Jonathan Biss, piano

Jonathan Biss is a world-renowned pianist who channels his deep musical curiosity into performances and projects in the concert hall and beyond. In addition to performing with today’s leading orchestras, he continues to expand his reputation as a teacher, musical thinker, and one of the great Beethoven interpreters of our time. He is Co-Artistic Director alongside Mitsuko Uchida at the Marlboro Music Festival, where he has spent fourteen summers, and which reopened in 2021 following the coronavirus shutdown. He also led a massive open online course (MOOC) via Coursera, which has reached more than 150,000 people from nearly every country in the world. He has written extensively about the music he plays and has authored four audio- and e-books, including UNQUIET: My Life with Beethoven (2020), the first Audible Original by a classical musician.

During the 2021–22 season, Mr. Biss performs solo recitals at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre, Washington DC’s Phillips Collection, and as part of The Gilmore’s in-season programming ahead of The Gilmore Piano Festival in Kalamazoo (MI). His solo repertoire this season includes sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert and additional works by Schumann, Kurtág, and Janáček. As a chamber musician, he performs Elgar’s Piano Quintet with the Doric String Quartet on tour in Philadelphia, Dallas, Athens (GA), Middlebury (VT), and Schenectady (NY). In London, he joins tenor Mark Padmore in Schumann’s Dichterliebe at the Barbican Centre and performs a recital with violinists Liza Ferschtman and Malin Broman and violist Antoine Tamestit.

Mr. Biss’s orchestral repertoire this season includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) and a piano concerto inspired by that work, Brett Dean’s Gneixendorfer Musik, which was composed for Mr. Biss as part of his Beethoven/5 commissioning project. Launched in 2015 in partnership with lead commissioner the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, this project pairs each Beethoven concerto with a new concerto composed in response. Mr. Biss performs the Dean and fifth Beethoven concertos together in each of his concerts with the Dresden Philharmonic and NFM Wrocław Philharmonic. He also performs the Dean concerto separately with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the “Emperor” Concerto on its own with the San Diego Symphony and Naples (FL) Philharmonic. Among the earlier Beethoven/5 commissions is a work that Mr. Biss performed in summer 2021 with The Cleveland Orchestra—Caroline Shaw’s Watermark, inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Mr. Biss’s 2021–22 orchestral engagements also include Mozart concertos with the Jacksonville Symphony, Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra (Finland), and as part of a series of performances at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest.

In 2020, coinciding with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, Mr. Biss concluded his more than ten-year immersion in the composer’s music, which has included concert series, recordings, writings, lectures, and new commissions of Beethoven-inspired works. Over the course of his Beethoven immersion, he recorded the composer’s complete piano sonatas, while also offering insight into all 32 of these landmark works via his free, online Coursera lecture series Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas. His final Coursera lectures appeared in January 2020, and Orchid Classics released the nine-disc sonata cycle box set in March 2020. That same month, in a virtual recital presented by the 92nd Street Y, Mr. Biss performed Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas for an online audience of more than 280,000 people, one of the first major at-home concerts of the early pandemic era. This was followed by a daily video series of selections from the Beethoven sonatas that Mr. Biss presented via his Facebook page over the course of several weeks.

Throughout his career, Mr. Biss has been an advocate for new music. He embarked his Beethoven/5 commissioning project as part of his Beethoven immersion, and the project led to the world premieres of Timo Andres’s The Blind Banister, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, Sally Beamish’s City Stanzas, Salvatore Sciarrino’s Il Sogno di Stradella, Caroline Shaw’s Watermark, and Brett Dean’s Gneixendorfer Musik. Prior to Beethoven/5 he commissioned Lunaire Variations by David Ludwig, Interlude II by Leon Kirchner, Wonderer by Lewis Spratlan, and Three Pieces for Piano and a concerto by Bernard Rands, which he premiered with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He has also premiered a piano quintet by William Bolcom.

Mr. Biss’s projects represent his complete approach to music-making and connecting his audience to his own passion for the music. Previous projects have included an exploration of composers’ “Late Style” in various concert programs at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and San Francisco Performances. He also gave master classes at Carnegie Hall and published the Kindle Single Coda on the topic. His previous Kindle Single, Beethoven’s Shadow, was the first by a classical musician. Schumann: Under the Influence was a 30-concert exploration of the composer’s role in musical history, for which Mr. Biss also recorded Schumann and Dvořák piano quintets with the Elias String Quartet and wrote A Pianist Under the Influence, published by Audible.

Mr. Biss represents the third generation in a family of professional musicians that includes his grandmother Raya Garbousova, one of the first well-known female cellists (for whom Samuel Barber composed his Cello Concerto), and his parents, violinist Miriam Fried and violist/violinist Paul Biss. Growing up surrounded by music, Mr. Biss began his piano studies at age six, and his first musical collaborations were with his mother and father. He studied with Evelyne Brancart at Indiana University and with Leon Fleisher at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he is now on faculty and holds the Neubauer Family Chair in Piano Studies. He has since appeared with major orchestras around the world, including in the U.S. with the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics; the Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco Symphonies; and the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras. In Europe, he has appeared with the BBC Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Berlin, Staatskapelle Dresden, and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, among many other ensembles.

Mr. Biss has been recognized with numerous honors, including the Leonard Bernstein Award presented at the 2005 Schleswig-Holstein Festival, Wolf Trap’s Shouse Debut Artist Award, the Andrew Wolf Memorial Chamber Music Award, Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, the 2003 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, and a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award. His albums for EMI won the Diapason d’Or de l’Année and Edison awards. He was an artist-in-residence on American Public Media’s Performance Today and was the first American chosen to participate in the BBC’s New Generation Artist program.