Italian piano virtuoso Fabio Bidini says that Arezzo, the Tuscan town where he grew up, is far from being a musical mecca. But it does have one huge claim to fame, as the home of Guido of Arezzo, the medieval monk who invented musical notation.
A former child prodigy, Bidini won the first of many piano competitions at age 7, and he was a finalist at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth in 1993. He returns to Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday and Saturday, March14-15, to play Brahms’ monumental Piano Concerto No. 2.
Bidini, 45, has appeared twice before with the Phoenix Symphony, most recently in 2008 to play the somewhat lighter Schumann Piano Concerto. He spoke by phone about his chosen instrument.
Question: What set you on the path to a career in music?
Answer: I started playing the piano when I was 4. My father is crazy about classical musical, and in my building, there was an amateur pianist on the third floor, and sometimes we would listen to him play. In the meantime, my father brought for Christmas home a used, already broken, electronic keyboard, and I could find the notes and the rhythm of what I was listening to on the radio. My father brought me upstairs on the third floor, and we asked this amateur pianist, who was actually an engineer, if I could possibly be musical. So it turned out I was musical (laughs).
Q: You never considered switching instruments?
A: When I was a kid, I was in love with the sound that (Arthur) Rubinstein had. I was so much in love with that sound that I didn’t have the need to try other things. The piano is the most complete instrument. You read music horizontally but also vertically, and that is actually what the orchestra does. What I’m trying to get out of the piano is actually the sound of an orchestra.
Q: What are the specific challenges of the instrument?
A: The hammers that the piano has are more a limit than a plus. Because we are trying to create a long line. The sound must flow. We don’t have bow, we don’t have air, so the legato, for instance, in the piano is a very particular subject. We have to try our best to imitate the voice, or a violin with a bow, or an instrument with air, and that is very difficult, actually.
Q: Not to accentuate the obvious, but you also can’t pack a Steinway in your overnight bag.
A: (Laughs) That would be really nice if we could do it.
Q: You also are a conductor now.
A: (This) is the natural musical development of a pianist. I personally need a little bit more to hug the full sound of the orchestra. The piano gives me 99.9 percent of everything, the orchestra gives me 100 percent. Then when you get to play a Brahms concerto like this, then you have really the climax of what music can possibly be.
Q: Learning to conduct has made you a better pianist?
A: Absolutely yes, because when you start understanding the way an orchestra can technically work, for ensemble reasons, for rhythmical reasons, for length of the notes, then you approach also the solistic aspect in a different way. Not completely, slightly different…. It is a matter of perfectly understanding what is happening inside the orchestra, and that is very important.
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Phoenix Symphony: Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2
What: Italian soloist Fabio Bidini performs under the baton of principal guest conductor JoAnn Falletta in a program that also features Josef Suk’s “Fairy Tale.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 14-15. Coffee Classics performance (minus the first two of four movements of the concerto) at 11 a.m. Friday.
Where: Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St., Phoenix.
Admission: $18-$83; $18-$39 Friday morning.
Details: 602-495-1999, phoenixsymphony.org.