The UW Symphony (David Alexander Rahbee, conductor) explores the dynamic extremes of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with one of the composer’s most ardent interpreters, pianist Jonathan Biss, who the Toronto Globe and Mail calls “one of the most striking pianists of the new generation.” Known for his highly innovative online course on Beethoven’s piano sonatas developed as a faculty member of his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music, Biss appears with the orchestra on the eve of his Dec. 10 performance on the UW’s President’s Piano Series (see meanycenter.org for details). This performance also includes the UW Symphony Orchestra performing Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.
Jonathan Biss’s appearance is presented in collaboration with Meany Center for the Performing Arts.
Moritz Moszkowski: Prelude and Fugue, Op. 85
(Strings of the University of Washington Symphony )
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
(Jonathan Biss, piano)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
Artist Bio: Jonathan Biss, piano
Jonathan Biss was born in 1980; his professional debut preceded this event by several months, when he performed, prenatally, the Mozart A Major Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall, with the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Lorin Maazel. Subsequent violin performances have shown greater independence, though they have also been more likely to send listeners running in the opposite direction, wildly searching for Ear, Nose and Throat specialists, and handguns.
Although the highlight of his career as a violinist took place when he was a fetus, Mr. Biss’ childhood was nonetheless saturated with music. With both of his parents playing the violin, and his older brother Daniel taking up the piano, he remembers music emanating from nearly every room in the house, including bathrooms, which, while modest in their decor, were valued for their acoustical properties.
Given this background, Mr. Biss’s commencement of piano studies at the age of six might seem like a defensive move, but it was in fact entirely offensive: while this adjective may in fact describe the sounds he produced when he began studying, it is simply meant to convey that the motivation to play the piano was entirely his own - his parents had no extra bathrooms to practice in, after all, and were not keen to build an outhouse. Mr. Biss’ enthusiasm manifested itself from the very beginning of his studies, far exceeding his six year-old physical and intellectual capacities.
This enthusiasm (or, if you take the word of Mr. Biss’s friends and associates, “obsessiveness” and “neurosis”) remains today, as does the feeling that doing justice to great music is an ever unattainable goal. While this doesn’t necessarily make life easy, it is Mr. Biss’s deeply held sentiment that any other approach would be unthinkable. Or, in his own words, “if I ever stop finding music challenging and life-altering, I’ll quit and become an accountant.”
Growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, Mr. Biss was blessed with excellent teachers, starting with Karen Taylor - who as his first instructor, helped him give what is still regarded as the definitive performance of the “Middle C Piece,” - and continuing with Evelyne Brancart, who for six years was an invaluable source of information while Mr. Biss weathered what might best be termed an awkward adolescence. At the age of 17, Mr. Biss went to the Curtis Institute of Music, where he studied with Leon Fleisher, which proved a phenomenal learning experience whenever Mr. Biss stopped looking under the piano to see if magic or pharmaceuticals were involved in the production of Mr. Fleisher’s surreally beautiful sound.
Around the same time, Mr. Biss began concertizing, which has led to his present activities, described in other pages of this site. Highlights have included post-natal reengagements with Ms. Fried (with Mr. Biss a less reticent partner this time around), Maestro Maazel, and in November 2007, the Cleveland Orchestra.
While Mr. Biss’s life in music provides him with tremendous satisfaction, playing music remains ever a struggle. He regards it as a pleasure and privilege to live this struggle, and to share its results with other people.
Director Bio: David Alexander Rahbee
David Alexander Rahbee is currently Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington School of Music in Seattle, where he is director of orchestral activities and teaches conducting. He is recipient of the American-Austrian Foundation's 2003 Herbert von Karajan Fellowship for Young Conductors, the 2005 International Richard-Wagner-Verband Stipend, and the Acanthes Centre in Paris in 2007.
Dr. Rahbee has appeared in concert with orchestras such as the RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, Kammerphilharmonie Berlin-Brandenburg, Orchestre de la Francophonie, Orchesterakademie der Bochumer Symphoniker, the Dresden Hochschule orchestra, Grand Harmonie, the Boston New Music Initiative, Orquesta Sinfónica de Loja (Ecuador), Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, Savaria Symphony Orchestra (Hungary), Seattle Modern Orchestra, Cool Opera of Norway (members of the Stavanger Symphony), Schönbrunner Schloss Orchester (Vienna), the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, the Kennett Symphony, and the Divertimento Ensemble of Milan. He collaborated twice with the Seattle Symphony in 2015, as off-stage conductor for Ives’ Fourth Symphony (recorded live), and as guest conductor for their Native Lands project. He has collaborated with several prominent soloists such as violinists Sarah Chang, David Chan (concertmaster of MET opera orchestra), and Joseph Lin (Juilliard String Quartet). He has been been a guest rehearsal conductor for numerous young orchestras, such as the New England Conservatory Symphony Orchestra, The Symphony Orchestras of the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music at Chapman University, and the Vienna University of Technology orchestra, the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO), and Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Orchestras (RIPYO). He has also served of faculty of the Pierre Monteux School as Conducting Associate, and has been resident conductor of the Atlantic Music Festival in Maine.
Dr. Rahbee was an assistant at the Vienna State opera from 2002-2010. As part of his fellowship and residency at the 2003 Salzburg Festival, Dr. Rahbee was assistant conductor of the International Attergau Institute Orchestra, where he worked with members of the Vienna Philharmonic. He has been selected to actively participate in masterclasses with prominent conductors such as Kurt Masur, Sir Colin Davis, Jorma Panula, Zdeněk Mácal, Peter Eötvös, Zoltán Peskó, and Helmut Rilling, and counts Nikolaus Harnoncourt to be among his most influential mentors. From 1997-2001, David Rahbee was conductor of the Fidelio Chamber Orchestra in Cambridge, Massachusetts, selecting its talented young members from Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, and Boston University. From 1997 to 2000, he served as assistant conductor of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra (formerly known as the Hingham Symphony) in Massachusetts.
Dr. Rahbeeʼs principal conducting teachers were Charles Bruck and Michael Jinbo at the Pierre Monteux School. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree in violin and composition from Indiana University, a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory in orchestral conducting, and a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of Montreal in orchestral conducting. He has also participated in post-graduate conducting classes at the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna. His arrangements for brass are published by Warwick Music, England, and his articles on the music of Gustav Mahler have appeared in journals of the International Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft, among others. Dr. Rahbee’s was a semi-finalist in the American Prize for Conducting, in the category of Orchestral Programming at the university level for the 2013-14 school year.