He took to the keyboard almost instantly -- "I don't remember ever having another desire" for a vocation, he recalled -- and by 13 he was a soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony. Before he was 17, he was off to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where classical music stars like violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Lang Lang were also studying.
On his way
AT Curtis, Biss worked with Leon Fleisher, the celebrated American pianist and a family friend. "Fleisher was huge," said Biss of his teacher's influence on him. "He infiltrated my musical consciousness so profoundly, I couldn't even tell you how he influenced my development."
Fleisher remembers Biss as "an earnest young man" and "the best of students," one in whom he saw a pianist "not dissimilar from myself at a similar age." He was especially impressed by his protege's curiosity. "He was always asking questions," said the elder pianist, "and it was always a pleasure to deal with that."
The two reunited this year in Japan, where Fleisher conducted his former student in the Schumann Concerto, an occasion that provided him with a fresh opportunity to assess Biss as a colleague. In doing so, he invoked his own teacher, Artur Schnabel, venerated for insisting that fidelity to the score prevail above artistic indulgence.
"On pianists, the influence of Schnabel is tremendous," said Fleisher. "Murray Perahia, Alfred Brendel and Daniel Barenboim have all acknowledged this debt. And it's in that lineage that Jonathan finds himself."
For now, though, Biss is a young, peripatetic bachelor pianist, not yet a keyboard eminence. He said he doesn't keep precise count of his travel days but is certain that he spends the majority of his year on the road. "I'd like to have a home life that's more than doing my laundry and reading my mail," he said, acknowledging the unglamorous aspects of a glamorous life.
He worries, too, about the toll frequent travel can take on his artistry and job satisfaction. "You don't really learn much music when you travel," he said. "And playing a concert should always feel like an event. I would never want to feel a sense of routine about playing music. That means finding a balance, and I'm still looking for one."
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Price: $24 to $93
Contact: (213) 480-3232 or www.hollywoodbowl.com