Competitions are such risky, uncertain adventures for young musicians. At every turn there are opportunities for stumbles, public fiascos, ego damage, even humiliation. The rules ensure that most of the terrific players who enter will fail to advance far enough to help their careers or make much of an impression. The best one can reasonably hope for is to play decently despite the many distractions, get a good write-up from a critic and maybe, just maybe, take home a prize — any prize.
Italian pianist Alessio Bax was 19 when he entered the 1997 Hamamatsu Competition in Japan, and he may have had the most successful musical competition in history. Bax took the top prize (including cash, international recognition and concert engagements) and also won the heart of a fellow competitor, pianist Lucille Chung, who became his wife.
Just The Music
Sheep May Safely Graze
Ballade Op. 10, No. 1
Prelude, Op. 32, No. 12
Prelude Op. 23, No. 2
Prelude Op. 23, No. 10
They're now married, sharing an apartment and musical lives in New York City. They each have their own careers and spend a fair amount of time on the road. But when I met Bax for our interview, I was immediately impressed by his radiant, cheerful calm and affable charm. This man savors his life and his enthusiasm is infectious.
Studio performance chats can sometimes be a little frenetic. I'm used to talking down nervous guests, trying to make them feel welcome and, as much as possible, at ease. With Alessio and me, it was like two old pals getting together to talk about music we love and share a few stories.
And then he played. I had heard concert recordings of Alessio before he arrived for our chat and was impressed by his pianistic power and poetry. Both were present again here — he opened with a patiently tender performance of Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze," then brought out the searching melancholy in a Ballade by Johannes Brahms. He finished with dazzling color and fireworks in a set of three Rachmaninoff Preludes — all suffused with the same glow of personal warmth that came through in our conversation.