With the coming of May also comes excitement for the wonderful events of the CSO's 'Keys to the City Festival'. Pianist Orion Weiss joins his former teacher Emanuel Ax May 30 at Symphony Center (http://cso.org/TicketsAndEvents/EventDetails.aspx?eid=4080) and returns later this summer to perform several concerts at Ravinia. Having witnessed his incredible love for music and sensitive musicianship firsthand, I took the opportunity to ask this frequent Chicago performer a few probing questions.
What made you fall in love with music?
One of my earliest musical memories is of being frightened into tears by some orchestral recording my parents had on. It was so loud! There was always music playing in our house, so bit by bit my fears faded away and curiosity and interest took over. In a way, falling in love with music is unavoidable if you get the chance to hear it. It is so overwhelmingly enchanting - if you can overcome your fear of sound, and luckily I was very courageous when I was young.
What do you think are the main challenges facing classical musicians today?
I'm not sure that the basic challenges have changed much, our work is past-oriented, and if it doesn't get harder to play Beethoven as the years go by, it certainly doesn't get easier either. But I know that's also a loaded question, loaded with worries about shrinking audiences, diminishing funding, etc. Well, a musician's job is to be a spokesperson for the music one loves, to present it as faithfully and passionately as possible, to always breathe fresh life into one's performances, to keep our art compelling and ageless. If we do a little of that, I think we'll be ok.
Later this month, you will be performing with your former teacher Emanuel Ax. Could you share some of your experiences working with him?
He has had an enormous and profound impact on my musical life. His approach - his intensity and integrity, tireless striving for ideals - is for me a sort of musical moral compass. And every time I hear him play fills my tank with premium inspiration. He was an amazing teacher and he's such a flexible and all-encompassing musician that he would never force any one idea, as much as try to guide me to find the most convincing path to my own interpretation. I've played four-hands with him once before, and it was simply thrilling. I'm really excited about our upcoming Brahms Haydn Variations!
If you had to choose one composer to hang out with on a desert island, who would it be (and why)?
Rossini. He would prepare delicious meals out of our limited provisions. Or Mozart, his sense of humor and wit would make the time pass as we waited for rescue. I guess Schumann and I and his many personalities could play some rousing games of cards. But, wait, I don't know many card games. Stravinsky could teach me card games! I know how to play chess, but I'm not so good. I could play chess with Prokofiev and get beaten. Overall, Beethoven would be the best choice. He could surely escape the island through sheer force of will, though maybe he wouldn't take me with him! Or, maybe Tchaikovsky, for those loud cannons, to signal for rescue, or ward off pirates. If I wanted to get off the island in a real hurry, I'd have to pick Stockhausen, for his helicopters!
You have performed all around the world with different venues and ensembles. Why do you think Chicago is a great place for music making?
Any place where people want to listen to music - which I think is wherever people are on the planet where there's not a war of wolves or something else awful - is a good place to listen to music. If the city has good acoustics (and I think Chicago does, what with the resonant lake and the broad streets), it's a great place to play. Also, the food is really good here, and if there's one thing musicians need, it's food.
Who are your musical idols?
Anna Polonsky, Beethoven, and Emanuel Ax. My wife suggested that answer. Hers is the first name in the list.
It seems today's concert pianists are truly jacks of all trades playing solo recitals, chamber performances and performing with orchestras. How do you balance all the different repertoire and traveling (not to mention a life outside of work!)?
For me, changing repertoire and exploring new pieces is one of the best things about the job. Some people look forward to vacations. I also look forward to vacations, but as a much cheaper alternative, I'll learn a new piece. Every new score feels a little like exploring a new part of the world, like a new adventure. When I travel for real, I watch a lot of movies.
Is there any advice or piece of wisdom you would like to share with young musicians?
Revenge is a dish best served cold. Wait, no, that's not such good advice.
For more information about Orion, you may visit http://imgartists.com/artist/orion_weiss.