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Yara Bernette

March 14, 1920–2002

by Anat Falbel and Nachman Falbel

American-born Yara Bernette, whose parents moved to Brazil when she was six months old, became a concert pianist and piano teacher of world renown (1920-2002).

Institution: Anat Falbel.

In Brief

World-renowned pianist Yara Bernette reached the pinnacle of her career in 1972 when she was chosen from 130 candidates to head the piano program at the Hamburg Music and Performing Arts School. Raised in Brazil, Bernette began studying piano with her uncle, a major Brazilian classical musician of his day. She debuted in 1938 with the Municipal Symphony Orchestra and in 1949 began a tour of the Americas, followed by a tour of Europe in 1955, where she earned the Arnold Bax Memorial Award for best musical interpreter of the year. While teaching for two decades in Hamburg, Bernette remained in demand as a performer and continued to tour throughout Europe and the Americas.


Worldwide Fame

Yara Bernette (Bernette Epstein) was born in Boston in 1920. Her Russian immigrant family moved to Brazil when she was six months old. She began to study the piano at the age of six with her uncle, Professor José Kliass, pupil of Martin Krause, who in turn had been the pupil and secretary of Franz Liszt, and who was one of the most important musical figures in São Paulo at the time. In 1938 Yara Bernette made her professional debut in a concert with the Municipal Symphony Orchestra and in 1949 made her first appearance in the United States at the New York Town Hall, encouraged by maestros Arthur Rubinstein and Claudio Arrau. The American tour continued through Canada and Latin America: Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. Her European debut was in 1955, when she played in Paris with the Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris, directed by the Brazilian maestro and composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. On the same tour, she also played in Vienna, Amsterdam and London, where she was presented with the Arnold Bax Memorial Award as the best musical interpreter of the year. 

From 1957 to 1970 she gave numerous recitals and concerts throughout Europe, playing as a soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Philharmonic of Hamburg, and also played in the Far East. In 1961 she represented Brazil in the Second Inter-American Music Festival in Washington, playing Camargo Guarnieri’s Variations on a Theme from the Northeast of Brazil for Piano and Orchestra with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra. 

Teaching Career

In addition to being a concert pianist in demand throughout the world, Yara Bernette was also a teacher; in 1972 she was chosen from among one hundred and thirty candidates as piano teacher at the Hamburg Music and Performing Arts School, where she remained for twenty years, supervising students from many countries. 

In the United States Yara Bernette was a jury member in important competitions such as the Van Cliburn International Competition. To commemorate her seventy-fifth birthday she recorded her Portrait for German television, broadcast throughout Germany on August 20, 1995. The commemorations were followed by a recital in Hamburg in which her ex-pupils from the Hochschule took part. In Brazil Yara Bernette frequently played in the main cities. She died in São Paulo in March 2002. Known throughout her career for playing modern and contemporary composers, she played music from the Classical and Romantic periods with the same skill.

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How to cite this page

Falbel, Anat and Nachman Falbel. "Yara Bernette." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 3, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/bernette-yara>.