NPR: Performance Today -- Live in Studio 4A -- Pianist John Browning

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Live in Studio 4A
Our showcase for artists invited to perform on the program and talk about their music
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Our list of 50 essential classical CDs
Piano Puzzlers
Bruce Adolphe's "name that composer" piano quiz
In Memoriam: John Browning
John Browning The venerable American pianist John Browning stopped into Studio 4A in May, 2002 on the heels of a recital at the U.S. Supreme Court. His live performance on our show would he his last. Browning died at age 69 on Jan. 26, 2003, at his home in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.

Revisit his final performances below.

Listen to the entire feature (44:41) Biography
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Selected Program Audio Excerpts

Van Cliburn on John Browning
Legendary pianist Van Cliburn remembers his close friend and colleague.

The Music

John Browning
Joseph Haydn: Piano Sonata N 33 In D, Hob 16:37

Richard Cumming: "Silhouettes"
Commissioned for Browning's 60th birthday in May, 1993

Frédéric Chopin: Nocturne in D-flat major

Frédéric Chopin: Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39

The Musician

Premiering Barber
Browning reflects on the Haydn Sonata and on the premiere of Barber's Piano Concerto in the early 1960's.

On his contemporaries
Browning talks about fellow pianists Gary Graffman, Leon Fleisher, and Van Cliburn. Browning also reflects on how he has matured as an artist.

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John Browning, piano
In the tradition of the great Romantic pianists, John Browning has earned a distinguished reputation for his exceptional interpretive gifts, technical mastery of keyboard color and sonority, and deep commitment to music. He is considered one of the most important and extraordinarily compelling virtuoso performers of today, and remains the only American pianist of his generation to continuously sustain an active performing and recording schedule. Now in the fifth decade of an illustrious international career, he has become an American luminary of musical greatness, impressing audiences and critics with his passion, integrity, and probing musical imagination in an extensive repertoire that ranges from Bach and Scarlatti to 20th century composers. His highly acclaimed recordings, which have garnered three Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards, along with a number of significant compositions that were written for and dedicated to him by renowned composers, further illustrate the superlative breadth of his artistic scope. "By dint of unremitting application and a vast reserve of talent, John Browning has built one of the most enduring careers of any American pianist solely on merit, with invariable dignity, without the slightest recourse to ballyhoo and banality." (The Los Angeles Times)

John Browning's continues his active performing career in the 2001-2002 season. In the fall he will play the Barber Piano Concerto and Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Royal Concertgebouw, under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. Maestro Slatkin will also conduct Ravel's Concerto in D for Piano (left hand) in Washington, DC with the National Symphony. Other highlights of this season include performances with the Maryland and Youngstown Symphonies, the Las Vegas Philharmonic and a recital at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. The United States Supreme Court has invited him to perform for them as part of their guest artist program in the spring of 2002. John Browning plays Schubert's "Trout" Quintet with the Tokyo String Quartet this summer at both the Mostly Mozart Festival and the San Miguel Festival.

"By dint of unremitting application and a vast reserve of talent, John Browning has built one of the most enduring careers of any American pianist solely on merit."

The Los Angeles Times
Highlights of John Browning's 2000-2001 season included performances with the Seattle Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Omaha Symphony, Puerto Rico Symphony and the Toledo Symphony featuring concerti by Beethoven, Barber, Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel and Prokofiev. Recital engagements included performances in Kansas City, MO, Walla Walla, WA, and in Lancaster, PA, where Mr. Browning premiered a new work by composer Joan Tower.

Since his triumphant debut in 1956 with the New York Philharmonic, Mr. Browning has appeared in virtually every music capital of the world, amassing accolades for his solo recitals, concerto appearances and recordings. He continues to be in demand with the world's leading ensembles and conductors, a measure of the high regard for his impeccable and eloquent musicianship. He performs and records a broad spectrum of works spanning three centuries, from Mozart to the grand virtuoso masterpieces of Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Tchaikovsky-his repertoire includes 43 concerti. In addition to championing the works of Samuel Barber, with whom he has long been associated, he has premiered and recorded works by the contemporary American composer, Richard Cumming. "At age 65, Mr. Browning is still capable of brilliant technical feats that would defeat pianists many years his junior," proclaimed The Chicago Tribune.

Mr. Browning concertizes regularly in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, South America, New Zealand, and Australia, and has toured the Soviet Union on four occasions. In North America, he has appeared with the symphonies of Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Toronto, New Jersey and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Performances abroad with European orchestras have included the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic, London and Scottish National Symphony Orchestras, and most recently, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic with Andrew Davis.

In recent summers, Mr. Browning has collaborated with Leonard Slatkin at both the Wolf Trap and Blossom Music Festivals, Pinchas Zukerman at the Ravinia Festival, the Tokyo String Quartet at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, and Robert Spano and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood. Mr. Browning is also a favorite at other American music festivals and is frequently heard at the Hollywood Bowl, Caramoor Grant Park, Saratoga, Newport, Rockport, Seattle, St. Charles, Minnesota, and Peninsula Music Festival.

Born in Denver in 1933, John Browning began piano studies at age five and gave his first public appearance as soloist with the Denver Symphony at age ten. He subsequently moved to New York City to pursue his musical studies on scholarship with Rosina Lhevinne at The Juilliard School. He won the Steinway Centennial Award in 1954, the Leventritt Competition in 1955, and placed second in the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels the following year. Widespread attention continued when he made his professional orchestral debut in 1956 in a critically acclaimed performance with the New York Philharmonic and Dimitri Mitropoulos.

In 1962 Mr. Browning was chosen to give the world premiere of Samuel Barber's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra with Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony at the inaugural celebration of New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Written especially for John Browning, the piece was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and has since become the most frequently performed American piano concerto in the past half-century. Mr. Browning first recorded the work in 1964 with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra for the CBS Masterworks label. A new recording, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the St. Louis Symphony, was released in 1991 by BMG Classics/RCA Victor Red Seal. This earned Mr. Browning his first Grammy Award for "Best Instrumental Soloist with Orchestra" and a Grammy nomination for "Best Classical Album."

John Browning's disc of the complete Barber solo piano repertoire, released on MusicMasters in 1993, earned him a second Grammy Award for "Best Classical Instrumental Soloist without Orchestra." In 1994, Deutsche Grammophone released Mr. Browning's recording of the complete Barber songs with soprano Cheryl Studer and baritone Thomas Hampson. CD Review Magazine named the recording "Disc of the Month" and hailed Mr. Browning as "the most authoritative pianist to ever play this repertoire." A highly acclaimed recording of the Beethoven "Triple" Concerto with violinist Pinchas Zukerman, cellist Ralph Kirshbuam, and Christoph Eschenbach conducting the London Symphony Orchestra was released in 1998 by BMG Classics/RCA Victor Red Seal. He can also be heard on the Delos, Capital, RCA, and Seraphim labels which include the complete Chopin Etudes, all five of the Prokofiev piano concerti, and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. Additional releases include an all-Scarlatti disc for MusicMasters and a recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet and Horn Trio with members of the St. Luke's Chamber Ensmeble scheduled for release this season.

John Browning divides his time between homes in Maine and northern Wisconsin. In addition to the piano, he enjoys practicing the harpsichord.

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