COURTESY LISA-MARIE MAZZUCCOPianist Alessio Bax plays a solo recital this weekend at Music@Menlo in Atherton.

COURTESY LISA-MARIE MAZZUCCOPianist Alessio Bax plays a solo recital this weekend at Music@Menlo in Atherton.

Alessio Bax tackles Beethoven’s most challenging sonata

Piano virtuoso Alessio Bax agrees with Beethoven about the demands of the composer’s “Hammerklavier” sonata.

“It’s absolutely the most difficult of his 32 sonatas to perform. There is a feeling that you can never reach the emotional and intellectual heights, and I don’t think any one pianist can feel at home with all the vast challenges of this piece,” says the Italian musician, who will play it in a Music@Menlo solo recital Sunday in Atherton. The program also includes Moussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

For pianists, the significance of the German word “hammerklavier” goes beyond “pianoforte.” In 1818, when he finished the work, Beethoven proudly wrote to his publisher, “Now you have a sonata that will keep the pianists busy when it is played 50 years hence!”

Yet Bax, 36, winner of the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition, who learned Beethoven’s Sonata in B-flat Major for Piano, op. 106, as a 15-year-old prodigy, says, “I know it’s a bit corny, but it’s a humbling experience still, to sit in front of the ‘Hammerklavier’ in the morning. I start with the slow movement, and I think to myself, ‘Am I lucky or what?’”

Written in the last decade of Beethoven’s life, the piece was completed while he worked on the Ninth Symphony, and just before he began the “Missa Solemnis.” David Dubal, piano professor at The Juilliard School, says, “The slow movement of Op. 106 is the longest and most sublime in the history of instrumental art.”

Joys in Bax’s life are plentiful. He feels lucky to be able to tour, to travel, to discover new places and to try new and different foods.

Married to pianist Lucille Chung, Bax describes their musical relationship: “In many ways, we work as each other’s worst critics — in a good way. Imagine having an extra pair of ears you can trust. In the summer, we travel together, playing various music festivals and it’s just incredibly fun.

The couple, who live in New York, have a new baby girl, born Monday. Asked if there’s any chance the child might escape the rigors of piano lessons, he says, “If our daughter turns out to be more talented than us, with different interests, then I’m happy with that. I mean, I only do this because it’s the only thing I can do!”

IF YOU GO

Alessio Bax

Presented by Music@Menlo

Where: Center for Performing Arts, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $20 to $50

Contact: (650) 331-0202, musicatmenlo.orgAlessio BaxartsBeethovenClassical Music & OperaMusic@Menlo

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Organizer Jas Florentino, left, explains the figures which represent 350 kidnapped Africans first sold as slaves in the United States in 1619 in sculptor Dana King’s “Monumental Reckoning.” The installation is in the space of the former Francis Scott Key monument in Golden Gate Park. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What a reparations program would look like in The City

‘If there’s any place we can do it, it’s San Francisco’

Officer Joel Babbs at a protest outside the Hall of Justice in 2017 (Bay City News file photo)
The strange and troubling story of Joel Babbs: What it tells us about the SFPD

The bizarre and troubling career of a whistle-blowing San Francisco police officer… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 update at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Gavin Newsom under COVID: The governor dishes on his pandemic life

By Emily Hoeven CalMatters It was strange, after 15 months of watching… Continue reading

People fish at a dock at Islais Creek Park on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
What Islais Creek tells us about rising sea levels in San Francisco

Islais Creek is an unassuming waterway along San Francisco’s eastern industrial shoreline,… Continue reading

Deputy public defender Chris Garcia outside the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
As pandemic wanes, SF public defender hopes clients will get ‘their day in court’

Like other attorneys in San Francisco, Deputy Public Defender Chris Garcia has… Continue reading

Most Read