Vail Bravo!: Pianist returns with New York Philharmonic
July 26, 2010
VAIL – On Jan. 21, pianist Jonathan Biss will be making his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York.
“I haven’t yet had an occasion to make the joke, but I’m sure I will,” Biss said. ” The joke remains true.”
Let us do the honors – “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
“Practice, practice, practice.”
Biss, who turns 30 in Septem-ber, is walking and playing proof of one of the oldest jokes in show business. His practice for his recordings or performances – Biss is helping the New York Phil-harmonic open its Bravo! Vail Val-ley Music Festival residency with Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Con-certo Friday night at 6 p.m. at the Ford Amphitheater – is painstaking in the detail.
“I think, for me, the preparation I do with any piece that I decide to play is designed to be freeing in its nature,” Biss said last weekend from Vermont, where he was per-forming in the Marlboro Music Festival. “I know that’s a contra-diction in terms, but the greater depth and familiarity I have with the emotion, the structure and the sound of a composer, the more I can come to places where I have any choice of taking the music. I am someone who likes to prepare a lot so that my spontaneity can serve the music I play.”
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And to think that Biss’ family, in some ways, really didn’t want him to go into music.
The motivation behind this is that Biss’ mother, Miriam Fried, is a violinist, and his father, Paul, taught that instrument for nearly three decades at Indiana Univer-sity. On top of that, Biss’ paternal grandmother was a cellist and his maternal grandmother taught piano.
“My family was extremely cau-tious about pushing me into music,” Biss said. “A horror of theirs was for me to end up in pro-fessional music for any other rea-son than the love of music.”
Nonetheless, Biss remembers chamber concerts from his youth vividly. Growing up, he recalls loving works like the Brahms and Mozart clarinet quintets and said he might still put those pieces in his all-time top-20 list of favorite compositions today.
Like many in his profession, Biss feels that music is a way of communication, and it was the varying forms of interac-tion of music – be it with fellow musicians or with the audience – that convinced him that this was his path despite his family’s hands-off approach.
” There was always something about the process of going on stage rather than playing alone,” Biss said. “It’s the con-tact with the audience, the indescribable reaction that adds to the element of communication. Then you add the silent communication with the orchestra. There’s a sharing of a thing you’re so passionate about. I’ve found elation in that.” And that took him very quickly to some of the biggest stages in the world. Born in 1980, Biss made his New York Philharmonic debut in 2001 under the guidance of then-musical director Kurt Masur.
And here is where having a musical family was extreme-ly useful.
“It was definitely a milestone, but my parents said some-thing very smart to me, which I think is true to this day: ‘No one concert you do will change your life – good or bad,'” Biss said. “It was obviously Avery Fisher Hall, but that helped me see that my professional career was only an extension of my process to improve as an artist. Some days, you’re fantastic. Other days, you’re not as fantastic, but music is everywhere in your life.”
Biss describes himself as a fan of the early Romantics. While Schuman, he says, was his first musical love, and he still performs him as well as the likes of Schubert and Janacek, Biss gravitates toward Mozart and Beethoven.
The challenge therein is bringing a personal approach to works that have been recorded and/ or performed exten-sively, like Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. Biss admits that he is influenced by the landmark performances of such compositions but is not intimidated by them.
“Music evolves with you,” he said. “However much you might adore the repertoire one way doesn’t invalidate another interpretation of it.”
And it certainly does not hurt to have the New York Phil-harmonic. This will be his sixth overall Bravo! appearance and third with New York. He also performs now regularly with this country’s oldest and likely best-known orchestra at the Lincoln Center.
” Ten years ago, they were incredibly warm and welcom-ing, and I still appreciate them,” Biss said. “I admire what they do and look forward to playing with them every time.”
Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.