Young Italian pianist Alessio Bax was last in town in May when he performed Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. That's when I caught up with hin to chat about his appearances with the Mimir Chamber Music Festival this week at Texas Christian University.
On Sunday afternoon, he will play George Enescu's rarely heard Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 25 with violinist Nathan Cole and, with the addition of cellist Brant Taylor, Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 subtitled "In Memory of a Great Artist."
"That great artist was Nicholas Rubinstein, who was Tchaikovsky's teacher, friend, and mentor," says Bax. "He was also one of the greatest pianists of his generation."
Bax has a long association with both the Mimir Festival and Dallas. He first arrived here as a student at SMU by a relatively circuitous route. At the remarkably young age of 14, he graduated from the conservatory in his hometown in Bari, Italy. He then moved to France to study with François-Joël Thiollier, and attended the Chigiana Academy in Siena to study with Joaquín Achúcarro, who is also on the faculty of Southern Methodist University. Bax moved to Dallas in 1994 to continue his studies with Achúcarro. "I just never left," he says with a laugh.
Currently, he is an adjunct Assistant Professor of Piano at SMU. "I don't have private students, but I work on a lot of projects," he says.
He also keeps up an incredibly busy touring schedule. This season, in addition to numerous concerto appearances with major orchestras, he will play solo recitals in Iceland, Cyprus, Rome, Taipei, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, France and Spain, and will tour Canada with his wife, Lucille Chung, playing concerts of music written for piano four hands - two pianists playing at the same piano.
"We love to play this repertoire. First of all, it gives us some time together, because our touring schedules don't coincide otherwise. This season, we will play 25 concerts together," Bax says.
That's 25 out of the hundreds he plays every year. It's a life of planes, hotels and concert halls. How he is able to keep up his practice when he is on the road so much of the time and mostly stuck in hotels where the only piano is in the bar?
"You have to arrange with the hall to get adequate time, not only for practice, but to get used to the piano. They are all different and you have to learn their individual personalities," he says. "Piano stores are also generous with the use of their studios. I am a Steinway artist and so there is usually a Steinway dealer in a town of any size. However, the biggest problem with touring with that, after rehearsals and some practice, there isn't that much to do, except hang around in your hotel room."
That is certainly not the problem when he participates in the Mimir festival.
"I have been here for 12 or 13 years now and the schedule is very tight. You are running around all day, what with teaching students, giving master classes, and preparing for the concerts."
Mimir was the first summer festival in which the young pianist participated, and it was a revelation when he went to some others. "I expected them to all be like Mimir, but I found that most of them aren't nearly so busy. However, that is the fun of Mimir. You are constantly in motion from the moment you arrive."
Part of the reason that Mimir is able to put on such magnificent faculty concerts in such a short period of time is that they bring in the very best musicians in the country. "Everyone arrives for the first rehearsal 100 percent prepared. Also, most of them have already played the repertoire before and already know the spots that require some attention. At first, I hadn't played most of the pieces that Mimir programmed, but now, with my busy chamber music schedule, more of them are old friends. Still, every time I approach a familiar piece, I find new things in it."
Bax says that he really looks forward to Mimir every summer. "Whether it is a piece that I am relearning or something new, there is always a sense of excitement about playing a concert at Mimir, he said. "Part of it the synergy of playing with the best musicians in the world, and part is the excellent programming. When I leave, I always wonder what we will play the next summer."
And we look forward to hearing it, what ever it is.
◊ Bax will perform with Mimir artists concerts 2 p.m. July 8 and 7:30 p.m. July 10. Each performance will be at TCU's PepsiCo Recital Hall. Individual tickets are $25 at the regular price, with discounts for seniors and for those attending multiple concerts. For a complete schedule and detailed information, go to www.mimirfestival.org. For information, phone 817-257-5443.