The repertoire of piano legend Rudolf Buchbinder (1946) stretches from Bach to contemporary music. The Austrian pianist’s almost sixty-year career, (including his first performance with an orchestra he was just twelve years old) has been reflected in over one hundred recordings.
His ability to make music come alive, inhabiting each phrase, is truly unique. He has set new standards in the performing arts, especially as a performer of the music of Beethoven. Buchbinder (joking, it seems), has admitted that Beethoven has even appeared in his dreams, driving him to madness. There is no evil without good – this “obsession” has resulted in two different recordings of Beethoven’s cycle of 32 sonatas. And Buchbinder has performed all of Beethoven’s sonatas more than 50 times worldwide – from Berlin to Beijing, Buenos Aires to Dresden, Istanbul to Saint Petersburg. In the 2014 Salzburg Festival, he was the first to play every single Beethoven sonata during one summer festival.
Despite his wealth of experience and stage presence, Buchbinder is not afraid to admit that Beethoven’s music continues to move him to tears. “OK, I cry very easily,” he once explained in an interview, “but yes, in every sonata there is some part where the tears come. I am never finished with this music. I learn every time. It is a challenge every time. Only since I started collecting old sources have I realised that knowledge is what makes me most free… The musical freedom back then was fantastisch! We are too strict today.”
Buchbinder’s interpretations are always based on detailed research of the score. He is a passionate collector of historic editions – his collection includes thirty nine editions of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas. And his collection also includes many manuscripts and first editions. Buchbinder has even written two of his own books – an autobiography, Da Capo, and Mein Beethoven: Leben mit dem Meister (My Beethoven: Life with the Maestro).
In 1952, at the age of five, “Rudi” (as written in his school report) became the youngest ever pupil to attend the Vienna Academy of Music (although, at the time, he could only play two popular songs on the piano.) Four years later, he was already performing Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 1 in the Brahms-Saal of the Vienna Musikverein. He credits his teachers Marianne Lauda and Bruno Seidlhofer as his greatest fortune.
Buchbinder celebrated his 70th birthday two years ago with concerts in New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Vienna Musikverein, and the Berlin Philharmonic. The Vienna Philharmonic and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra recognised him on his birthday with honorary membership, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Mariss Jansons, invited him to be their Artist in Residence. In that year, the orchestra website announced that “Rudolf Buchbinder was the youngest student ever to have enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Music… Since then he has appeared with every major orchestra and international conductor. Although his technique continues to improve with age, he is now far more nervous than he used to be before a concert, because now he has to convince not only his audience but also – which is much harder – himself.”
In 2019 his concert schedule is full as usual – several concerts per week in opposite corners of the globe, with a total of around one hundred concerts each year. Since 2007, Buchbinder has been the Artistic Director of the Grafenegg Festival, and under his leadership the event has become one of Europe’s leading symphonic music forums.