Benjamin Hochman became a musician almost by chance. As a five-year-old, growing up in Jerusalem, he had a caregiver in the afternoon who was also a music teacher. She taught him a few folk tunes and he learned them so quickly that she told his parents he had talent and should get music lessons. His parents were music-lovers but all they had ever played was recordings.
Hochman, who will open the Maverick Concerts season for 2014 on Sunday, June 29, went on to study at the Rubin Academy in Israel until he was 16, when he came to the U.S. to audition for the Curtis Institute, one of the most prestigious music schools in the world. He was accepted and studied there with Claude Frank until his graduation, then went on to further studies at the Mannes School of Music with Richard Goode, with whom he still occasionally coaches. Since 2010 he has won the Avery Fischer Career Grant, made three CDs, collaborated with numerous major orchestras and well-known soloists, and joined the piano faculty of Bard College.
I caught up with Hochman on the phone from Berlin, where he was about to play his fourth performance of Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto on tour with the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra under Leon Botstein (following St. Petersburg, Budapest, and Vienna). He is one of the relatively few elite pianists who is able to make a living from playing, but I asked him if the burden of touring outweighed the pleasure of performing. “I feel tremendously fortunate,” he said, “that I have the luxury and privilege of playing music every day, sharing it with others and being paid for it. But it’s also a very demanding life. It takes a lot of stamina and dedication.”
Hochman will be collaborating with the Shanghai Quartet in the opening concert of the 2014 Maverick Concerts season on June 29. The previous evening, the 28th, he will be playing across the river at Bard for the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle series, a program of the three Brahms Violin Sonatas with his wife, violinist Jennifer Koh. “It’s a challenge playing two different programs so close together,” he told me, “but it does happen. Scheduling sometimes works in funny ways. But diversity is part of what makes life as a performer exciting.” Collaborating with Koh comes naturally, since the couple lives together in New York. However, Hochman has never performed with the Shanghai Quartet before. But he has played with the first violinist and the cellist at the Marlboro Music Festival, “so I know half of the quartet.” At Maverick they will be playing Bright Sheng’s “Dance Capriccio,” written for the Shanghai Quartet. Also on the program are two Czech masterpieces, Janácek’s “In the Mist” for solo piano and Dvorák’s Quintet for Piano and Strings.
Hochman is very pleased to be making his Maverick Concerts debut, having heard about the series and its home from numerous colleagues. “I hear it has marvelous acoustics, and it’s a very special space,” he says. From Maverick, he goes on this summer to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, a festival in Maine (including the premiere of a trio by the highly-regarded Kaija Saariaho), and back to the Hudson Valley for Schubert at the Bard Music Festival in August.