He made several recordings for RCA Victor and Mercury Records, and occupies two volumes of the Philips Great Pianists series. His discography covers repertoire from Beethoven to David Guion and includes renditions of major piano concertos from Mozart to Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. His pianism has been described as combining a Horowitzian technique with a sublime musicality akin to Alfred Cortot's. He has a special affinity for Chopin and made a French film on him that was shown around the world.
Janis was born Byron Yanks (a shortened form of his family's name, Yankilevich) in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, to Russian-Polish Jewish parents. When he was 7 he was taken to New York to study with Adele Marcus. Later, he studied at the Juilliard School with Josef and Rosina Lhévinne, and received musical influences from Rachmaninoff and Alfred Cortot. At 10, Janis lost sensation in a finger due to an accident but this did not prevent his debut under Frank Black playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in New York. When Janis was 16, Vladimir Horowitz heard his performance of the same concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by 15-year-old Lorin Maazel and invited Janis to work with him. Janis studied with Horowitz for four years. He remained a close friend and one of only three students ever acknowledged by Horowitz--the other two being Gary Graffman and Ronald Turini.
In 1960, he was chosen as the first American to be sent to the Soviet Union, and his performance opened the successful exchange between the cold war adversaries. This was the first of his many world tours, on which he premiered many works and performed breathtakingly challenging piano-concerto programs. In 1967, he accidentally unearthed two previously unknown manuscripts of Chopin waltzes in France — this was considered "the most dramatic musical discovery of our age". For these achievements, he appeared on the front page of the New York Times many times. He also published an edition of Chopin waltzes.
He was honored by several U.S. Presidents and in 1984, at a State Dinner at the White House in his honor at the invitation of President Ronald Reagan, he revealed that he had been suffering from severe arthritis throughout much of his decades-long career. The painful and crippling condition eventually required surgery on his hands. However, he recovered sufficiently to resume performing and recording commercially and continues to do so today.
He received a host of the most prestigious honors each of which had not previously been conferred on an American, including the Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur and Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (France’s highest decorations), the Grand Prix du Disque and Cannes Classical Award (both for his Mercury Records recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 accompanied by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Kyril Kondrashin), and the Harriet Cohen International Music Award and Beethoven Medal (for his performance of Beethoven sonatas).
Other honors include the Classical CD Critics Choice (for his recording of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3), the National Public Radio Critics' Choice Award (for his all-Chopin CD), and the Distinguished Pennsylvania Artist Award. He is recipient of honorary doctorates and the Sanford Fellowship (the highest honor of Yale University). He is the National Ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation, Chairman of the Global Forum Arts and Culture Committee, head of the Visual and Performing Arts in America, and member on the Board and the Music Advisory Committee for Pro Musicis.
- Official website (includes Flash intro)
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