The pianist Martin Berkofsky, who died yesterday, restored and recorded little-known concertos for two pianos by Bruch, Mendelssohn and Moscheles. Here’s an appreciation we have received from his friend, Roberto Prosseda:
Yesterday the pianist Martin Berkofsky (Washington, 1943) passed away in his home in Virginia, USA. Martin was a close friend of mine and I consider him one of the greatest and original pianists of our time, even if he was not famous and was not interested in the public career.
He actually had a very unusual artistic career: after an international concert activity (with recordings for EMI, Vox, Nimbus, Turnabout), in 1982 he had a motorcycle accident in Iceland and remained paralyzed for months. After recovering, he decided to stop a career based on business and success, and gave concerts only for free or for raising funds for benefit institutions.
In 1993 Martin was diagnosed a prostate cancer. After recovering he started a concert tours in hospitals and private houses from Tulsa (city where he was treated, at the Cancer Treatment Center), to Chicago. He raised 80.000 USD for the cancer research.
I met Martin by coincidence some years ago, when I was searching for a rare score by Mendelssohn/Moscheles (the Variations on a theme from Weber’s “Preciosa”, in the original version for two pianos and orchestra). I found in internet that Martin had recorded this piece in the ‘70s. I wrote him asking information about the score (unpublished) and the day after he sent me a copy of the manuscript. I was surprised by this unusually generous approach, and looked more about his career and life. So I learned about his interest for bringing music in hospitals and in other places out of the concert halls, and for his philantropic activities.
Martin came to Italy in 2010 at the Donatori di Musica national conference (www.donatoridimusica.it), a network of musicians, doctors and volunteers started in 2007, which runs concert seasons in Oncology departments of Italian hospitals.
Martin was diagnosed a second cancer (esophagus) in 2011 and still was able to make two Liszt recordings. The first (2011) was released onCD for Arts label (www.artsmusic.de), this recording was donated to to Donatori di Musica. This CD is available and shows his unique way of playing the piano and of conceiving the musical expression. The second recording (2012) is still unpublished.
The way Martin reacted to the illness was incredible. He always said that the two cancers were the two biggest gifts that he received. Thanks to them, he found a real sense of life, of making music, of sharing and donating the beauty with others.
Martin was not famous at all. But I am quite sure that some of his recordings will remain in the history.
You will find more on his Facebook page. He was active on Facebook till few hours before death.