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The Down-To-Earth Pianist Emanuel Ax Feels Like One of the Luckiest People In The World

Maurice Jerry Beznos
Grammy-winning pianist Emanuel Ax

Pianist Emanual Ax, known both for both his virtuosity and genuine good nature, is drawn to the power and genius of Beethoven. You wouldn't know, just from talking to him, that he's one of today's great pianists.

Listen to Emanuel Ax play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.2 with The Philadelphia Orchestra on WRTI 90.1, on Sunday, March 22nd at 1 PM.

Ax, who was born in 1949 in Poland to parents who survived the Holocaust, moved with his family to Canada when he was 10. He later studied at Juillard and attended Columbia University, where he majored in French. In 1974, he won the first Arthur Rubenstein International Piano Master Competition. He has since won many prominent awards and performs all over the world.

He's disarmingly down-to-earth.  

"My dad was a music lover and an amateur singer. I had some lessons when I was seven, like all other kids, and I enjoyed it. I just stuck with it. "

Stuck with it, and became one of the world's most virtuosic soloists. Just listen. And this champion of both contemporary and long-established composers says Beethoven is at the core of his repertoire: 

"All the pieces have incredible piercing emotions. He just gets to people. I think the reason he's so popular is because there's something, in his ability to find something in all of us that ... we respond to very deeply."

Beethoven's second piano concerto, for example, which he says starts off  "a fairly standard way for the time.  The orchestra has a tutti; the piano has some flourishes; and then suddenly, by a harmonic shift, you enter a totally different world, so dreamy and so quiet;  making you look around. And then after eight bars, he's back, he's back on earth." 

Back on earth with a flurry of notes. "He was of course, a brilliant pianist ... nothing like that had happened before, just in terms of sheer velocity and number of notes."

Ax's musical life also includes collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, Yefim Bronfman and others. 

He grins. "It's a lot of fun.  I'm one of the luckiest people in the world." 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.