Even by the high standards of his profession, pianist Jonathan Biss takes his passion for music further than most. Many artists record a CD or more of Beethoven sonatas. Biss has set out on a nine-CD, nine-year plan to record them all. He’s an in-demand soloist, chamber musician, and recitalist, and he routinely performs with the top orchestras. Biss also writes — and writes very well — about the music he plays and does so in a variety of formats. His most recent publication is a Kindle single of approximately 19,000 words called “Beethoven’s Shadow,” and for lovers of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and long-form essay writing, it’s a great find. In that essay, Biss expresses his feeling (not uncommonly) that Beethoven is “not only more satisfying, but more daring and modern than Schoenberg.”
On Tuesday, April 3, the audience at the Music Academy’s Hahn Hall will hear the fruit of all this talent when Biss performs a recital that promises to illustrate his thesis. He has been performing Beethoven’s sonatas alongside works by Janáček and Chopin all over the world for several years now, but he’ll be introducing an interesting new work into a particularly important moment in the evening.
Biss’s S.B. recital will be the “near-premiere” (four days after the world premiere in Aspen) of Lunaire Variations, a commissioned work by American composer David Ludwig. It will be the penultimate piece on the program, and it leads into Beethoven’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 81A (“Les Adieux”). Ludwig is the grandson of pianist Rudolf Serkin and the nephew of Peter Serkin, and he wrote this piece based on Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire specifically for Biss. “It takes the 21 songs of Schoenberg’s cycle and brings them down to seven,” Biss told me by phone last week from his hotel in Germany. “Like all good miniatures,” he said, “they are snapshots. In such a short space of time, you can’t address an idea thematically — you have to be immediately in it.”
Jonathan Biss performs at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall (1070 Fairway Rd.) on Tuesday, April 3, at 8 p.m. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.