Son of one of the recording era's most rigorous interpreters of piano music from the Classical age, Peter Serkin has propounded equal rigor as a pianist and musical voyageur, but in rather different directions. With a measure of integrity scarcely less than that demonstrated by his father, Rudolf, Peter Serkin has sought to serve the music of his own time while not neglecting masterworks of the past. An earlier tipping of the scales that gave the advantage to contemporary music has gradually centered itself to allow for attention to established works.
Given the level of performance heard in his own home, Peter Serkin's early interest in music was scarcely surprising. First lessons came from his father, but later, in 1958, the young pianist was enrolled at the Curtis Institute to study with Lee Luvisi. Advanced lessons with Mieczyslaw Horszowski (who was still an active performer when he died at age 100) played an important part of the formation of Serkin's musical persona, as did instruction from flutist Marcel Moyse. By his early teens, the pianist had already become a veteran performer and those artists with whom he collaborated were also significant in the shaping of his interests. His performances of the Mozart Double Piano Concerto with George Szell, Szell's superbly prepared Cleveland Orchestra, and his father as keyboard partner are well-remembered. Once Serkin began to perform on his own, however, the repertory he performed took a pronounced turn toward the new and unusual and was offered in concerts scheduled for what he regarded as special occasions and venues. Time spent in India seemed to have both galvanized Serkin's dedication to a career and further expanded his notions of how music might be formed. The founding of the contemporary music group Tashi brought him together with violinist Ida Kavafian, cellist Fred Sherry, and Robert Marcellus-trained clarinetist Richard Stoltzman for study and performance of new works. Live performances and recordings by the ensemble only enhanced the celebrity of its players while in the process, much worthwhile music gained a new audience. Serkin's performances and recordings embrace the music of several centuries. He has recorded Bach and Mozart while a solo disc for Koch International Classics holds works by Webern, Wolpe, Messiaen, Knussen, Wuorinen, Lieberson, and Takemitsu. Lieberson's Piano Concerto No. 1 and No. 2 were both premiered by Serkin and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1983 and 1998, respectively. During the 2001-2002 season, Serkin scheduled a series of concerts offering the music of Schoenberg, chamber and solo works alike, and mixing them with pieces by Haydn. During his career, Peter Serkin has performed with many of the world's most celebrated orchestras and in numerous festival venues. He serves on the faculties of the Curtis Institute, the Juilliard School of Music, and the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1983, he was honored by becoming the first pianist to have been given the outstanding achievement award granted by Siena's Accademia Musicale Chigiana.