Orion Weiss

We talk to the pianist about performing Gershwin's works for piano and orchestra with the Buffalo Philharmonic… and teaching his five-month old daughter to play the piano with her feet

Orion Weiss
Published: June 21, 2013 at 9:28 am

Tell us about the recording- how did it come about? How did you put the programme together?
I always love working with JoAnn Falletta and was overjoyed when she asked me to undertake this project with her and her wonderful orchestra. And putting the programme together was easy, since it was to be everything Gershwin wrote for piano and orchestra. This new CD is the second and final disc in our duology of Gershwin's complete works for piano and orchestra. The previous disc has half of the complete works, and this one has the other half. So, if you only have one, you're incomplete - get both CDs!


What’s the most challenging thing about playing Gershwin?
These are masterpieces of colour and counterpoint, filled with endless rhythmic and melodic invention. The hardest thing about playing them is the same as with all great pieces of music: not to ruin them between the score and the sound. To bring the music to honest life. There's a long history of classical pianists pretending to be jazz pianists while playing these pieces, wearing sunglasses, doing tasteless things in the name of being 'jazzy'. I'm not a jazz pianist, I need real glasses to be able to see, and I'm really not very good at pretending to be something I'm not. So I like to think that my approach started from the score itself. It's not hard to find the brilliant character and excitement already living in the music.

Tell us a bit about your relationship with Gershwin's music
I have a strong connection to these pieces - I listened to recordings of them on my cassette player practically every day as a small child - they were rich fuel for my earliest dreams of becoming a pianist. I also feel like I have a connection to Gershwin's history, since my family was also Odessa Jews who came to New York at around the same time as his, and because I've memorised all of the Marx Brothers' movies. But despite all these connections to the music, I didn't perform any of it until much later in life, in my 20s. I've played his music quite a lot at this point, and it still feels very fresh and alive to me. I feel like I was able to approach this recording with a balance of both tremendous excitement and respect, a real sense of love for this music.

What has it been like to perform with JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic?
The Buffalo Philharmonic is a fantastic and amazingly versatile orchestra and after all our concerts together, it's also an orchestra filled with friends. JoAnn has superhuman energy and precision and astounding musical instincts. She's incredibly inspiring to work with! Our Gershwin week was a whirlwind of recording and performing.


What else have you got coming up?
Much like the National Security Agency, I've been recording non-stop recently! In the last month I've worked on three recordings: the complete Brahms Sonatas for Piano and Violin with my friend, the wonderful French violinist Arnaud Sussmann, Christopher Rouse's monumental piano concerto Seeing with David Alan Miller and the Albany Symphony Orchestra, and Webern's arrangement for mixed piano quintet of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, with cellist Fred Sherry and three other fantastic musicians. And next month, squeezed between summer music festivals, I'll record a disc of 19 of my favourite Scarlatti sonatas. Those are my current recording projects. My most important non-recording project is teaching my five-month old daughter to play the piano with her feet, one foot at a time for now.

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