The classical music maestro discusses his love for Mozart and the Jax Symphony's new Steinway
While still only in his early forties, pianist Alessio Bax has the credentials of a bona fide maestro of classical music.
At 14 years old, he graduated from the Niccolò Piccinni Conservatory in Bari, Italy. In his teens, he was already winning international competitions. In the decades since, he’s performed with major symphonies around the globe, has been featured on more than a dozen critically lauded releases featuring works ranging from Bach to Poulenc.
This weekend, Bax is the featured performer with the Jacksonville Symphony in a program that includes Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7; Bedřich Smetana’s Overture from The Bartered Bride, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. The latter piece is lauded as a singular work by Mozart for several reasons, including its shifting thematic qualities and blending of vigorous passages with the atmospheric.
“It always feels like my life is taken over by the next concert. The music we play is so powerful, so complex, and it feels there is always more to discover, more at stake.”Alessio Bax
Bax lives in New York City with his wife, fellow celebrated concert pianist and frequent collaborator, Lucille Chung and their young daughter, Mila.
Can you tell us a bit about the featured piece you’ll be performing: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21?
Every Mozart Concerto is a true marvel. This one is particularly significant to me because it is the piece that made me want to become a pianist. I first heard it when I was seven years old and fell in love with it. It has an incredible balance between virtuosity, elegance, power, energy, pathos, beauty and even some darkness and drama.
Does this piece feature any particular challenges in playing it—or does it contain certain passages that move you?
I always loved the development section in the first movement. It’s tragic, turbulent, and then he gets out of it and back to the original elegant and happy mood in a truly amazing, unexpected and masterful way.
When preparing for a program of music such as your upcoming performances here in Jacksonville, how much practice and research is involved prior to the concerts?
It always feels like my life is taken over by the next concert. The music we play is so powerful, so complex, and it feels there is always more to discover, more at stake. So, the answer should always be as much practice and research as possible. That’s the beauty of great classical music and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to share it with so many people.
Thanks to the generosity of symphony patron Ann Hicks, the Jacksonville Symphony recently acquired a new Steinway & Sons Model D concert grand piano. Steinways are synonymous with classical music. In your own personal experience, what is it about playing a Steinway that garners such respect, loyalty, and mystique?
At its very best, there is nothing like such a great Steinway, in my opinion. There are many other great pianos out there, but for me, nothing fits me and inspires me as much as a great Steinway. Having said that, no two pianos are alike and it’s always a challenge.
Do you have any favorite non-classical pieces or artists from other genres, like jazz, rock or hip-hop?
I admire jazz very much. I just wish I knew how to play it! Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson are just a few of my heroes.
What compelled you at such a young age to pursue what has ultimately become an impressive career as a classical musician?
After realizing at the ripe age of seven that I wasn’t going to be a soccer star, music was the next thing for me. I loved it from the beginning, and that has not changed! It always seemed a logical “choice.”
I think there is a misconception that classical music concerts are solely inhabited by elderly, wealthy patrons, seated in a cloistered area cordoned off by velvet ropes. With the advent of things like Spotify and iTunes, over the decades that you’ve been playing, have you noticed an influx of younger people in your audiences?
Let’s say that classical music has always interested people later in their life. But as you say it’s never been as accessible as today, and that’s a great gift, as classical music can be appreciated on so many levels. It has no age limitations, no time constraints. Great classical music is always relevant, it has been for centuries, and it will continue to be so, because it describes the individual and humankind with all our questions, hopes, doubts, and loves.
On an episode of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts from February of 2020, you and your wife, pianist Lucille Chung, perform for an intimate audience—including your young daughter, Mila. I imagine Mila will be encouraged, if not nudged, to study music. Will you and Lucille be disappointed if Mila chooses to play electric guitar in a rock band in lieu of classical piano?
Not at all. I think love of music, and the skills it takes to be able to play an instrument are invaluable lessons that cannot be learned in any other way. I might be disappointed if she grows up being totally uninterested in music, but I doubt that will be the case.
Mozart’s Dream: Piano Concerto No. 21 featuring Alessio Bax with the Jacksonville Symphony is presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 3 and Saturday, December 4 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts’ Jacoby Symphony Hall, 300 Water Street, Downtown, $25-$77; jaxsymphony.org.