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5 diciembre 2022

Alessio Bax: “To return to play after so long in the Auditorio de Zaragoza is a dream”

Winner of First Prize at the Leeds and Hamamatsu international competitions, the Italian Alessio Bax is one of the most outstanding young pianists of the moment, both for his solo recitals and for his performances with the London and St. Petersburg Philharmonics, the Boston, Dallas, Sydney and Birmingham Symphonies, among many others. He currently lives in the United States, where he teaches at the Boston Conservatory.  Today, on International Piano Day, we chat with Bax.

Alessio tomorrow takes the stage of the Auditorio de Zaragoza to participate in the program XXV Ciclo de Grandes Solistas Pilar Bayona, one of the most prestigious in Europe, what does it mean for you to participate in this program?

It is a great emotion. I have quite a long history with this Cycle and specifically with the Auditorium. The first time I played there was in 1995, in the finals of the Pilar Bayona competition. At that time I was much younger and I remember with incredible emotion playing with the orchestra of Castilla y León, the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 in that perfect hall, so great, so wonderful of the Auditorium. I have played in many halls in the world but this is one of the best.
I discovered the Cycle of great soloists a few years later. Every time I was in Spain I read about the Cycle, about the great pianists they brought and it had always been a dream to play in that cycle. I played once and then I had a couple of recitals for the Philharmonic Society at the Auditorium. And now to play again after such a long time in the Auditorio de Zaragoza is a dream.

What pieces are you going to perform and why did you choose them?

I always consider the programs as a menu. I really like food, gastronomy (laughs). I try to look for pieces that interrelate with each other but also that go well together. And, that at the end of a concert the audience is satisfied. That is the most important thing.
I will start with two very big pieces. Bach’s English Suite 2 in A minor and Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor “Appassionata”.
In the second part, I will start with a romantic piece by Chopin Ballade no. 4. It is only 11-12 minutes but it is perhaps Chopin’s most intense and most intimate. In those minutes, the ballad has all the emotions of a human being. It can be compared to an inner journey of the soul.
Then, three Spanish pieces that are very famous: Falla’s Danza del molinero, Albéniz/Godoswsky’s Tango and Falla’s Danza del fuego. I think the three of them create between them a mini Suite and prepare the final course of the recital which is Ravel’s La Valse. Such a powerful piece, so special…written after the first world war and with the uncertainty that was in the world at that time. And it couldn’t be more current. I chose the program before the conflict in Ukraine. But it’s such a current thing I think the program as a whole will take us on a very powerful journey.

Alessio Bax Pianist Photo: Marco Borggreve
And when you are on stage with your piano what do you hope to convey to the audience with this selection.

For two hours I try to tell a story and take people on a journey through the notes and sounds. I also use the energy of the audience and their attention.
Also, despite the covid, Spain has been spatially active compared to other countries. I did a small tour in March last year with Joshua Bell and Stephen Isserlis. This, in a period of time when you are not playing, is like a drop of water when you are thirsty.
Now both musicians and audiences are appreciating much more playing a live recital, which is different from a concert. In piano solo, for example, you are alone with the piano and the audience. Creating sounds in a hall and even more in such a wonderful auditorium as the one in Zaragoza allows you to modify the time situation. It is something beautiful.

Today, March 29, is the international day of the piano. Tell us, how did you enter the world of music and your predilection for this instrument?

My parents were not musicians but they were classical music fans. My first loves were soccer, but I saw that I had no talent for it, and the piano, thanks to a gift from my parents for Christmas. I took it to bed every night, looked for melodies, sang… And that’s how my parents realized that I had to follow this path. That has made me grow up with a deep love of music.

Alessio Bax Pianist Photo: Marco Borggreve
At the age of 14 you graduated with top honors from the conservatory in Bari, your hometown in Italy. Do you remember when you gave your first concert?

My first concert was at home with friends and family at the age of eight. With quite advanced pieces for my age like Beethoven’s Moonlight and small pieces by Liszt. I was thrilled. I remember my mother made some cookies for the break.
Eventually, you see that change and people start paying for tickets because they want to hear you. And that demands much more responsibility.

You have played with more than 100 orchestras, including the Royal and London Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Boston, Dallas, Cincinnati, Sydney, City of Birmingham and the NHK Symphony in Japan, collaborating with eminent conductors such as Marin Alsop, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Simon Rattle, Yuri Temirnakov and Jaap van Zweden. Right now you are considered one of the most outstanding young pianists of the moment. How do you cope? Is it difficult to stay at the top?

Well, that’s because someone says I’m in fashion now. We have no control over that. My responsibility is to play well and keep improving.
Humility always comes from the music, from the text. Getting up in the morning and seeing what Beethoven wrote and how small we are in front of that is what makes me keep studying every day. I have had very good opportunities in my life and I hope to keep having more and more interesting ones. Also, working with people who inspire me to always improve. My great luck was to have known Joaquín Achúcarro since I was a child, who is like a father to me. He taught me when I was eight or ten years old and today he continues to be my great inspiration.

And now, what is your dream and what challenge do you have ahead of you?

Now I can’t talk about indefinite dreams because I have a family. I want to keep growing as a person and as a musician. And my challenge is to play with the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonic.

I don’t know if you could reveal some of the projects you are working on?
I have two recordings in progress. One of French music with my wife Lucille Chung, who is an amazing pianist. And I also have a CD for Signum Classics, “Italian Inspirations”.
On the other hand, I am artistic director of the Tuscany Incontri Festival in Terra di Siena, I am currently organizing the program.

How do you value the role that music plays in the education of young people today?

It is fundamental, but it is a pity that music classes in schools are disappearing. Although I have a very positive outlook for the future, as I see young people at concerts. Also, thanks to the internet, it is very easy to access classical music, if someone is interested, there is no excuse. The truth is that classical music has always reached an advanced age, it has always been like that and there is no need to be overwhelmed, the important thing is that there are people.

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