Jonathan Biss is on a mission for Beethoven.
The acclaimed American pianist, 36, has spent the past six years immersed in the composer’s vaunted sonatas, attempting to perform and record the complete sonata cycle.
Biss is in the middle of a three-summer residency at the Aspen Music Festival, during which he will perform all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas. He will play five tonight at Harris Concert Hall.
In addition to recitals, like his two in Aspen this summer, and his planned nine recordings (he’s released seven so far), Biss has written a book about the process, “Beethoven’s Shadow,” and teaches an online course through the Curtis Institute on Beethoven’s sonatas. His journey with Beethoven is as much about advocacy and education as performance.
“His intensity and force of personality and his variety of expression is like nothing else I know,” Biss said recently on the patio outside of the Paepcke Memorial Building. “So I feel pulled to his music. I hear that this will sound melodramatic, but: I can’t imagine my life without it.”
The online course, titled “Exploring Beethoven’s Sonatas,” has been taken by more than 150,000 students in 185 countries — clear evidence that there is a thirst in the general public to learn more about Beethoven and about classical music. With music education’s decline in schools, Biss sees it as part of professional musicians’ role today to pick up the slack. A concert pianist today, he reasons, can’t just show up and perform.
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“I feel that the job of bringing music to people now falls on us, that if we don’t do it then it just won’t happen,” he said. “I would feel almost irresponsible not doing it.”
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