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Martin Berkofsky at the Khachaturian Museum in Yerevan, Armenia.

"I see this terrible ambition to get ahead in many younger pianists, and it destroys the person inside. It turns people into something less than honorable, and it comes out in their playing. If a person is meant to have a career in piano, it will happen for the right reasons, not because he pushed or forced it through."

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Guestbook

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The 880-mile Celebrate Life Run begins in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 9 April, 2003; Martin Berkofsky's 60th birthday.

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On the road in Missouri.

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Celebrate Life Run concludes 880 miles later at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Illinois. CEO Richard J. Stephenson congratulates Martin Berkofsky.

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A successful Celebrate Life Run concert concludes at Missouri's Cottey College.

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Celebrate Life Run Grande Finale at Chicago's Northwestern University.

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1982 motorcycle accident in Reykjavik, Iceland. Berkofsky's doctors believed that he would never perform again.

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Physical therapy at the Reykjavik City Hospital's Grensasdeild center.

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With German manager Gunther Lazik, also a radio amateur like Berkofsky.

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Martin Berkofsky with Alan Hovhaness following a 1996 recording session with the Seattle Symphony.

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Martin Berkofsky at the Alan Hovhaness boyhood home, 5 Blossom Street, Arlington, Massachusetts. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alan Hovhaness, Berkofsky ran the marathon "All Men are Brothers" from the summit of New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock (a peak which Thoreau had likened to Armenia's Mt. Ararat,) which Hovhaness himself had climbed many times. He arrived at the Blossom Street home before speaking at the dedication of Arlington's Alan Hovhaness memorial.

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Martin Berkofsky at the Khor-Virop church and monastery. Situated at the foot of Mt. Ararat, Khor-Virop's dungeon imprisoned St. Gregory for some 14 years. Upon his release, he established the Armenian Apostolic Church. One of Alan Hovhaness' most beautiful works is titled "The Prayer of St. Gregory."

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Martin Berkofsky with his master students Atakan Sari and Sergei Podobedov.

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Martin Berkofsky, Konstantin Krimets, Atakan Sari: World Premiere performance, Alan Hovhaness Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow.

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Martin Berkofsky with Antal Dorati during London Symphony Orchestra recording session.

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RETURN TO CRISTOFORI FOUNDATION
Home Page, Cristofori Foundation.
THE VOICE OF AMERICA: MARTIN BERKOFSKY, AMERICAN PROFILES
Watch YouTube video.
MARTIN BERKOFSKY PERFORMS WITH THE ARMENIAN PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
Live performance from Khachaturian Hall, Yerevan.
MARTIN BERKOFSKY INTERVIEWS PIANIST ALESSANDRA POMPILI
A visionary and idealistic pianist speaks about music and inspiration.
THE ALAN HOVHANESS INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH CENTRE, YEREVAN, ARMENIA
The world's most extensive collection of Alan Hovhaness research materials.
ALL MEN ARE BROTHERS MEMORIAL RUN
Martin Berkofsky's marathon honouring the Alan Hovhaness Centennial.

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RUNNING TOWARDS A BETTER WORLD

RUNNING TOWARDS A BETTER WORLD: PIANIST MARTIN BERKOFSKY

BY JEFFREY WAGNER

Copyright 2005 The Instrumentalist Publishing Company

Used with permission from Clavier

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"The more I run, the less I practice, the better I play", says Martin Berkofsky. Having recovered from cancer in 2000, he began to jog daily in order to restore his energy. Radiation treatments had left him constantly tired. "I could hardly walk across the room at first", he remembers. "I had previously jogged after concerts to unwind, so that I could get some sleep. I had enjoyed that, so I gradually started jogging again. In a year or so I was up to ten miles a day."

Berkofsky, while later driving through farmlands one day, suddenly felt a strong urge to spend even more time outside. He recalls "An inner voice said 'You need to be outside the car!', so I gradually increased my distances, spending more and more time outside. This led to the idea of a long-distance run to raise money for cancer research."

"What happens to you on two feet is quite different from what happens to you on four wheels. You get an incredible sense of peace. I fall into this very steady rhythm, almost like hypnosis. Yesterday I ran 16 miles without even realizing that I was doing it. And some inner part of me is always practicing a piece of music.".

Thus Berkofsky embarked on one of the great adventures in his life, beginning a long distance run in Tulsa, Oklahoma, home of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, where he had been successfully treated. He started out on his 60th birthday, April 9th, 2003. The trip concluded the following August 20th, in Zion, Illinois, where the Cancer Treatment Centers of America also has facilities. Each day he averaged 10 to 12 miles, staying in private homes most nights, and occasionally in motels. "A network of families involved in home schooling was of great help to me. What they accomplished was incredible. I stayed in one of their homes 85% of the time. I usually had someone to help put me on the road at the beginning of the day, to collect me at the end of the day, and to help move the baggage to the next stop".

An amateur radio enthusiast since his youth, Berkofsky carried a portable radio as well as a cell-phone to keep in touch with friends and helpers. He also carried water, snacks, and a global positioning system device. "I met nothing but absolutely wonderful people along the way, 100% of the time. Every day I heard cancer survival stories, sometimes from the survivors themselves. I've never met such solid, down to earth people who say what they do, and do what they say. These were people of principle, people of kindness and generosity, people of truth, and people of faith and belief, who opened their hearts to share all that they had. There is a reason they call the American Midwest the "heartland".

Along the way, Berkofsky conducted an informal 'wave-back' survey, noting how many had waved back to him after he had first greeted them. He found that the drivers of big rig trucks and policemen had the best records, waving back nearly 100% of the time. The town of Baxter Springs, Kansas, seemed especially good-natured, with a 100% wave-back record. He wondered as he passed through it if the people in this town had discovered the secret to happiness.

Along the way, Berkofsky gave seven public recitals in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois. He also played in private homes and churches along the way. The "Grande Finale" concert took place at Northwestern University's Lutkin Hall, and included works by Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Alan Hovhaness, and an arrangement of the stirring Stars and Stripes Forever by John Phillip Sousa.

Berkofsky kept a detailed daily journal recording his experiences along the way. (The journal is now posted on the website www.celebrateliferun.com.) During a rest stop in a small Missouri town, he wrote in his journal, "We don't want just to survive cancer, we want to eliminate it." He ultimately raised over $80,000.00 in pledges for cancer research. He also received many spontaneous donations along the way, as well as complimentary soft drinks and ice-cream cones from grocery store owners when they learned of his purpose.

Prior to his cancer run, Berkofsky had long dedicated his artistic career to helping others. While living and teaching piano in Iceland, he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. After a lengthy recuperation, he gave a benefit concert for the hospital he'd been in, as a thank you for his miraculous recovery. When he later assumed a teaching position at the Izmir State Conservatory in Turkey, he continued to give benefit concerts. "When you are flat on your back in the hospital for a long time you thankfully get a chance to reflect. So, when the ethnic Turks were expelled from Bulgaria, we did a benefit to help with the educational fund for them. There was also a benefit concert to raise money for musical instruments for schools. One friend used to jokingly call me the 'benefit concert pianist.' I wanted to give concerts primarily for charity. Since then, that is what I've done."

Berkofsky now lives and teaches privately in Casanova, Virginia, while continuing to offer benefit concerts through his non-profit Cristofori Foundation. "We get requests for help through our web-site, and we do what we can. We don't have funds of our own. All of the money we give away is generated by concert proceeds. For example, we recently were able to help the family of a young girl in Pakistan that needed money for expensive leukemia treatments". Her family had found us via the internet, and applied for help. Berkofsky is particularly proud of one former Polish student who has himself established a similar foundation in Poland.

"I've had a wonderful life here in Casanova making a modest living as a teacher, and playing benefit concerts. Since I got out of a life of hustling for concerts - never saying 'no' to any engagement that came along - I've been happy." Numerous individuals and organizations in need have received funds from the Cristofori Foundation. These include an orphanage in Russia, the families of the victims of the Beslan school massacre, homeless shelters, a West Virginia community orchestra, a heart transplant recipient.

Berkofsky is grateful for his conservatory studies at the Peabody Institute with Mieczyslaw Munz, Walter Hautzig, and Konrad Wolff. At Peabody he earned both a Bachelor's and Master's degree. "I spent two years with Munz. Hautzig had also been his pupil, and said that Munz had tought him how to be a pianist - and this was after Hautzig's studies with Schnabel! Munz made me work harder than I had ever worked before. There was no compromise with him, no funny business, no excuses. It was only much later in life that I fully appreciated this. As they say, there is 'first class' and 'no class', and he made sure we knew the difference! He didn't like anything that was second-rate. One note out of place, one finger carelessly used, and he was right on top of you, sometimes a little sarcastic or caustic. You weren't allowed to get away with anything. Yet that was good for me, at age 16. Sometimes his red pencil would come out unmercifully. You learned to be tough on yourself, so that red pencil would not have to come out so often."

"He told my parents that I should drop out of high school completely and do nothing at all except study the piano because that was my future. They were horrified by this suggestion, and we finally came to a compromise that during my senior year I would attend school in the morning, and come home to practice in the afternoon."

"I spent two absolutely wonderful summers with Walter Hautzig. He imbued us with such a love of life! If you were playing Schubert, for example, he would ask you to imagine that you were sitting in a cafe in Vienna, with a glass of wine and a torte. He felt that one couldn't play without having embodied an authentic inner feeling about the music."

"I cannot remember a single bad word he ever had to say about anyone. What a gentle, peaceable, kindly gentleman. I wanted my students to know his art, so one summer I invited him here to Virginia to give master classes. He gave a wonderful all-Schubert concert, and then we all happily studied Schubert with him in master classes."

"Konrad Wolff was a direct descendant of Schnabel, so to speak. With him, one felt for a moment that one somehow crossed the line into Schnabel's studio. He made me get good Urtext scores and read them really well. He reminded me often, for example, that forte is not fortissimo. Or that crescendo does not mean to be loud right away. He didn't allow me to be intellectually lazy. He used to say, 'Be exciting, not excited'.

"Another wonderful early influence on me was the 'cellist, Hermann Busch, at the Marlboro Music Festival. He had been in the famous trio with Rudolf Serkin who had married into his family. Every time I would play a phrase badly, he would stop me and, in his kindly professorial way, he'd say, 'Now sing that phrase.' I would do so and then he'd say, 'Now play it the way you just sang it.' It worked everytime. From him I learned that the music itself, if you pay attention to it, tells you what to do. He worked miracles with me."

While a member of the Long Island Chamber Ensemble in 1971, Berkofsky met another great musical figure, the composer Alan Hovhaness. "We were doing a piece by him named 'O Lady Moon'. We loved the piece, and we were interested to learn that Hovhaness lived in New York. We asked him to do another piece for us. He accepted the commission, and jokingly said 'Since you've done my piece about the moon, I'm going to take it further and do one called Saturn, and as we got to know each other, we'd often walk around the city, and talk. I recall him looking up toward the heavens, saying quietly, 'Every musician should study astronomy so that they'd have humility'.

"Hovhaness never had a harsh word for anyoneone or anything. He seemed absolutely at peace with the universe. I learned from him that if one is to be an artist of any kind, with something to say to the rest of the world, one first has to be at peace. After a rehearsal before we recorded his Concerto No. 10 for Piano and Trumpet in Seattle, I had many questions for him. I wanted his advice on everything, so I eagerly started in. Yet instead of tearing me apart, he simply answered all of my questions clearly, and thanked me sincerely for playing his music. Only the greatest of people have such humility. He tought one how to be the person one ought to be, before even putting a finger on the piano."

"Hovhaness lived very simply; he seemed completely unmaterialistic. He lived in old run down hotels, and composed on a beaten upright piano. His writing table was an old cardboard box. He loved all of nature, mountains especially. Many of his pieces were inspired by mountains. In his youth he had visited the mountains of New England, and when he lived in Seattle, you could see Mt. Rainier from the back window of his house on a clear day. I believe he lived in the mountains of Switzerland for a time, too. I thought of him instantly when I visited the capital of his ancestral homeland, Armenia, to give a concert of his music. I saw the Biblical mountain, Mt. Ararat, looming over the city from a distance. This is the mountain where supposedly Noah's ark was found.

Hovhaness, who died in 2000, was a strong admirer of Berkofsky, and wrote of his playing: "You have discovered the spiritual pianissimo - like the whispered melodies in the last [sonatas of Schubert]...I think you have had a spiritual experience so that you know the sound, the meaning and message in...music. A great pianissimo is a great thing indeed! Your spiritual pianissimo rings a bell in my memory of Paderewski when he was still at his height as a pianist, around 1924, when he played the Schubert Moment Musicale in A Flat. He then had a spiritual power in his playing. His recordings, made later, are very bad. You are the true prophet of Liszt in this music of spiritual angelic sound...I like the way you perform my music, and you understand it exactly as it should sound, and the spirit you have brought to life - many thanks - I work hard on a new symphony - I try to make the orchestra sing and whisper and thunder just as you create sound through the piano.".

Berkofsky recalls that "In 1954 Hovhaness composed a two-piano concerto for a team who separated before ever performing it. The work was never published, nor was the commission ever paid him. In the 1970s he gave me the score, asking if I might get it recorded or performed. I promised I would do my best. It took me 30 years to do it, but last March the world premiere was given in Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. One of my best students, the young Turkish pianist Atakan Sari, was the other pianist. Konstantin Krimets conducted. A recording of the work we made will soon be released."

In his teaching and mentoring of young talents, both local Virginia students, and students who come from around the world, Berkofsky tries to instill essential principles. He described these principles in a talk given at Rutgers University in 1991: "Our job is to bring beauty and inspiration to others and to do this through the most honest and humble search for these qualities within our unique selves, and then within our unique work. We must painstakingly increase our knowledge, and refine and re-refine our results until we are certain that until some new enlightenment falls to us, we have done the best that we possibly can. Yet, in any human endeavor that attempts to transcend mortal bounds, we always know that we still do not know".

Between concerts and lessons, Berkofsky continues his jogging, and looks ahead. Near the end of his journey Martin Berkofsky wrote, "I train daily at the piano in a local church for the coming concerts, and on a local park path to keep fit for the final miles, which in the journey of life shall be but the beginning".

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