Rami Bar-Niv, pianist & composer

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

It seems I didn’t choose music; it chose me. I was five when my mother, the piano teacher, started giving my older brother piano lessons. However, that lasted just one day and my brother proclaimed that piano was for girls. I was next in line.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My mother, who was my first piano teacher and who taught me for my first 7 years

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Music as a profession is a challenge. Being a piano soloist is a challenge. Being a composer is a challenge. Jealous people who wish to see you fail are a challenge.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am actually proud of every performance and every recording I have done in the 60 years of my music career, whether it’s the recital I gave in Cairo being the first and only Israeli concert artist to perform in Egypt (May 1982) or a concert of my compositions in Tel Aviv (May 2013), or a live radio broadcast of a concert with my compositions in Jerusalem (April 2006).

I am also proud of all my recordings, whether solo, chamber music, or my own compositions. However, in recent years an old recording of mine got reviewed on the American magazine Fanfare. There are 2 piano concertos on the CD, Grieg and Schumann. Here is an excerpt from the review that appeared in Issue 38:6 (July/Aug 2015) of Fanfare Magazine:

The pianist at the center of it all, Rami Bar-Niv, is so utterly magnificent. These performances invigorate these two concert hall chestnuts with new vigor, incomparable authority, and a scintillating intelligence. What’s more, they are at once big-boned, earnest, and technically unimpeachable. Bar-Niv sports a musical patina comparable to that of a great contralto or avuncular baritone, whose hardy, opulent chest voice lends warmth and sincerity to every phrase. What emerges are readings so fundamentally honest and devoid of egoistic interference as to disclose the works’s immanent truth content. To that extent, one might say, without any undue exaggeration, that Bar-Niv is the Kathleen Ferrier or the Fischer Dieskau of the piano. In this breathtaking performance, which Bar-Niv proffers with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under the capable and unfailingly lively leadership of Noam Sheriff, not a note is devoid of significance. Nor does any one of its echt-familiar melodic fragments emerge without trajectory, power, and purpose. There is a humbling dignity about this reading that is not merely compelling, but disarms the listener with its directness. Indeed, Bar-Niv is a shrewd musical interlocutor, whose mastery is so comprehensive as to convey affective nuance with white hot intensity. It is a stunning achievement in every conceivable musical category.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I like different repertoire and tend to believe that whatever I perform I do justice to: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, the Romantics, 20th century and beyond, Ragtime, as well as my own compositions.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I choose programs I like and I like a variety, though often I also stick to a single composer, period, country, style, or subject. Sometimes there are specific requests in a program and I comply with that too.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’ve performed all over the world, in the finest and largest concert halls and in the smallest unfit-for-concert rooms. Yes, the big beautiful halls are great to perform in, but bottom line, for me any performance is a performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Many. The concert in Cairo, performing for 5000 young people in Mexico, soloing with orchestras all over the world, and of course concerts devoted to my own compositions.

As a composer, how would you describe your musical language/compositional style?

I compose in two different styles, this is true at least about my concert music. Israeli pieces and American Ragtime. I also composed many pop songs mainly in Hebrew.

Does your performing career inform your composing and vice versa?

I started composing concert music rather later in life and when I did, I naturally started including my compositions in my programs. I composed a song cycle for a concert tour that was cancelled, but the piece is probably my strongest composition. I composed variations on a famous New Zealand song for one of my concert tours in New Zealand.

Who/what are the major influences on your composing?

I was heavily influenced by my classical-music upbringing and education. In my Israeli music I was influenced by my composition teachers like Paul Ben-Haim whose style was known as the Mediterranean Style. In my American music I was influenced by Joplin and Gershwin. That is not to say that other composers didn’t influence me too. My compositions were also influenced by Jewish music and by jazz.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I consider it a success when I am asked to perform rather than chasing performance opportunities. I consider it success when people asking for my compositions, or when  people ask me for piano lessons and come to my piano camps for adults on both coasts in the USA. I consider it success when people buy my CDs and my sheet music online. I consider it success when my piano-fingering book is selling in the thousands.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

First I would recommend no short cuts, but rather thorough study and hard work. Then I’d recommend finding yourself, your uniqueness, and being yourself. Then, go get it; believe in yourself and never give up.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Alive, and well after the publication of my autobiography.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Seeing the fruit of my actions, both in my work and in my family and my grand children

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

What is your present state of mind?

Still sane.


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