Pianist Alessio Bax performs Grieg's Piano Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra in concerts on October 5 and 6. We asked him a few questions about where he finds inspiration, what he likes to do for fun on tour and about the concerto he performs in Minneapolis this weekend.
When you travel around the world to perform, what do you like to do when visiting a new city?
I try first to seek great local food and explore the markets if I have time, and especially in exotic places, I always try to sample something new. I love to walk everywhere I can so I can explore a city on foot. I would love to have time to sight-see more, but that is quite rare nowadays. I also try to connect with old and new friends wherever I am.
What is one of your favorite places to travel for performances?
You mean, other than Minneapolis? I like too many places for many different reasons, so I really can't pick one!
Describe Grieg's Piano Concerto in ten words or less.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite concerto. Who am I to argue?
What should audiences listen for in this concerto?
It truly is the perfect Romantic concerto: from the big dramatic cadenza to the glorious themes, from the intimate and beautiful second movement to the folksy Finale, it’s a concerto full of contrasts and one that manages to say so much in such short time. I love the way it is incredibly romantic but always imbued with a Nordic feel. It has a very special atmosphere throughout—I honestly don’t know how Grieg managed to create it!
Do you come from a musical family?
My parents loved music, but are not musicians. They have supported and encouraged my passion all my life. I clearly remember listening to a recording of Bruch and Mendelssohn violin concertos with Jascha Heifetz that we had at home. I was also in love with the organ and the music of Bach.
What or who influences you most as a musician?
That’s a tough one! Definitely I need to thank everyone in my extended family of teachers, of whom there are many in my life. Nowadays, my biggest influences are my colleagues, from my chamber music partners and conductors to my wife, pianist Lucille Chung, who always offers an exceptional extra set of ears anytime I need one! Also, I try to listen to the great old recordings, as well as some new ones. As pianists, we are confronted on a daily basis with some of the greatest music ever written, and that is itself a great inspiration. The biggest motivation to keep going and to find beauty in what I do, however, definitely comes from Mila, my three-year-old daughter.
Watch Alessio perform an NPR Tiny Desk Concert with his wife Lucille Chung and daughter Mila
If you could only perform music by one composer for the rest of your career, which composer would you choose?
That's a very cruel question. If it is performing, possibly Beethoven’s, because of its range, but I would definitely miss everything else. It would be a sad occurrence indeed.
When you get a chance to attend a concert as an audience member instead of as the soloist, what do you love to listen to?
I like listening to friends’ concerts, although I can get quite nervous for them. I love great singers, string players, and anyone with the ability to make an instrument sing and to inspire me to look beyond the piano.
What fun fact should the Minnesota Orchestra audience know about you?
I love food and mostly I love to cook for friends. I also am moderately proud of my little wine cellar in New York.
Do you have any exciting upcoming projects to share?
Since last year, I have been spending quite a bit of time organizing a week-long music festival in the stunning Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, called Incontri in Terra di Siena. It is a 30-year-old festival, but it’s new for me. This past summer, we had Joshua Bell, Henning Kraggerud, Paul Watkins, Antonio Lysy, Radovan Vlatković, the Escher String Quartet, Sarah Connolly and many others in residence. I am loving the challenge of putting musicians and programs together, but also coming up with other events, deciding on chefs and menus for the meals, and exploring different venues, from opera theaters to medieval churches and outdoor sites. It is a great joy when everything works well and a great satisfaction to sit in the audience at a concert you’ve been dreaming of for years, and just enjoy it.
Other than that, there are many exciting programs and projects this season. I have a couple of duo tours with Joshua Bell and Emmanuel Pahud, I am releasing a new Beethoven recording for Signum Records and performing the Grieg Concerto with an excellent band in Minnesota very soon!
Alessio Bax performs Grieg's Piano Concerto on October 5 and 6, 2017. For more information on these concerts, visit minnesotaorchestra.org.
For more about Alessio Bax, visit artsmg.com or alessiobax.com.