Alessio Bax

The Bell Curve

Pianist Alessio Bax talks about his upcoming concert with violin superstar Joshua Bell at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

published Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
Alessio Bax

Dallas — Pianist Alessio Bax has strong ties to the Metroplex ever since he completed his graduate work at Southern Methodist University. He still holds a faculty position there. Locally, he has appeared with many of the presenting organizations as a soloist (with the Dallas Symphony) and as a chamber musician. On Thursday, we will hear him as a collaborative pianist in a recital with superstar violinist Joshua Bell. The two musicians will play a recital in the Winspear Opera House that they are currently taking on a whistle stop tour of the world.

“We travel constantly while the tour is active,” says Bax. “We will play the concert at night and then move on to the next location the following day. In addition, we do master classes and school programs.”

It is quite a grueling schedule. After the performance here on Thursday they’re off to Salzburg, followed by London, Gothenburg, Madrid and other stops through the end of December, the duo’s concert in the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. The tour resumes in the spring.

The program is on the conservative side: Schubert, Grieg and Prokofiev. (It is a regret that Bell doesn’t feature more works by living composers on his recitals.) Other selections will be announced from the stage.

“We start out the program with Schubert’s Violin Sonata in A Major,” says Bax. “It is also refered to as a ‘Grand Duo’ because of the equal nature of the violin and piano parts. I think it is one of his best works for violin and piano [there are two other sonatas]. There is an underlying melancholy in Schubert and that comes through here.”

This is especially true of the lovely andantino slow movement where Schubert, the great songwriter, is front and center. 

“Joshua has a singer’s approach to pieces like this. He plays like a great singer would perform the same materials…if there were some words,” he says with a laugh.

The program ends with Prokofiev’s dark-hued first Violin sonata but before that they will play a much sunnier work: Grieg’s first violin sonata.

“I have played the other two of Grieg’s violin sonatas before,” says Bax. “All three are jewels: compact and so well written. There is a lot of detail in the score, even instructional about using the pedal.”

I asked him why it isn’t played more often. Not just the sonata, but also Grieg’s music in general.

“That is a good question,” he says. “Composers seem to rise and fall out of public favor. You rarely hear Grieg’s piano concerto, but I think it is the perfect example of a romantic concerto. Grieg is due for a revival, I think.’”

Perhaps this tour with Grieg’s first violin sonata will start that renewal. 

The program ends with Prokofev’s Violin Sonata No. 1, in F minor Op. 80. The sunshine of Grieg’s Norwegian folk-based jolly sonata will be snuffed out by Prokofiev’s profound and brooding four movements. In fact, it may be the darkest piece in his oeuvre. It only lasts about 30 minutes, but the work is so intense that it feels longer. 

“Not only is this sonata dark, but the images are wild,” says Bax. “The fast and super-soft scales that occur in the two outer movements are meant to sound like the wind blowing over graves. They are also very difficult for the violinist to play since they go so very fast. The entire work has an otherworldly quality to it.”

That impression is born out by the fact that two of the movements were played at the composer’s funeral.

However, you can count on Bell to cheer things up with his pieces announced from the stage. This is customary in his recitals and the selections are often virtuosic and melodic showpieces. Bell is one of the world’s great violinists and he will certainly prove this fact before the concert is over. But by then, the impact of Prokofiev’s haunted graveyard may still be the takeaway, but Bell and Bax will have lightened the mood considerably.


Photo: Bill Phelps
Joshua Bell

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The Bell Curve
Pianist Alessio Bax talks about his upcoming concert with violin superstar Joshua Bell at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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