Growing up in Philadelphia, Sylvia Berry heard countless musical performances, but she began formal music studies relatively late, starting with viola at age eleven and piano two years later. She played both instruments during her years at the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, but she narrowed her focus after being accepted to the New England Conservatory in Boston as a pianist.
After two years at NEC she transferred to Oberlin Conservatory, where she completed her Bachelor’s degree with Peter Takács. At Oberlin she developed an interest in historical performance practice, and she received a full-tuition scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree there in historical keyboard instruments. She was the first student in the program to study three instruments, with fortepiano as primary instrument and organ and harpsichord as secondary instruments. Her teachers were David Breitman, David Boe, and Lisa Goode Crawford; she also worked with Malcolm Bilson in masterclasses.
After graduation Sylvia moved to The Netherlands to concentrate on the fortepiano at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, where she studied with Stanley Hoogland and Bart van Oort. While overseas she was able to view and play antique pianos from Vienna, London, and Paris and to study chamber music with luminaries such as Jaap ter Linden, Wilbert Hazelzet, Eric Hoeprich, Ely Ameling, and Elizabeth Wallfisch. Currently she specializes in Viennese music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with a repertoire that encompasses solo literature, chamber music, and Lieder. Her credits as author and scholar include CD liner notes and articles in Early Music America, Keyboard Perspectives, and the Netherlands Journal of the European Piano Teachers Association.
Since settling in Boston in 2005, she has actively participated in the musical life of the area, quickly becoming a favorite by engaging her audiences with informative commentary about the music and the instruments she plays. Benjamin Dunham of Early Music America wrote of a solo appearance, “Berry’s recital opened with the quiet, searching adagio of Mozart’s Sonata in E-flat Major, K. 282, a gutsy gambit that revealed a poetic sensibility and a willingness to draw listeners in with spaces to pause and reflect. These qualities contrasted nicely with up-tempo movements, which were handled with verve.” Sylvia’s work in Opera Boston’s La clemenza di Tito led Lloyd Schwartz to write in the Boston Phoenix, “Special applause for continuo fortepianist Sylvia Berry, [who played] as if she were one of the actors.”
In 2006 Sylvia founded the chamber ensemble Boston Hausmusik, which debuted at the Connecticut Early Music Festival in 2008 and at the Museum Concerts series in Providence RI in 2011. For that program, Sylvia featured music Haydn composed for three women he befriended during his two London sojourns,. Also featured was a piano built in 1806 by the London firm John Broadwood and Son, recently restored by her husband Dale Munschy. In the summer of 2011 she appeared again at the Connecticut Early Music Festival in a solo program entitled “The Pianos of Vienna and London” in which she played a replica of a Viennese piano along with the Broadwood.
Highlights among Sylvia’s recent performances include solo recitals for the Cambridge Society for Early Music; lecture recitals with soprano Clara Rottsolk on early Lieder at the Goethe Institut and at Swarthmore College; performances of the concertos for multiple harpsichords by J.S. Bach with Ensemble Florilège; a lecture recital on harpsichord and fortepiano for the Haydn Society of North America at the Longy School of Music; a duo concert with pianist Shuann Chai on instruments in the Bneton Fletcher Collection in London; a clavichord recital of 17th-century music presented by the Boston Clavichord Society; and an appearance as featured recitalist in the 2011 harpsichord series at First Church, Boston.
In the Geelvinck Salon of 16 March 2014, Sylvia Berry will perform a recital at Museum Geelvinck.