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ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Pianist takes less obvious routes to career, music-making

Alessio Bax has made a career of taking roads less traveled. The Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient from Bari, Italy has circled the globe performing the widest variety of music, not just in Europe and Asia but in Tel Aviv and Mexico City. He has explored interesting corners of the repertoire, both in recital and with top orchestras, and among his recordings are CDs of Bach transcriptions and music of Ligeti and Marcel Dupré. Recently he and his wife, pianist Lucille Chung, motored through the vast landscapes of Saskatchewan on his Prairie Debut Tour,stopping for recitals in towns like Watrous, Rosthern, and Tisdale – a follow-up to a similar recital trek across the Siberian tundra on a Russian tour a few years ago.

And his quirky recital here on November the 20th, on the Harriman-Jewell Series’ free Discovery Concerts, will feature five of his favorite pieces by five composers from five countries. When he recently performed the same program of music by Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Bartók, Granados and Ravel at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, Steve Smith wrote in The New York Times: “Everything in his program unfolded with an ease, precision and beauty so seemingly effortless that the music appeared to live and breathe of its own volition. … Mr. Bax … is worth getting excited about.”

The Italian-born pianist with the Anglo-Saxon surname says he is optimistic about the future of classical music. “In the bigger scheme of things, classical music has been and always will be around,” he said in a recent phone conversation from New York, where he and Lucille make their home (though he is also on the faculty at SMU in Dallas, where previously he had studied with its piano guru, Joaquín Achúcarro). “There is a reason we are still playing music written 300 years ago.” One thing he’s learned along the road of his peripatetic existence is that music has universal impact. “I can’t help seeing that music affects people, no matter where they are or what their background.” On his tour of the freezing Canadian landscape, he and his wife were greeted with characteristic Prairie warmth everywhere they went. “We played to sold out houses, made up with locals, piano teacher(s), and lots of piano students,” he wrote on his fun and informative blog, Have Piano, Will Travel. “It was really heart-warming to see and talk to these special audiences. And God knows we needed some warming.”

In contrast, Asian audiences are often reserved in their response to live performance, he says, which can easily be misinterpreted. “Audiences react in different ways, but that’s all external. In Japan they will be very polite and won’t stand up and scream after a performance, but I’ve learned that the music touches them in exactly the same way. Whether in Italy or in New York, the personalities of audiences are different, but the beauty of music is that it can touch everyone.”

Alessio studied in the port city of Bari (which he says is “a place of passage for many different cultures, and very colorful”), Siena and France before coming to the United States. His musical influences are eclectic, drawing partly from the Russian school but also with elements of French and Spanish training. In addition to the Fisher grant in 2009 he has won first prizes at the Hamamatsu International Competition in Japan and the Leeds Competition in Great Britain. He has worked with an impressive list of conductors – Simon Rattle, Marin Alsop, Jonathan Nott, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Dimitry Sitkovetsky and others – and performed chamber music with Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis and Andrés Diaz. Last year he began a three-season stint with Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two residency program for outstanding artists.

Though his career up to this point has been worldwide, it looks as if he’ll now become a fixture of the American concert scene. And while he and his wife are presently living in New York’s Upper West Side, he says he expects his travels to continue, including car trips over airy vistas to small towns. “It’s something that I like to do, as long as I have the time and the energy to do it,” he says, citing his adventurous streak as a motivating force. “In an ideal world, I would love to play in every corner of the world. What I really love about this quote-unquote ‘job’ is the global part of it. It touches me to see how people connect to music.”

Alessio Bax’ recital November the 20th is free, but please obtain tickets at the box office. It is at 7 p.m. at the Folly Theater. For more information go to hjseries.org or call 816-415-5025.

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net.

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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