Posted: Tuesday, October 3, 2017 – 11:57 AM
Pianist Jonathan Biss is coming to the Wallis and presenting a concert of music by composers “essential to my life,” and a modern composer he champions.
While he’s played The Hollywood Bowl and UCLA’s Royce Hall, his 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 8 concert will mark his Beverly Hills debut with music by Mozart, Beethoven and Schuman, plus Leon Kirchner’s Interlude II.
Biss, a member of the faculty of his alma mater the Curtis Institute of Music since 2010, has embarked on a nine-year, nine-disc recording cycle of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas. That composer, along with Mozart and Schuman, “are almost like my daily bread. It’s rare that one of my concerts doesn’t include at least one of them; and in this case all three.”
For Wallis audiences, Biss will perform the Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31 No. 2 “Tempest,” to be released on the seventh volume of his Beethoven cycle next year. “The amazing thing,” says Biss, “is that all the sonatas are so different. In this sonata the first movement unfolds in such surprising ways, that as well as I know the piece, it still takes turns that shock me.”
Biss has been playing Schuman’s “exhilarating” music since he was 8. His Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 is “pure poetry. Of my three key composers I would say that I understand Schuman better and find a kinship with him. Schuman has a way of making you feel welcomed into his inner world.”
Kirchner’s (1919-2009) Interlude II, was commissioned by Biss. “Someone sent him one of my recordings and we got to know each other well,” says Biss. “I’ve played most of his concertos with him conducting, and have the scores with all kinds of markings in his hand. “He was an important American composer and one of the strongest voices of his era,” says Biss. “There’s an intensity in the sounds he creates that I find riveting.”
Mozart’s Sonata in A Minor, K. 310 is “irresistible,” says Biss. “It sort of flies in the face of that notion that Mozart’s music is polite. The drama’s not buried or suppressed. There’s an understanding of humanity and the pain of living on every page. I feel Mozart writes of things as they are, with an understanding of how people think and behave.”
As an author, Biss has penned two popular best-sellers A Pianist Under the Influence and Beethoven’s Shadow. “I find that writing is a useful outlet for me,” he says. “It uses a part of my brain that is not about playing an instrument repetitively and obsessively. It’s a great way to remind myself of why the bigger pieces are so powerful. Writing is a way to armor myself against the daily life of a musician that can be quite exhausting.”
The 37-year-old is driven—”I never miss a day of practice—but not one of those pianists who practices eight hours a day—”I believe in quality not quantity”—or who travels with a personal piano. “There are some advantages to that,” Biss says. “You’re forced to hear a different sound and be more open and flexible at the same time. Classical musicians are addicted to control. I never walk offstage and think that was the ultimate performance of a piece. And in a way that’s very freeing and liberating.”
Biss admits to no programming rules, though he does consider how pieces react “chemically.” ”These are pieces I feel compelled to share with others and say what I want to say. All he asks is that “listeners go in without expectations and react honestly. I’m comfortable if they mean something different to them than they do to me.”
As for his future, don’t expect a Gershwin album from Biss anytime soon. “These three ‘essential’ composers are the direct line to my soul.” He plans to continue exploring their huge volume, plus add a lot of commissions. “My love for the Schuman fantasy will never end; and as you grow, you keep finding aspects you didn’t see before. His greatest music is a series of miniatures, but the Fantasy is three titanic movements that are a combination of tenderness and intimacy writ large.”
Tickets range from $45-$95 and are available by calling 310-746-4000, online at TheWallis.org or at the box office, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills.