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Alessio Bax’s Full Summer Features Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival Debut

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He is the complete package – a consummate recitalist, a superb soloist, an expert recording artist, and in addition, a stellar chamber musician.” So stated David Finckel and Wu Han, co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, when naming Alessio Bax as winner of the 2013 Martin E. Segal Award. This enviable versatility is showcased by the pianist’s summer lineup. He makes debuts at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, with a nine-day residency crowned by a solo recital; at Chicago’s North Shore Chamber Music Festival; and at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he performs Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. He also plays Liszt’s First Piano Concerto in Tokyo, and rounds out the summer with returns to the chamber music festivals of Lexington, Fort Worth, and Rockport, where this season marks the second leg of his three-year residency as winner of the Maine festival’s coveted Andrew Wolf Award – a recent addition to numerous honors that already included an Avery Fisher Career Grant and First Prizes at the Leeds and Hamamatsu international piano competitions.

For his first appearances at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Bax undertakes a trio of chamber programs, performing Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio (July 23 & 24), Ligeti’s Horn Trio (July 27 & 28), and – as “an ideal Brahmsian” (Fanfare magazine) – Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor (July 20 & 21), before giving a solo recital comprising Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110, a prelude and transcription by Rachmaninov, and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (July 29). This is repertoire in which the pianist has already made his mark, having proved himself “formidable and sensitive” (New Yorker) in Beethoven, “ardent and dazzling” (Gramophone) in Rachmaninov, and “simply one of the most vivid pianists around” (ConcertoNet) in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Indeed, it was after his recent pairing of Mussorgsky’s Pictures with Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata at the Music@Menlo festival that the San Francisco Classical Voice declared:

Rarely do you hear a pianist play two monumental, exhausting works back-to-back in one concert. Alessio Bax proved he had the chops, youthful stamina, and artistic insight for it.

As the Peninsula Reviews confirmed, “Bax provided stunning, even glorious, testimony to his digital and expressive gifts, almost comparable to the famous Sviatoslav Richter performance of Pictures in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1958. … Bax manages to transform the percussive power of his Steinway into a velvet-pawed lion which can purr like an Aeolian Harp.”

Rachmaninov is on the program once again when the pianist gives a solo recital in the Achúcarro Piano Series in Bilbao, Spain (June 12), while Beethoven’s monumental “Hammerklavier” – one of the works with which he secured first-prize wins at both the Leeds and Hamamatsu international piano competitions – forms the centerpiece of his upcoming all-Beethoven solo album, which is due for release this fall on the Signum Classics label.

Bax makes another summer debut at Chicago’s North Shore Chamber Music Festival, which he helps launch with a rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Trio, Op. 11 (June 4), before pairing Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio with Schoenberg’s arrangement of Strauss’s Roses from the South (June 6), and taking part in Mendelssohn’s Piano Sextet in a grand finale that draws the North Shore season to a close (June 7). The festival marks Bax’s first appearance in the Windy City since wowing 12,000 people a night with two performances of Barber’s Piano Concerto at Grant Park last summer, when the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein marveled:

“Bax had the measure of this knuckle-busting virtuoso piece. His winning account combined youthful bravura in the outer movements with an innate feel for the ebb and flow of melody in the central Canzone. … His fingerwork was incisive without degenerating into pounding, and the torrent of pianistic energy he unleashed in the explosive, toccata-like finale kicked up tremendous excitement. Let’s have him back.” 

The pianist looks forward to two further concerto engagements this summer. On a lineup with such household names as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Sheryl Crow, he makes his first appearance at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, joining the World Youth Symphony Orchestra under Carlos Kalmar for Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto (July 6). He also returns to Japan, where he has been a frequent guest artist since taking first prize at the Hamamatsu competition at the start of his career, for a masterclass (July 12) and an account of Liszt’s First Piano Concerto with the Kunitachi College of Music Orchestra and Jun Märkl at Tokyo’s Opera City Concert Hall (July 14).

Three further chamber festivals round out the pianist’s summer. At Kentucky’s Lexington Chamber Music Festival, he collaborates with Nathan Cole, first Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, on Schubert’s Grand Duo (Aug 20) and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio (Aug 22), besides playing solo Rachmaninov and Gershwin songs with soprano Karen Slack (Aug 24); and at Fort Worth’s Mimir Chamber Music Festival, he participates in Taneyev’s Piano Quintet (July 8).

In the second season of his three-year residency as recipient of the Andrew Wolf Award at the Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, Maine, Bax joins his wife, fellow pianist Lucille Chung, for a four-hands recital of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture coupled with the original four-hands version of Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka and their own arrangements of three Piazzolla tangos (Aug 14). Both the Stravinsky and Piazzolla are featured on the couple’s 2013 Signum Classics release, Bax & Chung, about which the UK’s Sunday Times notes, “They share a brilliant clarity in their playing. In this scintillating recital, it’s hard to find even a fleeting moment where ensemble is less than meticulous,” while Classical CD Choice admires their “almost supernatural understanding of the demands of the duo repertoire” and Gramophone their “effortless synchronicity.”  

Two days later, Bax and Chung join Jeffrey Zeigler, former cellist of the Kronos Quartet, to present the world premiere performance of One Silken Thread, a new commission from Thomas Cabaniss, whose music exudes “contemporary, atonal beauty seasoned with just a pinch of lush, Broadway-worthy melody” (New York Times), paired with Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, which Bax undertakes with Zeigler and violinist Geoff Nuttall (Aug 16).

A complete list of the pianist’s upcoming engagements follows, and additional information may be found at his web site: alessiobax.com