Acclaimed pianist brings a Beethoven bonanza to Bay Area

For pianist Jonathan Biss, Beethoven is an endless sense of inspiration.

“There’s probably no figure in the history of music who’s more musically interesting,” says Biss. “No matter your musical taste, what style you write in or your personality, I think it’s almost impossible not to be interested in Beethoven. The personality is too strong, the inventiveness so staggering, that he presents an opportunity for any artist to use as a launching pad for their own creativity.”

Thus began Beethoven/5, a multi-year project conceived by Biss and the Saint Paul Orchestra. The idea was simple — commission new concertos from five living composers, each inspired by a Beethoven masterwork.

This weekend in Berkeley, Biss joins the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in three Cal Performances programs in Zellerbach Hall. He’ll serve as soloist for Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 2, 4, and 5 — the “Emperor” — as well as two new, Beethoven-inspired works by composers Timo Andres and Salvatore Sciarrino. Completing the programs are works by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Ravel, Charles Ives and George Tsontakis.

In a call from Philadelphia, where he is on the piano faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music, Biss explained that the works by Andres and Sciarrino are just the start — in subsequent seasons, Beethoven/5 will bring new concertos by Sally Beamish, Caroline Shaw and Brett Dean.

Asked how the composers were selected, Biss said “I’ve always been interested in new music. But the one thing about the composers I’m drawn to is that they’re connected to the music of the past. They’re not derivative or old-fashioned, but they feel somehow that their music exists on a continuum with works that were written 100, 200 and 300 years ago.”

The new concertos display the composers’ individual styles as well as their connections to Beethoven. “They’re completely different from one another,” said Biss, “reflecting the fact that the composers are different generations and grew up in different parts of the world, with different influences.” Young American composer Andres’ score “uses a language which I find hard to put into words; his influences are all over the map,” notes the pianist. The 70-year-old Italian Sciarrino, meanwhile, “uses extended techniques and instruments to create a spectral quality which is quite extraordinary … It’s a very surreal piece.”

For Biss, who has been performing the complete Beethoven piano sonatas in recent seasons – he’ll record them next year – playing these works with the Saint Paul musicians

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

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