Generously spreading the music around

Pianist Jonathan Biss will be playing in harmony with his mother as part of the Grant Hall Series

Jonathan Biss instantly knew music was his calling by age 11.
Jonathan Biss instantly knew music was his calling by age 11.
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Playing music is an act of generosity.

Jonathan Biss, an American pianist, writer and teacher, was born into a family of musicians. At age 11, he started playing music informally. Soon after, he instinctively knew that music was his calling.

“Teaching is about sharing music with someone else and reminds one that playing music is an act of generosity,” he said. “It puts you more in touch with the process of creating art, and forces you to really understand why you do what you do.”

Together with his mother Miriam Fried, a classical violinist, Biss will be performing tonight as part of the Queen’s Performing Arts Grant Hall Series. The series is focusing on classical music and will feature, in the future, the Parisii Quartet and the Pentaèdre Wind Quintet.

Biss definitely has a special relationship with his mother, because they are inspired by the same passion — their love for sharing and creating music.

“If you are performing with someone, you have to have a lot of trust in them,” Biss said. “When you are on the same musical wavelength with someone, you know that they will follow you wherever you go and that’s a great thing.”

One of the greatest gifts that performing music bestows on artists is the privilege to share it with an engaged audience, Biss said.

He shares this love in his teaching at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Biss said he’s drawn to the Curtis Institute of Music, not only because it allows him to share his passion with eager students, but also because the Institute played a significant role in shaping him into the musician he is today.

“I was a student at Curtis before I started teaching there, and it was a place where I made so many of my important musical friendships,” Biss said. “I met many musicians whom I admired and worked with, and that has definitely impacted my musical growth.”

Biss also believes that despite the fact that music has been such an inspiring and rejuvenating experience, it can also be a struggle at times.

“The struggle is not necessarily a negative thing. The thing with music is that you never feel equal to it. You’re always trying to get closer to it,” he said.

“The more you get closer to music, the further it moves away from your grasp and that is what is beautiful about it. That’s what makes art great.”

Not all musicians approach their art in the same way. For Biss, the first step is understanding the role art plays in life.

“Performing it is always unstable and uncertain, but what I advise struggling musicians is that they should question why they play their music in the first place,” he said, “and that becomes a guide for them on how to live their lives.”

Jonathan Biss will be performing tonight with his mother Miriam Fried at the Sydenham Street United Church at 8 p.m.

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