7 questions for pianist Jonathan Biss

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 25, 2008, at 7:28 p.m.

The 28-year-old pianist Jonathan Biss was relishing a day alone in his New York City apartment when he sat down for this interview. He doesn’t get a lot of down time. But then again, if you were one of the most gifted, expressive, exciting young soloists in the classical music world, you’d be on the road a lot too. His list of accomplishments is too long to print here; he has played with a who’s who of the major names in classical music, all the major orchestras, and he has put out four albums, including his recording of Mozart’s Piano Concertos No. 21 and 22, due out Oct. 14. While Biss’ hectic schedule includes trips to Spain, Sweden, England, Wales and all over the U.S. (and that’s just this October), he will be traveling to Bangor this weekend to perform Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 21 in D minor, with Maestro Xiao-Lu Li and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, at 3 p.m. Sunday at Peakes Auditorium. He’ll also be on hand at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, for a special “Sneak Peek” concert at Peakes, an informal, open rehearsal-style event designed to let BSO fans get a closer look at what goes on behind the scenes. It’s not Biss’ first time in Maine; his uncle, Gregory Biss, is an Eastport resident and an accomplished pianist himself. But it is his first time with the BSO, and we’re very lucky to have him. — Emily Burnham

You come from a very musical family; your parents were both violinists. Have you picked up any habits or quirks from them?

My parents hugely influenced me, of course, but they were pretty good about letting me go in my own direction. I’ve developed my own little craziness about it. I’m very compulsive about practicing. That tends to be the first thing I do when I wake up. I find it hard to be away from the piano for too long.

What’s your favorite piece to perform?

I can’t single one out, because really, the most important criteria in deciding whether or not I’ll play a piece is whether or not I love it. There’s nothing that I play that I’m not passionate about. The Brahms piece that I’ll be performing with the Bangor Symphony is one of the most thrilling experiences for a pianist. It’s written on such a massive scale. It has everything. There aren’t that many pieces that make you feel like you’re front and center in the middle of a symphonic work. It’s incredibly powerful, but also incredibly beautiful.

Do you get nervous?

I have to say I regard nervous as a positive thing. If you think about it, if you don’t get nervous, it means you don’t care that much. You have to deal with your nervousness, but it’s a reflection of how important your performance is. I don’t think I’d ever want to let go of that. There’s something from that energy that makes a performance better. The adrenaline is a nice addition.

On your Web site you say, “If I ever stop finding music challenging and life-altering, I’ll quit and become an accountant.” An accountant? Really? What would you do if you weren’t playing music?

I’ve gotten a lot of flak for saying that! I don’t think I’d actually be an accountant. I think I would do something involving language. I’d like to be a writer. That’s my second love. But it’s nothing I’ve ever seriously contemplated. I can’t imagine not being a musician.

What’s on your iPod?

It’s honestly a little of everything. There isn’t any other form of music that’s captured me in the way that classical does, though. I’m not capable of listening to it in the background. It drives me crazy when it’s on in a restaurant, because I’ll listen to that instead of the people I’m with. When I listen to other stuff I can listen in a much less critical way. I like Radiohead. I love jazz. Old stuff, like Miles Davis, Art Tatum, Ella Fitzgerald. I will happily listen to everything. Maybe not country.

When you have time off, where can you be found? What are you doing?

Time off? What’s that? What’s nice about this lifestyle and touring all the time is that I’ve accumulated a lot friends from all over. So I try to catch up with them. I’m a huge reader. I have about 15 books on my nightstand. And I’m a huge tennis fan. I’m very bad at it, but I love to play.

Federer or Nadal?

I don’t have a strong allegiance to either. I love the contrast between them. It’s such a great rivalry.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/09/25/living/7-questions-for-pianist-jonathan-biss/ printed on December 22, 2014