A marquee name among classical pianists since the 1970s, Maurizio Pollini has been noted for performances of some of the most monumental of contemporary music, and for pairing such works with standard repertory of the 19th century.
Pollini's decades-long relationship as a recording artist with the Deutsche Grammophon label has been among the most stable in years. Pollini was born January 5, 1942, in Milan. His father was modernist architect and educator Gino Pollini. In 1957, in Milan, he performed a concert of Chopin Etudes that drew wide attention. Pollini attended the Milan Conservatory and won several major prizes as he completed his formal education, including the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1960. Arthur Rubinstein, one of the judges, is said to have remarked that the boy "can play the piano better than any of us." Pollini's concert and recording careers were launched, and his made his recording debut on the EMI label with the Philharmonia Orchestra, playing Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11. In the early and mid-'60s, however, Pollini hesitated, withdrawing from the scene for further study with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Michelangeli's precise and graceful style exerted a formative influence on Pollini, who returned to the scene amidst the student unrest in the late '60s and together with conductor Claudio Abbado, performed concerts for students and workers. He made a major reappearance with his Carnegie Hall debut in New York in 1968, and for the next 50 years he would be an almost uninterrupted presence in the world's top concert halls. He has played contemporary works, including some, such as Luigi Nono's ... sofferte onde serene ... that were composed for him, and he has often paired the likes of Nono, Pierre Boulez (whose profoundly difficult Piano Sonata No. 2 is one of his specialties), and Karlheinz Stockhausen with Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann, as if to emphasize the continuity of the classical tradition. In 1987 he rejoined Abbado, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, in New York for performances of all five of Beethoven's piano concertos. Later in his career he conducted piano concertos from the keyboard, and has sometimes led performances of opera. Beginning in 2000 he has presented concert series under the name "Pollini Project" (or Progetto Pollini) that have paired 19th century and contemporary works. Pollini made his first recording for the Deutsche Grammophon label in 1971, featuring works by Stravinsky and Prokofiev. In 2019 he released a recording on Deutsche Grammophon of works by Chopin, who has always remained at the center of his repertory. Although sometimes sidelined by illness, he has remained active in the concert hall and recording studio well into old age. Among his many awards is a 2007 Grammy for Best Solo Instrumental Performance, again for a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Chopin.