Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
I didn’t really pick piano at first. I wanted to play the organ. I loved the sound of it, the huge range of colours and mainly the music of Bach. When I was 9 and it was time to enter the conservatory in Bari it was mandated that I take five years of piano before making the switch to the organ. And here I am, still playing the piano! I never really chose to pursue a career, it just happened, step by step.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My family, all my teachers, who inspired me in many different ways and nowadays all the musicians I come in contact with. It’s amazing how we are the sum of all our experiences, if we just pay attention constantly and keep an open mind. My wife, pianist Lucille Chung is a constant inspiration and so is our daughter Mila, in very different ways.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I have to say it is probably to keep innovating myself without ever loosing track of who I am. It is a difficult balance to achieve, but an essential one, in my opinion. New is good, but not for the sake of new, it needs to add to our core musicianship. Also it is incredibly challenging to balance private life with career, especially time spent with our daughter, which is never enough!
You have curated this summer’s festival Incontri in Terra di Siena for the first time – tell us how you’ve gone about putting together the programme?
It has been a very exciting development in my life. I thought of what could be the perfect balance between repertoire (familiar and less familiar, old and new), artists, and locations. It is truly a unique festival and it has a deep connection with its surroundings, so I had to keep that in mind. I lined up a “dream team” of my favourite artists and close friends who like to work together. And I tried to think of programs that are satisfyingly balanced, exciting, inspiring and fresh. I can’t wait to hear the results.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I try not to listen to my recordings and I find that memories of live performances get somewhat distorted over time, since they are usually inseparable from the circumstances surrounding them. There are performances I will never forget. Playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, for the first time ever, on an hour notice, and saving the day at the Dallas Youth Orchestra’s annual Gala where I was supposed to be just an audience member was memorable. So was the final round of the Leeds competition with Sir Simon Rattle and CBSO, for very emotional reasons. Playing Rachmaninov 2nd concerto with St. Petersburg Philharmonic and Yuri Temirkanov thought me so many lessons in such a short time. And many more… But I wouldn’t think of performances I am “proud” of…maybe “fond of”! As far as recordings are concerned, the only ones I am sometimes surprised with are of pieces that somehow I either don’t play anymore, or I just learnt to include as “rarities” in a recording. It creates a strange feeling of :”oh, I did that?”
The Lullabies for Mila album, dedicated to my daughter is very special for totally different reasons.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I am really the wrong person to put this question to. You should ask the audience! I feel that changes every day. On a good day, it is the piece I am intensively working on at the moment. On a bad day….nothing!
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Thankfully I have a very long list of pieces I really want to play. I start with that, and then make a program around it using works currently in my repertoire, new works and pieces that I have perhaps learnt as a student and want to revisit. It is a very enjoyable process, unless I am working against a close deadline! I love making balanced programs and making different styles, moods and atmospheres work together.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are many magical halls in the world, but somehow it all depends on how I feel about a particular concert. There are many factors involved: piano, acoustics, audience and most importantly the quality of the performance. When everything is aligned, then we can have a special evening!
Who are your favourite musicians?
There are too many to mention. Pianists yes, but mainly other instrumentalists and singers, conductors and also jazz musicians!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Playing with close friends and musicians I know well as people. It is really special and it creates an amazing atmosphere on stage. Also I love performances during which the idea I had about a piece gets turned around on its head and you feel like a new door has opened in your musical thought process. This is the beauty of music and the reason great classical music can survive forever.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Generate every musical idea from looking closely at the score, and justify any choice you make with what’s written on the page. This process will filter out lots of unwanted ideas. Also, go to live concerts as much as possible, and try to play in a large room at any chance you get.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Where I am, doing what I love to do and with people I love. Hopefully a little bit better than now!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sitting down for dinner with family and friends after a good concert.
What is your most treasured possession? It’s not a possession, but it has to be my family. As for material things, I am not sure, but my wine collection comes to mind. It’s not very valuable but every bottle has a story that comes with it, and a reason why it’s there. And every bottle will have a story about who I decided to share it with and when.
What is your present state of mind?
I am just trying to juggle too many things at the same time while keep thinking of long term goals and getting in the right frame of mind for tonight’s concert!
Alessio Bax makes his Wigmore Hall debut on Monday 17 April. Details here
Alessio Bax was recently appointed Artistic Director of Italy’s Incontri in Terra di Siena Festival, for a three-year term starting in 2017.
(Picture credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)