — you breathe the air of this music.”
He was born in Czechoslovakia to Austrian parents and moved with his family to the musical capital when he was a baby. With the help of his uncle, who arranged a tryout, he began piano lessons at the Vienna Academy of Music at age 5, the youngest pupil in the school’s history. He studied with Marianne Lauda and Bruno Seidlhofer, whose other students included Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire. In 1962, Buchbinder made his recital debut at Royal Festival Hall in London, and his distinguished performance career was well on its way.
In 1977, Buchbinder won the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of Haydn’s complete works for piano, a process that took two to three years. The pianist called Haydn the most “underestimated” composer, whose more than 50 sonatas remain obscure more than four decades later. The project was the idea of Teldec, and he is grateful for the company bringing it to him, because it became what he called a turning point in his career.
“It is the base of my piano playing today,” Buchbinder said. “You learn discipline. You learn articulation. You learn phrasing. These all are things which you can use if you play Gershwin, if you play Rachmaninov, if you play Beethoven. It helps you.”