Critic's Pick: Peter Serkin

Critic's Pick: Peter Serkin
Pianist Peter Serkin performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2000. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

In the 1960s, Rudolf Serkin, one the world's most revered pianists, used to fret about his hippie son, Peter. There was little question that Peter Serkin, a piano prodigy, had the capacity to follow in his father's famous footsteps. At 19, the younger Serkin already had won a Grammy. But the pianist, who plays a recital at Broad Stage on Sunday afternoon, was clearly headed on his own route.

After dropping out for a few years to find himself, he helped found Tashi, one of the first countercultural classical chamber ensembles. He has gone his own middle way ever since. That has meant respecting his father's tradition of bringing to the Austro-German classics -- particularly Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms – an approach that honors purity. But he also has an expansive repertory, with Chopin a particular specialty.


Serkin, moreover, attends the present. He revered Messiaen, whose "Quartet for the End of Time" became Tashi's calling card. Serkin was close to the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and best friends with the American Peter Lieberson, and both late composers wrote their finest piano music for him.

Hardly a hippie in appearance any longer – he tends these days to dress like a banker – but he plays with the attention, care, enlightened reserve and illuminating touch of a Zen master. Still, Serkin can seem a loner, without grand careerist ambition and performing when and where he wants to, reserving much of his time for teaching and his family. But that means that he makes every appearance a matter of devotion.

Sunday's program is typical Peter Serkin. It begins with a capriccio by Dutch Baroque composer Pieterszoon Sweelinck and includes a scherzo by Charles Wuorinen (whose  new opera, "Brokeback Mountain,"  premiered in Spain in January). The more familiar pieces are a Beethoven piano sonata ("Les Adieux") and set of late bagatelles (Opus 126), along with Dane Carl Neilsen's quirky Theme and Variations.