Pianist Yefim Bronfman could be the most famous person to emerge from Uzbekistan, though fans of diminutive comedian Obid Asomov or the actresses Rita Volk (“Faking It”) or Natasha Alam (“True Blood”) might argue otherwise.
Born in the capital city of Tashkent, he moved with his family to Israel in 1973 and became a U.S. citizen in 1989. A frequent visitor to Symphony Center, Bronfman returns Jan. 15-17 to perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under Riccardo Muti. (The pianist also will join the CSO and Muti on tour Jan. 31, for one of three performances at Carnegie Hall.)
He’s a big fan of the CSO music director. “I’ve played with a lot of the old guard, conductors now in their 70s. You realize that conducting is not just waving your hands, but it’s also knowing everything, every instrument, all the repertory,” Bronfman said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “I bet Riccardo Muti could sit down at the piano and play an entire Wagner opera and sing all the parts, and then explain what’s going on behind it. This is a real conductor. There are a lot of charlatans — I could give you a long list.”
Though the classical music world usually sees his serious side, Bronfman also has a playful streak. He has embraced his nickname, Fima — he refers to himself as such on his official website, which also has a page designated as “Fima’s Corner.” Here are a few other bits of whimsy from Bronfman:
Favorite films: This son of Uzbekistan is a fan of “Borat” (2006), whose title character hails from the neighboring Central Asian state of Kazakhstan. “I love Sacha Baron Cohen [who plays Borat and also wrote the film’s screenplay] and look forward to his next films,” Bronfman said in an interview with PlaybillArts.com. “I also love the Coen Brothers’ films.” In addition, he’s an aficionado of classic Russian films such as Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” and “Alexander Nevsky” (the latter will be screened Jan. 20 at Symphony Center, ahead of the CSO’s performances Jan. 22-24 of Prokofiev’s cantata. Muti and CSO program annotator Philip Huscher will introduce the screening, which is free).
Philip Roth on Fima: In the novel The Human Stain, the book’s narrator declares that hearing Bronfman play makes him feel immortal. “When Roth wrote that book, I hadn’t met him. A colleague told me about it, and then I read that particular page, where he highlighted [my] brontosaurus [appearance],” Bronfman told Bloomberg. Later, the narrator observes that judging by appearance, Bronfman looks as if he should be moving the piano rather playing it. Adding a punchline, the artist admits: “I still look like a piano mover.”
His own vintage: His “bronto factor” inspired the name of a wine created in his honor: Fimasaurus, a blend of cabernet and merlot produced by Kongsgaard Winery in Napa, Calif. “The winery has concerts — and you get paid in wine,” a tongue-in-cheek Bronfman told Bloomberg. “You play for 400 people in a church in Napa, and it’s all winemakers. They see a poor starving musician, so they want to feed you and make sure you get a good drink.”
On Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2: “The last movement is very gracious and also a little humorous,” Bronfman observes in a video recorded for an LA Phil performance at the Hollywood Bowl. “I find a lot of humor and lightness come to the forefront. Which is a surprise, considering the scope of this piece.”