John Browning


Born: May 23, 1933 Died: January 26, 2003
John Browning ranks among the very few truly virtuoso pianists of the post-Vladimir Horowitz era. A large technique, the ability to draw a broad spectrum of colors and deep reserves of sound from his instrument, and total investment in his work have marked him as one of the most important artists of his time. Among his American contemporaries, he alone has sustained a career in which there has been only a steady enrichment of artistry without detours caused by injury or emotional crisis.

His parents were both musicians: his father a violinist, his mother a pianist. He grew up in Denver and began keyboard studies at five years of age. He recalls the aftermath of a civic concert in which composer/pianist Béla Bartók and violinist Joseph Szigeti visited his parents' home and he saw his mother sitting at her piano turning pages for Bartók. His first public appearance came as soloist with the Denver Symphony at the age of 10. Summer classes with Josef and Rosina Lhévinne later led to more extended study with Mrs. Lhévinne at Juilliard School of Music in New York. When the family moved to Los Angeles, further studies with Lee Pattison solidified an increasingly solid technique and introduced him to most of the works that now form his repertory.

Several major awards propelled Browning to a successful career. In 1954, he won the Steinway Centennial Award, in 1955 he placed first in the esteemed Leventritt Competition, and in 1956 he gained second prize in the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels.

In 1956, Browning made his debut with the New York Philharmonic and has since appeared in nearly every important music center in the world. His debut recording, taped when he was 25 and now available once more on CD, reveals a fully fledged musician, already in complete possession of a polished technique and a probing musicality.

Browning's artistry attracted the attention of composer Samuel Barber, and in 1962 a new piano concerto was introduced to the public in New York with Browning performing under the direction of Erich Leinsdorf. The Barber Piano Concerto was applauded by the critics and audience alike and has, ever since, remained the centerpiece of Browning's repertory. Two recordings were made, the first with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, the second with Leonard Slatkin directing the St. Louis Symphony. The latter was awarded the first of two Grammys won by Browning (his second was for a collection of Barber solo piano pieces).

A select repertory, all of it tailored to a pianist of Olympian power and authority, embraces Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Ravel. Among later twentieth century composers, Barber figures prominently, as does Richard Cumming, who has also written several solo piano works for Browning.

In addition to appearances with most of the major orchestras in the United States and Europe, Browning has toured Russia on four occasions and is a regular guest at America's most celebrated summer festivals. He has been featured at Ravinia, Tanglewood, the Blossom Music Festival, Wolf Trap, and at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival.