In a field in which each season heralds the arrival of new "talents" who are soon forgotten, pianist Murray Perahia has remained a reliable and immensely gifted presence on the international scene for more than three decades. Perahia began his music studies at the age of five with lessons from Jeanette Haien, who remained his teacher until he was well into his teens. In 1964 Perahia entered the Mannes College of Music in New York, where he studied composition and conducting; though both endeavors remained secondary to his career as a pianist, the latter proved particularly useful when, decades later, Perahia conducted and recorded a complete cycle of Mozart's piano concerti from the keyboard. Perahia pursued further piano studies with Artur Balsam and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. He also attended the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, which brought him into contact and collaboration with such artists as Rudolf Serkin, Pablo Casals, and the Budapest Quartet.
In 1968 Perahia made his Carnegie Hall debut to much acclaim, and his concert career blossomed in short order. He made headlines in 1972 by taking top honors at the prestigious Leeds Piano Competition, the first American to do so--and, no less, by unanimous decision. Perahia's success at Leeds led to his London recital debut at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1973. Later that year he appeared at the Aldeburgh Festival, where he worked closely with the festival's founders, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. After Britten's declining health made it impossible for him to continue as Pears' accompanist, Perahia became one of Pears' frequent and favorite recital partners. In 1975 Perahia shared with cellist Lynn Harrell the first Avery Fisher Prize, intended to aid in the development of the most promising American musical careers. In 1981 he was appointed co-artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, a position he retained through 1989.
Perahia is often described as a "musician's musician," one who does not adopt a virtuoso persona but performs with a distinctive directness, without exaggerated or demonstrative gestures. His playing is clean and meticulous, his sound cool, transparent, sparkling, and exquisitely shaded. He is best known for his performances of Classical and early Romantic repertoire; from the late 1990s he developed an especial reputation as an interpreter of Bach. In 2000, his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations was awarded two Grammy nominations for Best Classical Album and Best Instrumental Soloist.
Perahia's popularity has been sustained largely through his extensive catalogue of recordings. He signed an exclusive contract with CBS Masterworks in 1973 and has remained with that label through its corporate transformation into Sony Classics. His recordings have received numerous accolades, including multiple Grammies and Gramophone Awards for Instrumental Record of the Year. In addition to his Mozart concerto cycle, he has recorded all five Beethoven piano concerti with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as Schumann's complete works for piano and orchestra.