Caramoor Welcomes Pianist Jonathan Biss as 2016 Artist-in-Residence (July 10; Aug 4 & 5)
This summer, Caramoor welcomes Jonathan Biss – the young American hailed as “a truly world-class pianist” (The Guardian) – as its 2016 Artist-in-Residence. An alumnus of Caramoor’s venerated Evnin Rising Stars program, Biss returns to the historic Westchester estate for a trio of programs that celebrate his artistry as a recitalist, chamber musician, and orchestral soloist. Widely recognized as “an authority on Beethoven” (New York Times), he gives an all-Beethoven solo recital (Aug 5), joins his mother and friends for chamber works by Brahms and Janáček (Aug 4), and partners with the resident Orchestra of St. Luke’s for two piano concertos under the leadership of Joshua Weilerstein, pairing the New York premiere of Timo Andres’s Third Piano Concerto, The Blind Banister – a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist that was co-commissioned for him by Caramoor – with Beethoven’s Second, which inspired the commission (July 10).
Biss’s residency demonstrates Caramoor’s ongoing commitment to forging and nurturing connections with artists of the highest caliber. Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Yefim Bronfman, Hélène Grimaud, Yo-Yo Ma, Angela Meade, and Gil Shaham are among the many classical luminaries presented at Caramoor in recent seasons, and 2014 saw the inauguration of its new Artist-in-Residence program, with MacArthur Award-winning cellist Alisa Weilerstein as the first incumbent. Like Biss, Weilerstein is a graduate of Evnin Rising Stars, one of the many young artist mentorship programs through which Caramoor enables budding talent to bloom. It is characteristic, not only of the loyalty Caramoor inspires, but also of the sterling follow-up support it offers, that both artists remain members of its extended musical family, making frequent return appearances even as their careers take wing. Biss explains:
“Coming back to places where I have history, where the audience and I know each other, where I’ve played a wide variety of repertoire – that always feels deeper to me. And since I have a longer history with Caramoor than I do with just about any other place, it’s really very exciting to know that I have this extended visit coming up.”
Indeed, with 90 acres of picturesque Italianate architecture and gardens just one hour’s drive from Manhattan, Caramoor represents something of a cultural oasis for performers; as former artistic director Peter Oundjian put it, “Caramoor’s beauty unites us all in our passion for creativity.”
Biss and Beethoven
As San Francisco Classical Voice realizes, “Jonathan Biss doesn’t do things halfway. As a pianist, teacher, and writer, he tends toward an obsessive, full-immersion approach to any project that commands his attention.” His previous initiative, “Schumann: Under the Influence,” saw the young pianist play more than 30 concerts around the world, release an Onyx Classics album, and publish an eBook, all devoted to exploring and contextualizing the works of Robert Schumann. This same deep musical and intellectual curiosity drives Biss’s present, multi-season immersion in the music of Beethoven. He writes:
“Beethoven’s sonatas have been a constant presence in my life for nearly as long as I have been playing the piano. ‘Presence’ is too mild a word, though: ‘force’ comes a bit closer to conveying the space he occupies in my heart and head. … I hope and expect that my relationship with Beethoven will continue for many years …, but the intensity of my current immersion with his music has become one of the most profound experiences of my life.”
Having made a nine-year commitment to recording all 32 of the master composer’s sonatas, Biss has already released five volumes, besides dedicating a groundbreaking online Coursera course to their exploration that has reached more than 150,000 students to date. He also published a second Amazon Kindle Single, Beethoven’s Shadow, that was pronounced “intellectually provocative” by The Independent. The British daily is similarly admiring of Biss as an interpreter of Beethoven’s music, observing:
“Biss is the most consistently interesting Beethovenist of his 30-something generation; nobody else interrogates the score with such intensity, or infuses it with such electricity in performance.”
Biss drew like praise for his first all-Beethoven solo recital at Caramoor in 2013, when – despite torrential rain – he impressed the New York Times with his “ability to convey his deep understanding of these works and to give each a distinctive character.” This summer, when he returns for a second all-Beethoven solo recital, the pianist’s program features the sonatas in E-flat, Op. 7, and G, Op. 79, alongside the beloved “Appassionata” and “Tempest” sonatas (Aug 5). Click here to see Biss talk about practicing Beethoven.
NY premiere of The Blind Banister by Timo Andres, a Caramoor co-commission
A lifelong advocate for contemporary composition, Biss has previously commissioned works by David Ludwig, Leon Kirchner, Bernard Rands, and Lewis Spratlan, besides premiering the music of William Bolcom and Timo Andres. Drawing on his twin passions for Beethoven and new music alike, his most recent commissioning project, Beethoven/5, sees five contemporary composers write new piano concertos, each inspired by one of Beethoven’s own five contributions to the genre. At the project’s launch, Biss wrote:
“Beethoven’s music has been an obsession for as long as I can remember – working on it has been a constant source of joy, inspiration, and frustration. In this, I’m joined by most musicians I know, regardless of age, training, or background. That is why the idea of asking five very different composers to write a piece that, in some way, responds to Beethoven, is so exciting to me: each of them will have a relationship with him that is unique and intense, and these five works should constitute a significant and varied addition to the concerto repertoire.”
To write the concertos, Biss turned to contemporary composers Sally Beamish, Brett Dean, Salvatore Sciarrino, Caroline Shaw, and, in the first instance, Timo Andres, a “brilliant young composer-performer” (New Yorker) whose honors include the Charles Ives Prize. Andres responded: “There are few musicians I trust as implicitly as Jonathan. I’m thrilled to be writing my third and largest piano concerto for him, which will be our second collaboration.” Dedicated to Biss and commissioned by Caramoor and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, in collaboration with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the resulting concerto – The Blind Banister – takes Beethoven’s youthful Second Piano Concerto as its inspiration. Andres explains: “The best way I can describe my approach to writing the piece is: I started writing my own cadenza to Beethoven’s concerto, and ended up devouring it from the inside out.” As has just been announced, The Blind Banister was chosen as one of three finalists for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
When Biss gave its world premiere with the SPCO last fall, the Star-Tribune found Andres’s concerto “unfailingly compelling,” and the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that the Beethoven had inspired “a perfect piano concerto” of which the pianist’s performance was “bewitching.” For The Blind Banister’s New York premiere at Caramoor, heard alongside his account of Beethoven’s Second, Biss joins forces with the resident Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Joshua Weilerstein, Artistic Director of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne (and brother of 2014 Artist-in-Residence Alisa), in his Caramoor debut. The concert’s second half features Martinů’s La Jolla Sinfonietta, a neoclassical response to Haydn’s 98th Symphony, and concludes with the Haydn symphony itself (July 10).
Chamber music with his mother and friends
Biss is both a dedicated chamber artist and the third generation of a family of professional musicians. When he gave a duo recital with his mother, distinguished violinist Miriam Fried, the Washington Post found it “as intimate in tone as a family conversation across a dinner table.” Mother and son reunite at Caramoor for renditions of Janáček’s Sonata for Violin and Piano and Brahms’s Piano Quartet in A – the composer’s longest chamber work – in which they will be joined by friends and close musical associates Hsin-Yun Huang on viola and Marcy Rosen on cello (Aug 4).
For a full biography and high-resolution photos of Jonathan Biss, click here.
For more than 70 years, Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts has been a leading destination for music lovers. Comprising a Mediterranean revival villa on 90 acres of gardens and serene woodlands in Westchester County, NY, the estate is just 40 miles north of Manhattan. Summer concerts take place in two outdoor theaters – the 1,508-seat, acoustically superb Venetian Theater, and the more intimate, romantic 470-seat Spanish Courtyard – as well as in the picturesque gardens, which include a Sense Circle for the visually impaired, Sunken Garden, Butterfly Garden, Tapestry Hedge, and Iris and Peony Garden. Audiences are invited to come early to explore the grounds, tour the historic Rosen House, enjoy a relaxing Sunday afternoon tea, or unwind with a pre-concert picnic. In addition to the summer season, Caramoor presents concerts all year round in the magnificent Rosen House Music Room. Through an impressive range of education programs, Caramoor serves more than 6,000 students in the New York metropolitan area, besides boasting an array of highly successful mentorship programs designed for young professionals who have completed their conservatory training. Over the past 20 years, alumni from these programs have become leaders of the next classical generation, whose accomplishments include winning a MacArthur Fellowship, becoming first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, and appointment as the Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.
Getting to Caramoor
Getting to Caramoor is simple by car, train or public transportation. All parking is free and close to the performance areas. Handicapped parking is also free and readily available.
By car from New York City, take the Henry Hudson Parkway north to the Saw Mill River Parkway north to I-684 north to Exit 6. Go east on Route 35 to the traffic light (0.3 mile). Turn right onto Route 22 south, and travel 1.9 miles to the junction of Girdle Ridge Road where there is a green Caramoor sign. At the junction, veer left and make a quick right onto Girdle Ridge Road. Continue on Girdle Ridge Road 0.5 miles to the Caramoor gates on the right. Approximate drive time is one hour.
By train from Grand Central Station, take the Harlem Division Line of the Metro North Railroad heading to Southeast, and exit at Katonah. Caramoor is a 3.5-mile drive from the Katonah station, where taxi service is always available and free shuttle service is available for every event Thursdays through Sundays. For current information, check the Metro North schedule.
For the opera performances, Caramoor offers ticketed, round-trip transportation from NYC on the Caramoor Coach, a luxury air-conditioned coach traveling from Grand Central/Lexington Ave to Caramoor’s front door and back. To learn more, contact the Box Office.
Caramoor presents Jonathan Biss, 2016 Artist-in-Residence
Orchestra of St. Luke’s / Joshua Weilerstein
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19
Timo Andres: The Blind Banister, Concerto No. 3 (NY premiere of Caramoor co-commission)
Martinů: La Jolla Sinfonietta for piano and chamber orchestra
Haydn: Symphony No. 98 in B-flat major, Hob. 1/98
With Miriam Fried, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Marcy Rosen, cello
Janáček: Sonata for violin and piano
Brahms: Piano Quartet in A major, Op. 26
Beethoven: Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 7
Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2 (“Tempest”)
Beethoven: Sonata in G major, Op. 79
Beethoven: Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”)