Becoming Alina Bercu

How does a little Jewish girl from a small town in Romania grow up to be an award-winning concert pianist of international stature, achieving mastery of the vast classical repertoire?  Check out YouTube videos of Alina Bercu playing the music of Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Saint-Saens, Albeniz, Ravel, and Prokofiev, and you’ll see what I mean.  Amazon has a CD of her performing Schubert, Ysaÿe, and Brahms with violinist Ilian Garnetz.

Mozart’s father was a musician, and Picasso’s father was also an artist, so it’s tempting to think Alina Bercu proved to have musical talent because her parents are musicians.  Not true.  Not only that, but music wasn’t even on the agenda initially.  When Alina was little, her mom noticed that she liked to draw, so art seemed an obvious choice.  The girl did well in school, was full of energy, and needed extracurricular activities to keep her busy.

After several failed attempts to find an art teacher at a local children’s club, Mrs. Bercu, entirely by chance (?), met a teacher who happened to be in the club building that day.  “What do you teach?”  “Piano.”  “Do you have room for another student?”  “Yes.”  So seven-year-old Alina was enrolled in Mrs. Magdalena Toma’s piano class.  Divine intervention?  I like it better than “fate” or “random mutation.”

Bercu was a disciplined, self-motivated child, eager to learn and willing to put in long hours of practice every day.  As a result, she made progress very quickly — so quickly, in fact that her parents decided she needed more advanced training after a while.  Bercu’s second piano teacher, Mrs. Stela Drăgulin, recalls meeting her for the first time

I agreed to hear Alina play because an acquaintance asked me to do that. My God, what a surprise! The little girl played some very amusing folk pieces for me. She missed a few notes here and there ... but she seemed so decisive, so determined, that I agreed to give her lessons once a week. There was no reason to do more initially because I had no idea what the future held. When I saw she took piano seriously, I realized professional-level training was needed.

In 2006, the sixteen-year-old Bercu was able to leave post-communist Romania for even more advanced training in Germany, enrolling in the University of Music Franz Liszt in Weimar.  She has taken part in master classes by such world-famous pianists as Rudolf Buchbinder, Andras Schiff, Menahem Pressler, and Karl-Heinz Kämmerling.  In May 2018, Bercu was appointed assistant professor of music at Franz Liszt.  She holds dual German-Romanian citizenship and is fluent in Romanian, German, and English.

According to her website, Bercu has performed all over Europe as well as the United States (Carnegie Hall) and Japan, solo and with major orchestras.  In the Jewish mitzvah tradition, she has given charity concerts in Indonesia.  She has won international competitions that dozens of aspiring pianists from around the world enter every year.  It’s a grueling, nerve-wracking experience, requiring intense concentration over several days. Getting through it is a feat in itself.

Though highly accomplished — listen to her playing Prokofiev’s hellishly difficult Piano Sonata #7 — Bercu is friendly and unassuming.  Asked about a favorite shopping venue, she replied “I don’t like shopping.”  She was in Texas at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2007, rode a roller coaster, and “survived.”

Here’s hoping the virus situation ends soon and life can return to normal.  In the meantime, perhaps Bercu can post videos on YouTube performing in her study, as other pianists stuck indoors have done.  Mozart, please!

Correction: Appointment was in 2018, not 2008.