Peter Adolf Serkin (born July 24, 1947) is an American pianist.
Peter Serkin was born in New York City, the son of pianist Rudolf Serkin, and grandson of the influential violinist Adolf Busch, whose daughter Irene had married Rudolf Serkin. Peter was given the middle name Adolf in honor of his grandfather.
In 1958, at age 11, Serkin began studying at the Curtis Institute of Music, where his teachers included the Polish pianist Mieczysław Horszowski, the American virtuoso Lee Luvisi, as well as his own father. He graduated in 1965. He also studied with Ernst Oster, flutist Marcel Moyse, and Karl Ulrich Schnabel.
His concert career began in 1959, when he first performed at the Marlboro Music Festival, a seminal agent and incubator of chamber music performance in the U.S., established in 1951 by the elder Serkin, Hermann and Adolf Busch, along with Marcel, Blanche and Louis Moyse. Following that performance, Peter Serkin was invited to play with major orchestras such as the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy.
In 1966, at age 19, Serkin was awarded the Grammy Award for Best New Classical Artist|Most Promising New Classical Recording Artist. Three of his recordings have won Grammy nominations (one of them features six Mozart concertos; the two others feature the music of Olivier Messiaen) and his recordings have won other awards. Serkin was the first pianist to receive the Premio Internazionale Musicale Chigiana award and he received an honorary doctorate from the New England Conservatory of Music in 2001.
In 1968, shortly after marrying and becoming a father, Serkin decided to stop playing music altogether. In the winter of 1971, he, his wife, and baby daughter Karina moved to a small rural town in Mexico. About eight months later, on a Sunday morning, Serkin heard the music of Johann Sebastian Bach being broadcast over the radio from a neighbor's house. As he listened, he said, "It became clear to me that I should play." He returned to the U.S. and began his musical career anew.
Since then, Serkin has performed around the world with leading orchestras and such conductors as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Pierre Boulez, Simon Rattle, James Levine, and Christoph Eschenbach. He has made numerous recordings, on such labels as RCA Victor, featuring music from Bach (including four recordings of the Goldberg Variations - the first made when he was 18, the fourth when he was 47), Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, and Dvořák as well as numerous more recent composers such as Reger, Berg, Webern, Schoenberg, Messiaen, Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen, Peter Lieberson, Stefan Wolpe and Charles Wuorinen.
Serkin is a committed performer of new and recent music, having premiered or been the dedicatee of many new works by such composers as Takemitsu, Lieberson, Knussen, Wuorinen and Elliott Carter. The American composer Ned Rorem writes of Serkin, "His uniqueness lies, as I hear it, in a friendly rather than over-awed approach to the classics, which nonetheless plays with the care and brio that is in the family blood, and he's not afraid to be ugly. He approaches contemporary music with the same depth as he does the classics, and he is unique among the superstars in that he approaches it at all."
Among prominent virtuosi, Peter Serkin was one of the first to experiment with period fortepianos, and the first to record late Beethoven sonatas on pianos of both the modern as well as Beethoven's era.
Serkin has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, András Schiff, Alexander Schneider, Pamela Frank, Harold Wright, the Guarneri Quartet, the Budapest Quartet, and other prominent musicians and ensembles, such as principal wind players of major American orchestras. In addition, he is one of the founding members of TASHI and has recorded for a variety of labels. He has taught at the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music and currently is on faculty at the Bard College Conservatory of Music as well as other institutions. Among those who have studied piano with him are Orit Wolf, Simone Dinnerstein, and Cecile Licad.
He has five children and two grandchildren and lives in Massachusetts with his wife Regina.
- Stephen Lehmann and Marion Farber, Rudolf Serkin: A Life (Oxford, 2003), p. 96.
- Frank Conroy, Dogs Bark, but the Caravan Rolls On (New York, 2002), 186–195.
- Conroy, 186–195.