Pianist son of IU music faculty members loves his Beethoven

Pianist son of IU music faculty members loves his Beethoven


By Jay Harvey, Indystar.com

With his busy career involving many collaborations, Jonathan Biss believes much of his continuing knowledge of music is well-served by concerto engagements.

Those usually bulk large in any concert pianist’s schedule, and Biss, 31, has had about a half-dozen such gigs with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra going back more than a decade. This week marks the first time he’s worked with guest conductor Gilbert Varga.

“It’s an interesting process,” he said. “I often find my priorities get clarified. If the experience is going to be positive, you have to be interested in the natural qualities of the people you’re working with.

“Of course, there are certain things that are fundamental to your view of the piece,” he said. “But through the process, if I find something different from my conception, I learn certain things about my own relationship with the piece. It’s not necessarily an easy process, but it usually is a productive one.”

The Bloomington native, son of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music faculty members Miriam Fried and Paul Biss, spoke to The Star last week from Minnesota just after double rehearsals with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with which he was playing and leading a couple of Mozart concertos.

In his visit here, Biss will play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major three times with the ISO. “I really love it,” he said. “What strikes me about it is it’s obvious from many structural details that the Mozart concerto (in the same key) was the model. But (Beethoven’s) personality and thumbprint is in every single measure.”

Though the work stands somewhat in the shadow of Beethoven’s four other piano concertos, “he takes this form that another composer had perfected beyond what anyone could imagine and brings such life and individuality to it,” Biss said, adding that the spiritual component that was to be developed in Beethoven’s later works is evident in this music from his mid-20s.

Beethoven has been front and center in the pianist’s recent concerts with his mother: The duo did all 10 of the violin-piano sonatas in three concerts in Korea earlier this year, a cycle Fried and Biss previously performed in Israel. “She’s still one of my closest musical collaborators,” he said.

New in Biss’ schedule is teaching at his alma mater, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute. Although he’s been involved only since the beginning of the current school year, he’s found already that teaching means one “learns about music in a different way from how one learns from playing. When you have to verbalize all the things one does by instinct (as a performer), it deepens them. It’s incredibly useful . . . really a journey of discovery.”

Call Star reporter Jay Harvey at (317) 444-6402.

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