Italian pianist Alessio Bax was last heard in Santa Rosa in 2014, when he accompanied violinist Joshua Bell during a recital to benefit the Santa Rosa Symphony.
When Bax and Bell go on tours together, they spend most of their time trying to decide on where they are going to eat rather than on tempos or dynamics.
“Food brought us together, even before music,” Bax said in a phone interview from his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which he shares with his wife, Canadian pianist Lucille Chang and their 2-year-old daughter. “I think we’ve probably eaten together more than we’ve played together.”
Bax will return to Sonoma County this weekend to perform Brahms’ beefy Concerto No. 2 with the Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis. As a prelude to Valentine’s Day, the “Tales of Love” concert will also feature two tributes to Shakespeare’s famous love story: Berlioz’ Introduction to “Roméo et Juliette” and selections from Suites Nos. 1 and 2 from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” based on the composer’s famous ballet score.
“That’s my theatrical touch, to do Shakespeare,” Ferrandis said at the beginning of the season. “It’s Shakespeare, from two opposites in style, and two of the best orchestrators in the world.”
Meanwhile, Bax will tackle Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, a sprawling work that was written in 1881, 23 years after the composer penned his youthful Piano Concerto No. 1.
“The piano has a huge part, but it’s more like a symphony, with four big movements,” Bax said of the 50-minute concerto. “You need to know your role at all times. It’s chamber music on a huge scale.”
At 39, Bax is nicely maturing into his role as a rising pianist constantly in demand as a soloist and an accompanist and chamber musician.
“Alessio Bax is clearly among the most remarkable young pianists now before the public,” Gramophone magazine wrote in its 2014 “Editor’s Choice” review of the CD, “Alessio Bax plays Beethoven.”
Born in Bari, Italy, Bax attended the Bari Conservatory of Music from age 9 to 14, then left the port city in Puglia at age 16 to study in France and Italy. After that, he went to Southern Methodist University near Dallas, where he studied with Spanish pianist Joaquín Achúcarro.
Bax won the Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in Japan in 1997 — that’s where he first met his wife — and the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition in 2000. He also won a 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant.
We talked to Bax in late January, before the Steinway artist headed to the Bay Area for a Steinway Society recital on Feb. 5 in San Jose.
Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: I speak three — Italian, English and Spanish. My wife speaks seven, and my 2-year-old daughter speaks three.
Q: What was it like growing up in Bari?
A: It was a great music environment. When I was in junior high, I attended the school attached to the conservatory, and every Saturday we would go to see rehearsals of the orchestra. My dad got us tickets every week to hear the orchestra. There is also a major opera theater in Bari ... I heard many pianists come through. I missed (Anton) Rubenstein, he was 10 years before my time, but I still got to hear the older generation.
What: Santa Rosa Symphony under Bruno Ferrandis with pianist Alessio Bax
When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park
Tickets: 707-546-8742, www.srsymphony.org