Following his 2019 Navona Records release BRAHMSIANA, pianist Steven Masi returns with a full program of piano works by composer Franz Schubert on SCHUBERT LATE WORKS. Lauded by critics for his masterful touch and dynamic style, Masi capitalizes on the unrivaled emotive power of solo piano throughout this album, drawing out a voice from the instrument that is profoundly human.

Today, Steven is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about his love for Baseball, and the message from a former teacher that changed his perspective on music…

What musical mentor had the greatest impact on your artistic journey? Is there any wisdom they’ve imparted onto you that still resonates today?

Shortly after I graduated from Juilliard I met the great pianist and teacher Irma Wolpe. She asked me to play for her and I played Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata. She sat for a while in silence and after many uncomfortable moments uttered, “You play so middle of the road.” I was stunned, but Irma was right. At school I had been taught to rein in any approach that might “offend” members of a jury in a competition. While that had some practical benefit, it had nothing to do with music. She changed my life. Irma’s message was all about music, listening to your heart, and understanding that making beauty was your only job. I’ve always tried to hold onto that. She was a great friend and inspiration for many years and I’ll always be grateful for how she graced my life.

What’s the greatest performance you’ve ever seen, and what made it special?

When I was living in Germany in the 1980’s I had the opportunity to hear Sviatoslav Richter play in Bonn. In a darkened hall, with only a floor lamp as lighting, the great man played Schubert’s magnificent “unfinished” C Major Sonata. Most pianists play only the two completed movements or a reconstructed version using fragments of the third and fourth movements that were left unfinished. That night Richter played up to where Schubert’s pen was put down in the third movement. His left hand dropped out, his right had played a few more bars, and he suddenly stopped. The audience sat in stunned silence. The playing had been mesmerizing and that, combined with the eerie feeling that we had watched the young composer finishing a day’s work that he would not live long enough to continue, made any reaction impossible. After many minutes, a seeming eternity, the listeners broke out into a thunderous ovation. I’ll never forget it.

What have been your biggest inspirations on your musical journey?

That’s a hard question. There are so many. Off the top of my head I’d say I was most inspired by Edwin Fischer. His playing seemed to combine intense humanity with the divine. Ecstatic at times, and other worldly at others; he had a shining, beautiful piano sound and a moving purity. This was playing that went beyond pretty. It was meaningful.

Take us on a walk through your musical library. What record gets the most plays? Are there any “deep cuts” that you particularly enjoy?

In a changing world my musical library, once shelves of LPs, now consists of playlists on Spotify. Claudio Abbado’s Schubert Ninth Symphony with Orchestra Mozart gets the most plays. In short, my favorite conductor, with a lifetime of experience, is leading my favorite symphony. The Schubert Cello Quintet played by the Amadeus Quartet as well as their performance of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with Karl Leister are both favorites of mine. Fischer’s Brahms Second Concerto, Radu Lupu’s many recordings, Arrau’s Beethoven set… you know what I mean. I also enjoy listening to the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows, Fred Astaire singing Never Gonna’ Dance, and the Bill Evans stuff with Scott Lafaro and Paul Motian. I can go on and on.

What are your other passions besides music?

Baseball. Not just the great game itself, but for the many hours I’ve been able to share it with my son.

What emotions do you hope listeners will experience after hearing your work?

I recently heard a performance by my wife, clarinetist Diana Petrella that left me with the experience that I think is my ideal. The achingly beautiful sound that she made brought the music’s melancholy straight to my heart. It’s finding the right sound and illuminating and structuring a piece through the quality of sound that interests me. I don’t want to hear ideas. I want listeners to experience the emotions we all share, communicated with beauty. To let the music do what it is written to do.

Explore Steven Masi’s Latest Release



SCHUBERT LATE WORKS is available now from Navona Records. Click here to visit the catalog page and explore this album.