A piano prodigy takes the stage

Jonathan Biss knows his way around a piano. Credit: Jillian Edelstein/EMIClassics Jonathan Biss knows his way around a piano.
Credit: Jillian Edelstein/EMIClassics

Not to throw the phrase “musical genius” around, but pianist Jonathan Biss made his Carnegie Hall debut — to rave reviews — while he was still in his teens. Now 32, Biss is taking a break from teaching music to collaborate with the Philadelphia Orchestra for a series of performances this week.

Biss studied piano at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music under the legendary Leon Fleisher and is now on the faculty of the prestigious school.

“Teaching enriches my music,” he says. “Practicing is often a solo task. Teaching allows me to share my love of music with others.”

Biss is a third-generation musician. Samuel Barber composed his Cello Concerto, which won the New York Critic’s Circle Award, specifically for Biss’s grandmother, Raya Garbousova. Biss recently performed with his mother, the renowned violinist Miriam Fried, at the Kimmel Center, and his father, Paul Biss, is also a violinist of note.

“My parents just wanted us to play music,” says Biss. “They did not care what instrument it was. My brother chose the piano and I followed his footsteps. I’m glad that I chose a different instrument than them because I am independent and was able to make my own mistakes.”

The multi-talented Biss has the distinction of being the only classical musician Kindle has ever asked to write an e-book. “Beethoven’s Shadow” was ranked the No. 1 music offering on Amazon for several months.

He’s turning to a different musical master for his Philadelphia Orchestra gig, playing Mozart’s rarely heard Concerto No. 13.

“Many people find it comfortable to go to a concert to hear something that they have heard before. I think there is something magical about introducing the audience to something that they have not,” he says.

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