“May I?” asked Yefim (“Fima”) Bronfman, the acclaimed pianist, eager yet understated to Luba Poliak, who had just played Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in Bb major, Op. 84 as part of a Master Class performance for an intimate crowd in the Weill Art Gallery of the 92nd Street Y. Poliak graciously stepped aside and Bronfman sat down on the piano bench to demonstrate what he meant by “more orchestral”. The crowd was silent, absorbed in the exchange between Bronfman, the virtuoso, and Poliak, the 92nd Street Y piano and chamber faculty member, who made her debut at age eleven – hardly a beginner.
After the first exchange the pair easily transitioned, Poliak at the piano, then Bronfman, then Poliak – Bronfman dexterously illustrative. “It’s much more difficult,” he offered empathetically after he demonstrated what sounded to even my uneducated ear like a particularly difficult interpretation to replicate, “but more effective.” Such is always the process of improving our craft, whatever it is, even for the limited few of us who make our career debut at age eleven. Excellence is difficult and fulfillment is seldom found in settling with no desire to improve.