Stephen Kovacevich is one of the most searching interpreters. As a pianist he has won unsurpassed admiration for his playing of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and Schubert. In addition to his long and distinguished career as a soloist he has conducted for many years, winning warm praise for his work with orchestras throughout the world in repertoire from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Born in Los Angeles, Stephen Kovacevich made his concert debut as a pianist at the age of 11. When he was 18 he moved to England to study with Dame Myra Hess. His international reputation has been built both on his concert appearances, renowned for their thoughtfulness and re-creative intensity, and on the highly acclaimed recordings he has made throughout his career.
Kovacevich has enjoyed two long-term relationships with recording companies, first Philips and then EMI. His concerto recordings for Philips, including Beethoven, Schumann and Bartók, have long been staples of the catalogue. As an exclusive EMI artist, he recorded both Brahms Piano Concertos with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Sawallisch; No 1 was Grammy-nominated and won the 1993 Gramophone Award and the Stereo Review Record of the Year, while No 2 won the Diapason D’Or.
The other great projects with EMI were a compelling series of Schubert Sonatas and a set of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas completed in 2003, hailed as one of the most authoritative ever recorded. One critic described The Hammerklavier as: ‘an unflinching, sometimes combative view of a titanic masterpiece, and a version to be spoken of in the same breath as those of Brendel, Gilels and Pollini… Kovacevich announces the music’s potency from the first bar.’ His subsequent CD release of Chopin and Ravel won Choc du Monde de la Musique and Recompense Classica/Repertoire.
Kovacevich has recently recorded Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations for Onyx Classics, exactly 40 years after his first recording of the work for Philips in 1968. The CD will be coupled with Bach’s Partita No. 4, Kovacevich’s first Bach recording and is due for release in January 2009.
Stephen Kovacevich has appeared with orchestras worldwide. During the 2006/7 and 2007/8 seasons he performed all the Beethoven concertos and symphonies as conductor / soloist with the London Mozart Players. Highlights of this season include concerto appearances with Yannick-Nézét-Séguin and Rotterdam Philharmonic, Lawrence Foster and Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, a Play and Direct project with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and recitals in London, Houston, Beijing and Shanghai.
Since making his conducting debut in 1984 with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Kovacevich has conducted many of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, London Mozart Players, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Ulster Orchestra, Gulbenkian and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras and the Tapiola Sinfonietta. After his London conducting debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, the Daily Telegraph critic Geoffrey Norris wrote: ‘…he brought precision and crispness combined with a full tone and galvanising immediacy. Structure was unshakeable; these performances really made one sit up and take note.’
After an initial concentration on 18th-century music (especially Mozart), Kovacevich’s conducting repertoire has expanded to include 19th-century Romantic music, including the symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and a memorable Sibelius Symphony No 4.
He is also a committed chamber musician. During the 2008/09 season he has a mini-residency of Brahms and Bartok chamber music at the Wigmore Hall. Other appearances include chamber recitals at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the Vienna Musikveren. He has lived in London for many years.