Frankly Music’s Orion Weiss
Frank Almond is not a stay-at-home concertmaster with the Milwaukee Symphony. Almond, a Juilliard School grad, gets around as a soloist and chamber musician and he maintains a large circle of A-list friends and colleagues. That’s how he can bring so many outstanding players to town for his Frankly Music series.
At 7 tonight (Monday, April 16), for example, pianist Orion Weiss will join Almond in William Walton’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. He will also join Almond, violinist Ilana Setapen, violist Cynthia Phelps (a New York Philharmonic principal) and cellist Robert deMain (former Detroit Symphony principal) in Elgar’s Quintet for Piano and Strings.
Almond heard about Weiss through Emanuel Ax, a legendary pianist who was Weiss’ teacher at Juilliard. When I talked with Almond a few days ago, he expressed his delight in landing Weiss “while we can still afford him.”
Weiss, 30, is indeed riding a burgeoning career. He’s won lots of prizes and has already appeared with most of the big American orchestras (Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and more). He has recorded the complete Gershwin works for piano and orchestra with JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic. When Weiss isn’t featured with orchestras, he’s playing chamber music. He and his pianist spouse, Anna Polonsky, often perform together.
“We live in New York, in Washington Heights, with our three pianos,” Weiss said, in an interview squeezed in before rehearsal Sunday.
His roots are in the Midwest. Weiss was born in Iowa City, but grew up mostly in Cleveland. His parents are physicians. They gave Orion piano lessons just as an after-school activity. When he showed some talent early, mom pushed him, just a little.
“She just wanted to see what I could achieve,” Weiss said. Soon, practice became its own reward. By about age 9, music became Weiss’ joy, and he took off as a piano student. “I wasn’t thinking of a career, it was just what I loved to do. It was the only excuse that worked for not studying math. Before I knew it, the piano was a career.”
He studied at the pre-college of the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he met Emanuel Ax at a master class. (By the way, he made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1999, at 17. He played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.)
“I knew I wanted to study with [Ax],” Weiss said. “When it was time for college, Juilliard was the only place I applied. The main thing I learned from Emanuel Ax is from his focus and passion in finding integrity and truth in his playing. I tried to absorb as much of that as possible.
“In this business, everyone finds their own way of standing out. My main goal is to cultivate my sound. In repertoire, I follow my heart. I don’t look for gimmicks. I just practice and try to be content at not being incredibly rich.”
This Frankly Music “British Invasion” program begins at 7 p.m. Monday, April 16, at Schwan Concert Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 8815 W. Wisconsin Ave. Tickets are $39, $10 for students. To order, visit the Frankly Music online box office or call the Wisconsin Lutheran College box office, 414 443-8802.
PS: You might want to visit Orion Weiss’ personal website. It has a spaceship.
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