Three Days of Piano Perfection With Emanuel Ax

Written By ArtBurst Team
December 7, 2015 at 6:44 PM

Emanuel Ax is a busy man. This season alone, the man many consider one of the finest pianists of this or any other generation shuttles around from the Concertgebouw Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic, from Hong Kong and Australia to London and Los Angeles, then joining the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican and at Lincoln Center — where he was this week just prior to arriving in Miami. So what’s he doing playing with a student orchestra — Michael Tilson Thomas’ New World Symphony, America’s Orchestral Academy — in not one but two programs, in two different venues from Oct. 25 through 27? “They’re not students anymore,” says Ax about the NWS Fellows with whom he’s making a lot of music this week. “They are amazingly wonderful young professionals — there’s nothing like this anywhere else, you know.” “They have this exceptional mix of optimism and, well, youth, combined with an incredible brilliance. You see it in today’s young piano players too, you see it in sports. As an old person,” he laughs, “I have to tell you it’s all very exciting, to get this energy, to feel this optimism again, this sheer love of music. “Besides,” he adds, referring to the orchestra’s founder and director, “I can’t say no to Michael. He’s a guru, he has an amazing mind. If Michael Tilson Thomas says ‘Come,’ I do it. It’s a fabulous thing he started in Miami.” He’s not alone. The New World Symphony attracts major music-makers so often that one could take it for granted. Still, having Ax in residence is a gift. Emanuel Ax was born in Lvov, Poland in 1949, the son of Nazi concentration camp survivors. He began his piano studies at the age of six with his father, Joachim Ax. The family moved to Warsaw, then to Winnipeg and, in 1961, to New York City. Ax studied at Juilliard, supported by the Epstein Scholarship program of the Boys Clubs of America. He also attended Columbia University, majoring in French. Cosmopolitan to the core, the young pianist won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition in Tel Aviv in 1974, followed in quick succession by the Young Concert Artists Award and the Avery Fisher Prize. The rest, as they say, is history. His attention to new music attests to his perennial curiosity, his partnership with Yo-Yo Ma is by now legendary, and his discography on Sony is rich and earned him several Grammy Awards to date. And an Emmy — Ax contributed to an international Emmy-winning BBC documentary commemorating the Holocaust that first aired on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Beethoven and Brahms, the musical giants he’s bringing to Miami, are especially close to his heart. It will be interesting to hear what he does in two acoustically different halls, one twice the size of the other. “It’s not the size that matters necessarily,” he says. “It’s the feel of the space. In some places you play softer: the Musikverein in Vienna and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam feel more intimate than, say, Ozawa Hall in Tanglewood. You get a different kind of feedback. Pianists always make adjustments, it’s all instinctive when you play. Then you hope your friends onstage are also sensitive.” He dismisses divisions between classical and romantic music. “Those are categories after the fact,” Ax says. “Beethoven wrote his way, Brahms wrote his way. There are elements in Beethoven that are hyper-romantic,” he adds, making the upcoming concert sound even more intriguing, “and elements that are more classically oriented. Then Brahms owes a lot to Beethoven, in the best sense. He internalized Beethoven; Beethoven permeated his music. But it is not a slavish imitation: Brahms took it and made it his own.” Ax plays Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major with the New World Symphony conducted by Tilson Thomas at the New World Center, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m.; then at the Arsht Center Knight Concert Hall on Oct. 26 at 8:00 p.m. On Sunday, Oct. 27 at 2:00 p.m. he returns to the Beach and New World to play Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel as well as his vast Piano Sonata No. 2, then joining musicians from the New World Symphony in the gorgeous, sprawling Piano Quartet No. 3; for tickets and more information, visit Photo: By Lisa Marie Mazzucco

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