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“A glorious collaboration between two like-minded players who share not only blood by also a passion for the intricate interplay that chamber music affords.” —St. Paul Pioneer Press

Miriam Fried, violin
Jonathan Biss, piano


JANÁČEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano
SCHUMANN: Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 121
BEETHOVEN: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 23
BEETHOVEN: Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 96

The concert is approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes.

 

Jonathan Biss talks about Beethoven sonatas and performing with his mother.

 

Subscribe and Save! This event can be purchased as part of the following subscription: Distinguished Artists in Recital—Series Subscription 2013/14. Learn about the benefits of subscribing.

Series of video commentaries on Beethoven by Jonathan Biss on his website.

Interview with Jonathan Biss by Jeffrey Brown on “PBS NewsHour” about his recording of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, Feb 10, 2012.

NPR interview with Jonathan Biss, “In Practice—Jonathan Biss: Piano Sonatas by Beethoven.”

Jonathan Biss performing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 5 in C minor: I. Allegro molto e con brio, videotaped by NPR for “In Practice—Jonathan Biss: Piano Sonatas by Beethoven.”

Miriam Fried discusses the Mozart connection to her 1718 Stradivarius violin at a Dubuque Symphony pre-concert event, Feb 10, 2012.

Miriam Fried performs Bach’s Sonata No.2 BWV 1015 with harpsichordist John Gibbons at the New England Conservatory’s Jordon Hall, Oct 4, 2011, in a film by Simon Yue.

On the Blog

(Click the names below to expand info)

From limelightmagazine.com.au:


Interview with Jonathan Biss by Clive Paget for Limelight, an Australian classical music website, July 25, 2013. Here is an excerpt:

Both your parents are violinists – weren’t you tempted to become a string player?

Amazingly I wasn’t. I’m not sure why, but apparently neither my brother, who isn’t a professional musician but did play the piano as a kid, nor I were ever tempted to play a string instrument. But I do think it was lucky in a sense. Growing up as a child of string players, being a pianist, it gave me kind of space that would’ve been harder to come by if I’d played the same instrument as my parents. It made it easier for me to develop my own way, to take my own path, to find my own voice as a musician. And there was never any question of my parents being my teachers.

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From Gramphone.co.uk:


Report on Jonathan Biss’s free online course on Beethoven’s sonatas.

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From telegraph.co.uk:


Interview with Jonathan Biss by Ivan Hewett of The Daily Telegraph about his Kindle Single, Beethoven’s Shadow, Jan 5, 2012. Here is an excerpt:

What eventually came forth is a fascinating and closely argued disquisition on playing Beethoven, from four angles. “Firstly, it’s to do with my own engagement with Beethoven, what he means to me, how my view of his music has changed over time. Then there’s the relationship with the live audience and how I try to communicate what’s on the page. The third element is the strange relationship with the microphone in the recording studio. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I’ve just started a project to record all the Beethoven sonatas. Finally, there’s my relationship with the amazing legacy of Beethoven on disc.”

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From formosaquartet.com:


Q&A with Miriam Fried by the Formosa Quartet. Here is an excerpt:

FQ: Do you have any strange obsessions or addictions?
MF: I don’t think so… although I’m kind of a fanatic about order. I can’t practice with an unmade bed in the room.

FQ: Is there anything violinistic that didn’t or doesn’t come as easily to you? If so, what?
MF: I can’t staccato to save my life.

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From washingtonpost.com:


Review of Miriam Fried/Jonathan Biss duo recital at Kennedy Center, Mar 23, 2011. Here is an excerpt:

The performance of chamber music can be as intimate in tone as a family conversation across a dinner table. In four sonatas by Beethoven, violinist Miriam Fried and pianist Jonathan Biss carried out a fruitful series of such dialogues….

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Explore the Music

(Click the names below to expand info.)

JANÁČEK: Sonata for Violin and Piano

LEOŠ JANÁČEK

Born Hukvaldy, Moravia, July 3, 1854; died Ostrava, August 10, 1928
Sonata for Violin and Piano
Composed in 1914–1915; 17 minutes

“I wrote the Violin Sonata at the beginning of the war, in 1914, when we were waiting for the Russians in Moravia.” Janáček’s strong pro-Serbian sympathies may have colored his recollection of the genesis of his one and only violin sonata. The sketches for the work are inscribed with the date August 1, the day Germany declared war on Serbia’s ally, Russia. But one movement of the sonata, the luminous Ballada, originated long before the war, and the other three were not fully drafted until October 1915. Moreover, Janáček continued to tinker with the score until its first performance and publication seven years later.

In short, any attempt to read an extramusical program into the Violin Sonata is problematic. Yet Janáček’s score, like so many works of the World War I era, does seem to express a conflict of sorts—a clash between old and new, innocence and experience, soothing ideals and harsh reality. The germ of the Sonata was planted in the early, Brahmsian phase of the composer’s career. By the time it came to fruition, however, Janáček’s musical language had undergone a profound transformation. In 1922 he was at work on The Cunning Little Vixen, and the Violin Sonata, in its final form, shares the opera’s distinctive sound world, with its epigrammatic terseness, abrupt changes of atmosphere and irregular, speechlike rhythms.

The opening Con moto movement establishes the Sonata’s predominantly urgent, declamatory mood. Beneath the wistfully lyrical surface flows a nervous undercurrent of trills and undulating figures. (In the ensuing Ballada, Janáček transforms these faintly menacing sonorities into radiant halos of sound.) The third and fourth movements, marked Allegretto and Adagio, respectively, are increasingly agitated, dissonant and almost unremittingly bleak. Commenting on a performance of the Violin Sonata, Janáček praised the musicians for playing “as if a soul had no rest.” The restless, searching spirit that suffuses this remarkable work is very much of its time.

© 2013 Harry Haskell

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SCHUMANN: Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 121

ROBERT SCHUMANN

Born Zwickau, June 8, 1810; died Endenich, July 28, 1856
Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor, Op. 121
Composed in 1851; 31 minutes

In the fall of 1850, the Schumanns moved from Dresden to Düsseldorf, where Robert succeeded Ferdinand Hiller as municipal music director. His new duties included conducting the local amateur orchestra and choral society, as well as organizing church performances, a hectic schedule that initially left little time for composing. By the middle of the following year, however, Schumann had resumed his characteristically feverish pace. One work after another flowed from his pen, among them the Third and Fourth Symphonies, the Cello Concerto, the G-minor Piano Trio, and two sonatas for violin and piano, both completed in the fall of 1851.

Schumann seems to have rediscovered the violin in the last few years of his life. It was while he was at work on his Violin Concerto, in the fall of 1853, that he met the young Johannes Brahms and proposed that they collaborate with another composer on a sonata honoring the violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Schumann later incorporated his contribution to their joint effort in a third sonata. (Like the Concerto, it was not published until long after his death.) Joachim was not Schumann’s only source of inspiration, however; both the A-minor and D-minor sonatas were written for the concertmaster of the Düsseldorf orchestra, William Joseph von Wasielewski, and the latter work was dedicated to Ferdinand David, the celebrated concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

The title page of the D-minor Sonata reads “Second Grand Sonata,” and grand it is, in both style and conception. The music’s robust and extraverted brilliance contrasts with the somewhat schizophrenic character of the A-minor Sonata. The first movement captures Schumann in his most heroic mode, with a stately introduction followed by a roiling allegro that pits a broad, purposefully striding theme against a briskly syncopated 16th-note figure. The second movement is a slightly demonic scherzo, whose driving momentum is twice interrupted by lyrical interludes. In place of a slow movement, Schumann gives us a melodious meditation notable for its warmhearted, almost folklike simplicity. The swaggering finale recalls the vigorous mood of the first movement, this time in a more overtly virtuosic vein, and ends in a bright blaze of D major.

© 2013 Harry Haskell

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BEETHOVEN: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 23

LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died Vienna, March 26, 1827
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 23
Composed in 1800; 19 minutes

Beethoven’s ten sonatas for violin and piano date from the years 1797–1812, when he emerged from the shadow of Haydn and Mozart and forged the boldly “heroic” style of his so-called middle period. The first nine sonatas are clustered in the six years before and after the turn of the 19th century; in addition to showcasing Beethoven’s formidable virtuosity on the keyboard, these early works attest to his rapid maturation as a composer. Just as his Op. 18 String Quartets of 1798-1800 at once acknowledge his debt to Haydn and proclaim his artistic independence, so Beethoven’s violin sonatas both emulate and transcend their 18th-century models.

The A-minor Sonata dates from 1800, by which time Beethoven already had three sonatas for violin, two for cello, and more than a dozen for piano under his belt. This extraordinary productivity many have been fueled by an awareness of his incipient deafness. It was around this time that he wrote to a friend: “I live entirely in my music; and hardly have I completed one composition than I have already begun another. At my present rate of composing, I often produce three or four works at a time.” Beethoven’s three Op. 12 Violin Sonatas, although tame by comparison with his later chamber music, grated on the ears of one contemporary listener, who professed to hear in them “a striving for strange modulations, an objection to customary associations, a heaping up of difficulties on difficulties till one loses all patience and enjoyment.” After poring diligently over the scores, the exasperated critic complained that he “felt like a man who had hoped to make a promenade with a genial friend through a tempting forest and found himself barred every minute by inimical barriers.”

One wonders what this listener would have made of Beethoven’s Sonata in A minor, with its brooding turbulence, explosive dynamic contrasts and concentrated motivic construction. Beethoven’s disregard for the customary niceties is apparent in the opening Presto, which plunges the listener into a maelstrom of roiling triplets. Only after a minute or so does he introduce a smoothly flowing theme that gives the music a countervailing semblance of repose. Beethoven dispenses with the traditional pair of middle movements; in their place he gives us a kind of hybrid Andante and Scherzo in A major, fleshed out with recurring fugal passages. Most unconventional of all is the finale, which combines three sharply contrasting themes in an episodic structure that is tightly knit yet full of unexpected twists and turns.

© 2013 Harry Haskell

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BEETHOVEN: Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 96

LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN

Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 96
Composed in 1812, revised in 1814–1815; 27 minutes

In his first eight violin sonatas, Beethoven gradually moved away from the 18th-century sonata style, in which the violin was subordinate to the keyboard. With the “Kreutzer” Sonata of 1802–1803, No. 9 in the series, there is no longer any question that the two players are equal partners. Beethoven described the “Kreutzer” as having been written “almost in the manner of a concerto,” and a formidably difficult work it is indeed, for violinist and pianist alike. In this case, the players were Beethoven himself and the English violinist George Bridgetower. Both the work’s popular success and the exuberance of its violin writing owed much to Bridgetower’s virtuosity, although a quarrel later prompted Beethoven to dedicate the sonata to the French virtuoso Rodolphe Kreutzer.

Nearly a decade passed before Beethoven wrote another duo for violin and piano. His last sonata, Op. 96, is dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, son of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and younger brother of his successor, Emperor Franz I. As Beethoven’s diligent composition pupil, lifelong friend, and most magnanimous patron, Archduke Rudolph was more than deserving of the tribute the composer paid him in the dedications of such masterworks as the Missa solemnis, “Emperor” Piano Concerto, “Hammerklavier” Piano Sonata, and “Archduke” Piano Trio. Beethoven’s relations with the young archduke, whom he described to another close friend as “an amiable and talented prince,” were singularly warm and free of tension. Rudolph played the piano at a private performance of the G-major Sonata on December 29, 1812, with the celebrated French violinist Pierre Rode.

Unlike the “Kreutzer” Sonata, Beethoven’s Op. 96 is the antithesis of virtuosic display. The simple question–and–answer phrase we hear at the beginning is little more than an ornamented trill, yet it provides ample grist for the entire Allegro moderato: Beethoven uses an emotionally heightened variant of the little four-note figure as a bridge to the harmonically searching development section and ruminates on it, almost obsessively, in the movement’s closing measures. The Adagio espressivo is based on a spacious chorale-like melody in E-flat major; it leads without pause into a crisply syncopated Scherzo in G minor, with a flowing major-key Trio section sandwiched in the middle. In the concluding Poco allegretto, Beethoven rings variations on a cheery folk-like tune. After a sublimely expressive Adagio section, embellished with delicate chromatic tracery, the playfully vivacious coda provides the only touch of virtuosic brilliance in the sonata.

© 2013 Harry Haskell

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Artist Bios

Miriam Fried

A consummate musician, Miriam Fried is equally accomplished as recitalist, concerto soloist or chamber musician. Her supreme blend of artistry and musicianship continues to inspire audiences worldwide. Ms. Fried has played with virtually every major orchestra in the US and Europe and in particular has been a frequent guest with the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras; the Israel, New York and Royal philharmonics; and the Boston, Chicago, London, Pittsburgh and Vienna symphonies. Recital tours have taken her to all the major music centers in North America and to Brussels, London, Milan, Munich, Rome, Paris, Salzburg, Stockholm and Zurich.

In recent seasons, Ms. Fried’s schedule has included orchestral engagements with such other prestigious ensembles as the BBC, Berlin, Los Angeles and St. Petersburg philharmonics; the Orchestre de Paris; the Jerusalem and Montreal symphonies; and the Orquesta Filarmonica de Mexico. She recently premiered a violin concerto written for her by Donald Erb with the Grand Rapids Symphony and recorded the work for Koss. Since 1993 she has been Artistic Director of the Steans Institute at Ravinia, one of the country’s leading summer programs for young musicians. Her involvement there has included regular performances at the Ravinia Festival, including recitals and concerts with the Chicago Symphony.

Ms. Fried’s highly praised New York recitals of the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin were the culmination of three years of international performances. She then recorded the complete Sonatas and Partitas in France for the Lyrinx label. She has also made a prize-winning and best-selling recording of the Sibelius Concerto with the Helsinki Philharmonic under the direction of Okko Kamu, available on the Finlandia label.

Ms. Fried plays a 1718 Stradivarius that is said to have been the favorite of its 18th-century owner, the composer-conductor Louis Spohr. It was also owned by Regina Strinasacchi; it is believed that she used the instrument to play Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat, K. 454, which had been written for her, with the composer at the piano. A noted pedagogue, Ms. Fried is on the faculty of New England Conservatory and is invited to give master classes throughout the world.

* * * * *

In recent years Jonathan Biss and Miriam Fried have each devoted a portion of their schedules to performing together. In addition to 92Y, this autumn they are performing at Williams College and in greater Washington, DC. Among their recent concert highlights, they played the complete Bartók and Brahms violin sonatas in Boston.

Both are enthusiastic chamber musicians. Mr. Biss has been a member of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Two a three-year residency program for young emerging artists, and he is a frequent participant at the Marlboro Music Festival, and often collaborates with such chamber ensembles as the Borromeo Quartet and Mendelssohn Quartet, of which Ms. Fried is a former member.

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Jonathan Biss

American pianist Jonathan Biss is widely regarded for his artistry, musical intelligence and deeply felt interpretations. He performs a diverse repertoire ranging from Mozart and Beethoven, through the Romantics and Janáček and Schoenberg to works by Kurtág and commissions from Leon Kirchner and others.

Mr. Biss opens his 2013/14 season with a brief recital tour of Europe. He will later return for recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall and at the Louvre in Paris, while his American recitals include his second recital in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium as well as Berkeley, Interlochen, Scottsdale and St. Paul. Among his orchestral engagements are the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio in Paris, the Calgary and Rochester philharmonics, the Iceland and Seattle symphonies, and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. This spring Mr. Biss join the Boston Symphony for the world premiere of Bernard Rands’ Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, commissioned for him, followed by the European premiere with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.

In January 2012 Onyx Classics released the first CD in Mr. Biss’s nine-year, nine-disc recording cycle of Beethoven’s complete sonatas. Mr. Biss wrote about this recording project and his relationship with Beethoven's music in Beethoven’s Shadow, an essay that was published electronically by RosettaBooks as a Kindle Single, available from Amazon.com. Beethoven’s Shadow subsequently ranked as the best-selling Music e-book title on Amazon in the US and UK. His next Kindle Single, A Pianist Under the Influence, was released shortly thereafter.

Mr. Biss’s previous recordings include an album of Schubert's Sonatas in A major, D. 959, and C major, D. 840, and two short Kurtág pieces from Játékok that was named by NPR Music as one of the best albums of the year. It follows four acclaimed recordings for EMI Classics, including an all-Schumann recital album, which won a Diapason d’Or de l’année award, and a recital album of Beethoven piano sonatas, which received an Edison Award. With the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra he recorded Mozart’s Piano Concertos Nos. 21 and 22 in a live performance.

Mr. Biss made his New York recital debut at 92nd Street Y in 2000 and his New York Philharmonic debut under Kurt Masur that same season. He represents the third generation in a family of professional musicians that includes his grandmother Raya Garbousova, one of the first well-known female cellists (for whom Samuel Barber composed his Cello Concerto), and his parents, violinist Miriam Fried and violist/violinist Paul Biss. He studied at Indiana University and at The Curtis Institute of Music; in 2010, Mr. Biss was appointed to Curtis's piano faculty.

His website, which includes a blog about his life as a musician, is jonathanbiss.com.

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